F1, BTCC, RALLY: This Week in Ford of Europe Motorsport
3 September 1998FORD IN FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Ford World Rally team begins a four-day test in southern France today in preparation for the final all-asphalt round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Sanremo Rally in Italy on 12-14 October. Bruno Thiry will test the Valvoline-backed Escort World Rally Car on mountain roads similar to those found in Italy. The main aim is to evaluate Michelin's latest tyres in readiness for the often damp special stages found on the event, which make tyre selection difficult but crucial to maximum performance. The test was originally scheduled for the end of this month but following the cancellation of the Rally Indonesia, it has been brought forward in the schedule.
The next round of the FIA World Rally Championship takes Ford to Italy for the all- asphalt Sanremo Rally. Belgian Bruno Thiry is the team's asphalt expert and we spoke to him about his hopes for the rally, his reflections on the season and the sport of rallying in general.
A COMBINATION OF EARLY SEASON INJURY, BAD LUCK AND INCONSISTENCY HAS MADE 1998 A DIFFICULT SEASON FOR YOU. HOW DOES THE YEAR RATE FOR YOU SO FAR?
No, it's not been my best season by a long way but things can change quickly in rallying and it's important that I maintain my concentration for the rest of the year and for the final three events in the championship. Malcolm Wilson and the whole Ford World Rally team has remained firmly behind me, and just as it hasn't been easy for me, it's also not been easy for them. I've had more retirements than I would but I try to compare rallying with the weather. One day it can be grey and wet and the next sunny. Tomorrow I hope it will be very hot!
THE NEXT ROUND OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP, THE SANREMO RALLY, IS HELD ON YOUR FAVOURITE SURFACE. HOW CONFIDENT DO YOU FEEL LOOKING FORWARD TO THAT EVENT?
This week we're carrying out a tyre test in the south of France to prepare for Sanremo so that will give me the opportunity to try out different tyre options and vary the car's set-up to ensure I'm happy with the various setting going into the rally. The last asphalt rally was in Corsica and there the Escort was very competitive, particularly on the final day. But being competitive one day and not so the next day is not good enough and in Sanremo we must make sure we do it for all three days. If we do then I know we can come away with a good result because the car works well on that surface.
IS THE SANREMO RALLY A SIMILAR EVENT TO THE TOUR OF CORSICA?
Yes. The roads are twisty, narrow and offer good grip. The stages on the first and third legs are familiar to me but I don't know the roads on the second leg. They will be new to me so I don't know whether they are smooth or bumpy or whether they there is gravel lying around on them. I will have to wait and see on the recce.
THE TOUR OF CORSICA WAS HELD IN MAY. THE SANREMO RALLY IS FIVE MONTHS LATER. WITH THE CURRENT PACE OF DEVELOPMENT IN THE SPORT WILL THE SAME DRIVERS AND CARS THAT WERE COMPETITIVE IN CORSICA BE ON THE PACE IN ITALY?
That's a good question. All the major manufacturers are improving their cars event by event and I know that's the same for us. The important fact is that our improvements must be better than those of our rivals. Of course we must also take into account the two-wheel drive cars that are purpose-built for these asphalt rallies. The rules allow them to be so much lighter than the World Rally Cars that their power to weight ratio gives them a huge advantage. Because of this, and despite only having two-wheel traction, on asphalt they are a match for the four-wheel drive cars.
IS IT FAIR TO ALLOW THE TWO-WHEEL DRIVE MANUFACTURERS SUCH A WEIGHT ADVANTAGE?
If I was a team manager I would be very disappointed that the rules allow such an advantage to manufacturers that compete on only two or three rounds a year. There should be some restriction on them. The major manufacturers compete on all the championship rounds, pay heavily for the television coverage and so on and yet at the end of the year they lose out on points, and possibly, titles because of the two-wheel drive 'racers'. I'm sure it will be the same in Sanremo because if it's dry it will be very hard for a traditional four-wheel drive car to beat them.
WITH THE SANREMO RALLY BEING FOLLOWED BY THE RALLY AUSTRALIA AND THE RALLY OF GREAT BRITAIN, THE FINAL THREE EVENTS OF THE SEASON WOULD APPEAR TO BE FAVOURITES OF YOURS. IS THAT RIGHT?
Yes. I enjoy all three of those rallies. We've talked about the Sanremo Rally, I haven't a great deal of experience in Australia but I went well there in 1996 until mechanical problems intervened. The Rally of Great Britain is difficult, especially in the sort of foggy conditions we had in 1997, but I set good times last year before having to retire.
THE FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP IS RAPIDLY GAINING GROUND ON THE FORMULA 1 SERIES IN TERMS OF PUBLIC AND MEDIA INTEREST. THIS IS REFLECTED IN THE INCREASING NUMBER OF MANUFACTURERS COMING INTO THE SPORT. WHAT EFFECT DO YOU THINK THIS WILL HAVE ON RALLYING IN GENERAL?
Well, it will obviously create the opportunity for new young drivers to compete at the highest level and that's good for the sport. The number of top seats available has previously been limited to the four established manufacturers but the desire of other manufacturers to compete means there will be more drives available. In turn that means a bigger battle for the services of the top three or four drivers. It also ensures an interesting fight for the championship and that should produce more support from the television and other media.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE STRUCTURE OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
For sure there are too many rallies for the drivers but nobody seems to listen to us. Even the manufacturers are saying it's becoming too expensive and they must cut costs. The way to do that is to reduce the championship by one or two rounds and not increase it to 15 or 16 rallies as some have suggested. That is too much for everyone.
FORD IN FIA FORMULA ONE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Belgian Grand Prix Race Report - Sunday August 30th -
Rubens Barrichello was caught up in the multi-car accident soon after the start on the opening lap and sustained a slight arm injury. His car was severely damaged and he was unable to make the re-start.
Jos was put into the T-car for the re-start after he also damaged his race car in the initial first lap incident. On the re-start he drove round yet another coming together out of La Source and had worked his way up to 10th position and was running well before an engine problem ended his race on lap 9.
'An unfortunate end to an eventful weekend and an incident-packed race. Normally you would say that the conditions would have suited Rubens and given him a chance of championship points. However, even he reported the circuit was quite treacherous at the start. After his first lap incident and the subsequent injury to his arm, we decided that he shouldn't re-start the race. Jos was running well on the hard, wet tyres and the one-stop strategy could have worked out. However it was not to be. We now look ahead to the test programme at Monza next week in preparation for the Italian Grand Prix.' PAUL STEWART, MANAGING DIRECTOR
'We had started on the right tyres and fuel strategy the way the race turned out. But instead of a good result, we are now faced with a lot of work for our guys back at the factory to be in good shape for the next race at Monza.' ALAN JENKINS, TECHNICAL DIRECTOR
'Our initial concern after the race was for Rubens, but it appears that apart from a nasty bang on the arm he is fine. The rest of the race wasn't much better for us as Jos' engine failed early on. This was our second engine failure of the weekend which gives us some concern, particularly as in recent months, reliability has been extremely good.' MARTIN WHITAKER, FORD EUROPEAN DIRECTOR OF MOTORSPORT
'It was a very chaotic start to the race. The conditions out there were terrible and coming into the La Source after the start, there was absolutely no visibility. I braked when I felt that something was happening in front of me on the exit but was hit from behind which sent me into a spin. I was hit again from the side and then got caught up in the whole mess. The second impact caused some damage to my left arm. It's quite painful, but thankfully nothing is broken. However, the car is not in such good shape. In hindsight, I think someone should have taken the decision to start the race behind the safety car.' RUBENS BARRICHELLO, CAR NO. 18: SF-2/04 RETIRED: ACCIDENT, LAPS: 0
'I had a very good start and managed to pass four cars. Just as I came out of the first corner there were cars everywhere. I found a gap but was hit and my rear right tyre exploded. I managed to get back to the pits and jump into the spare car. At the re-start I had another good getaway and passed two cars. Unfortunately as I came out of the first corner Hakkinen spun and I had to lift off and lost a couple of positions. Things were looking good, so it was unfortunate that my engine failed. I could probably have finished in the points today.' JOS VERSTAPPEN, CAR NO.19: SF-2/03, RETIRED: ENGINE, LAPS: 9
AUTOTRADER RAC BRITISH TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP(BTCC)
This week the Ford Mondeo Racing team will be continuing the work from the Brands Hatch event on Monday August 31.
This was the second of three race appearances for Formula One and Indycar World Champion Nigel Mansell, whose Ford Mondeo was badly damaged in race incidents.
Mansell's Ford Mondeo Racing team-mate, Will Hoy, explains what it is like to partner the legend and how Mansell is adapting to the British Touring Car Championship.
WHAT IS MANSELL LIKE TO WORK WITH?
He's a thorough professional and that's it. He has a wealth of experience to bring from his career and works very hard to make his car the best he can get it. To work alongside him is relatively easy - we have our own engineers and mechanics, but at the end of the day, I can say Nigel Mansell was my team-mate and that's something special.
HOW IS MANSELL ADAPTING TO THE BRITISH TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP?
I actually think he has a lot of courage to come in to the series like this. These are very difficult cars to drive without experience of front wheel drive and the way it behaves. Other Formula One drivers who have come into the BTCC have taken a while to adapt to the different driving style and characteristics of the cars and the racing, so I think Nigel is brave to attempt what he is and his record so far has been far from disgraceful.
HOW MUCH WORK HAS MANSELL DONE SINCE JOINING THE TEAM?
He's done quite a bit of testing with them. He has his own chassis to work with and has his own way of setting it up. He has also had to learn a lot about the car and has used his experiences to help adapt his racing style.
He's also had an input off the track and has helped to move the Mondeo BTCC program forward.
WHAT IS TAKING PLACE THIS WEEK?
Both mine and Nigel's car were badly damaged in Monday's races and both need to be checked and straightened over the next week, to prepare for our next races at Oulton Park in two weeks time. The focus for the team's work this week will be on fixing the cars.
FORD CREDIT FIESTA CHAMPIONSHIP
Five Ford Credit Fiesta Championship drivers will be feeling the pressure this week as the series gets set for a thrilling climax
Peter Cate, Simon Clarke, Rae Claydon, Neal Gordon and Alan Morrison can all lift the coveted crown and know how important pre-race preparation will be if they are to be awarded a contract to test for the 1999 Ford Mondeo Racing BTCC team, the prize for winning the title
"I'll be going to the gym every day this week in order to get myself in the best possible shape. We're up against it at the moment but I will be giving it everything in the remaining races." RAE CLAYDON, FORD CREDIT FIESTA CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER
SLICK 50 FORMULA FORD CHAMPIONSHIP
The runners and riders in the 1998 Slick 50 Formula Ford Championship can look forward to a hard-earned rest this week after competing in four races over the last six weekends
The break will allow teams to complete final development in preparation for the remaining three races which will decide the Premier and First Division titles
"It's been quite hectic in recent weeks and the break will let me re-charge the batteries. I've got to get a good result in the last couple of races to give me a chance of taking the title." JENSON BUTTON, SLICK 50 FORMULA FORD CHAMPIONSHIP LEADER
Button will be swapping his driving gloves for a stint in front of the camera when he appears on Channel 4's The Bigger Breakfast (extremely popular British morning news/entertainment TV show) on Thursday 3 September
FORD IN THE BRITISH RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
Stephanie and Rachael Simmonite completed three days of testing in Cumbria last week in preparation for the final round of the Mobil 1 RAC British Rally Championship, the Manx International Rally (10 - 12 September). The British ladies rally champions need to beat their nearest rival, Barbara Armstrong, to take their fourth consecutive title.
"I'm really happy with the testing we've done for the Manx. We tried different suspension settings and dampers as well as different tyre compounds. The Escort feels very stable at high speeds and over jumps - it seems like a different car," said Stephanie, of her Chris Birkbeck Rallysport-prepared Escort.