Thursday | 23 Oct 2014

Spain countdown: The challenge

RallyRACC - Rally de España poses a unique challenge as the only round in this year’s Championship to serve up a mixture of gravel and asphalt stages.

After a Tarmac street stage in downtown Barcelona, crews will embark on a day of gravel tests on Friday before making the move to asphalt for Saturday and Sunday. asked M-Sport team leader Mikko Hirvonen, tackling his 12th Rally Rally de España this weekend, to explain the event’s three biggest driving challenges.

1: The surface switch
“The mechanics have a lot to do on Friday night, converting cars from gravel to asphalt trim, but the switch demands a quick change inside the cockpit too as we adjust to a completely different car. On gravel the car slides more, rides a lot higher and is a lot softer. Suddenly, in asphalt spec, it’s like driving go-kart. You can push harder, there’s much more grip and the brakes are a lot more efficient. Everything happens faster. The trick is to adjust quickly and get straight up to speed. The biggest challenge is judging the braking distances on asphalt. The first time I hit the brakes it always amazes me just how much stopping power there is. It takes a few corners to adjust. If it starts to take longer you’re going to lose time. We’re lucky this year that the first tarmac stage is the short (3.96km) Tivissa. If for some reason you don’t get the best feeling, you’re not going to lose so much in a short stage. That takes away some of the nerves.”

2: Thinking like a circuit racer
“The stages here are the closest we get to a race track. The surface is perfect, it’s the smoothest of the season and there are no bumps or holes to speak of. Sometimes we can cut corners, but so much of the route is lined with Armco barrier now that there are only a few opportunities. Where we do cut, organisers have often cemented over the ground so less dirt is pulled onto the road. There’s nothing much to disturb the cars in the corners and they don’t move about much. The roads are generally wide too, so you can concentrate on the racing line and flowing the corners together. It’s usual to get a sort of tunnel vision here. You are concentrating only on the points ahead, and the barriers either side of the road add extra focus.” 

3: Managing the heat
“Long stages, like the 50km one on Saturday, are hard on tyres and brakes. Nowadays the brake material and cooling systems work so well we shouldn’t have to care about them, but on some stages the pedal might get a little soft near the end. It’s a different story at the stop control when there’s no airflow and everything heats up very quickly. That’s when you might lose them. Tyre wear shouldn’t be a problem but Michelin introduced a new tyre in France, which is a bit of an unknown. We didn’t have any problems at our test, but for sure the longer we drive the more heat we’ll put in, and the more they will move about – becoming less precise. That’s just a feature of the tyre and we have to work with it. The temperatures here will be higher than in France. There are more corners and the tyres are working absolutely all the time. There is no break.”

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