WRC 2019 ROUND 12 RALLY GB
After finishing outside the podium places at the previous Rally Turkey, the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team set about investigating the causes for its lack of performance and implementing measures to resolve them. With regard to the electronic control unit (ECU) which had, on Day Three, robbed a well-placed Ott Tänak of his chance of victory, immediately after the conclusion of the rally, the team worked with its supplier to prevent a reoccurrence of the issue. However, even if he had not been affected by the ECU issue, it is doubtful whether Tänak would have been able to stand on one of the higher steps of the podium. On the rough Turkish gravel roads, the Yaris WRC suffered from a general lack of traction. The new suspension, which had been introduced after an ample development period, had clearly improved performance; however, it did not function perfectly. It had not been fully optimized for Turkey’s roads and, as a result, the drivers were unable to extract the full performance from their tires.
The team therefore prepared meticulously for Round 12, the Rally GB. It carried out its pre-event tests in Wales, in the U.K., and tested the suspension on gravel roads of similar condition to those used in the actual rally. It also rained for part of the tests, and this enabled the team to confirm its setup in a variety of surface conditions.
The Rally GB takes place in autumn and, as such, the weather is generally unstable. The gravel roads that run through forests and hilly regions change their character significantly depending on the weather. If it is completely dry, the cars can generate plenty of traction; yet it is extremely rare for the roads to remain dry for the duration of the rally. If it rains heavily once only, the roads absorb the water and become slippery; the gravel roads turn to mud, and the tire grip falls off dramatically. If it continues to rain, the majority of mud is washed away, revealing a firm road surface with superior grip. If the rain stops and the surfaces begin to dry, the mud hardens like clay—and when this is repeatedly rubbed by the tires of the rally cars, it becomes even more slippery than wet mud. Since the grip levels of Rally GB’s gravel roads vary widely according to the weather, it is essential that teams ensure their cars are set up to cater to all conditions. For this reason, the rainfall during the pre-event tests was, for the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team, “rain from heaven.”
As far as reliability was concerned, the team made further progress. Together with Denso, one of its partners, the team strengthened the electric radiator cooling fans. The Yaris WRC is equipped with two electric fans—one on the left and one on the right of the car—and one of these was made by Denso. However, from the Rally GB onwards, the team decided that both fans would be Denso-made. Since the Rally GB takes place in cool conditions, there is no risk of engine temperatures rising. Why, then, did the team choose to change the fans before this event? In order to improve the car’s reliability. Denso’s compact electric fans use brushless motors—not only do they require little energy, they are also outstanding at controlling currents. Since there is little risk of momentary excessive current flows, the fans also provide a great advantage in increasing the reliability of the electrical system. As a result of this change, the entire radiator and electric fan setup was now Denso-made, leading to a significant improvement both in cooling performance and reliability.
This year, the service park at the Rally GB was moved to Llandudno in the north of Wales. The ceremonial start, which celebrates the beginning of the rally, took place in Liverpool in England; then, in a novel experiment, SS1 took place at Oulton Park, England, from 7pm on the same evening. SS1 was a short stage measuring 3.58 kilometers in length that took place on both tarmac and gravel surfaces within Oulton Park circuit. It was the sort of stage that, typically, would not be expected to result in large time differences. However, Tänak finished the stage in 13th place, some 8.8 seconds behind the leader. In the darkness, the optical axis of Tänak’s lights was slightly askew, leading to reduced visibility—perhaps for this reason, Tänak stalled his engine on a hairpin. Kris Meeke, on the other hand, posted the fastest time, with a 2.1-second gap to second place. The Briton had also gone quickest in the morning shakedown, so his SS win concluded a superb start to his home rally.
The real forest stages began on Day Two, and again Meeke was in fine form, going second quickest on both SS2 and SS3. Despite intermittent rain turning the Welsh forest roads to mud, the Briton drove in an assured manner and held onto the rally lead until SS9. Meeke was driving fast enough that victory on home soil was a distinct possibility, yet he never attacked beyond his limits. In the Rally GB, Meeke’s primary objective was to contribute to the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team’s battle for the manufacturers’ championship. In order for the team to overtake its rival in the final three rounds and retain its title, Meeke would have to score points. For this reason, he prioritized steady driving in stage after stage. On SS7, in particular, after teammate Jari-Matti Latvala crashed and retired, Meeke felt a renewed sense of responsibility that he would have to finish the rally among the leaders.
Despite losing time on the opening stage, Tänak had his sights firmly set on victory, so that he could further extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship. On the slippery mud surfaces, the Yaris WRC’s suspension and drivetrain functioned as expected and fully delivered the engine’s power to the road. The pre-event tests had clearly been a success, but Tänak’s rivals for the top positions were also quick. As a consequence, the time gaps remained small on each of the special stages, and the battle for victory was closely-fought to the end. Indeed, it proved remarkably difficult for Tänak to recover the eight or so seconds he had lost on SS1, and he was forced to wait for his chance from fourth in the rally standings. Then, on the final two SSs of Day Two, which took place just as the sun was setting, Tänak made his move.
During the night stages, it was difficult to see the changes in surface conditions; for this reason, the key was how much confidence drivers had in their cars. Before the beginning of the event, Tänak had commented: “The most important thing at the Rally GB is confidence. If you lose confidence even a little, then your times will fall away significantly.” The forest stages were covered in darkness, and the majority of drivers lost time. But with a breathtaking fastest time Tänak rose to second in the overall standings. During SS9, there was a problem with the wiring on his auxiliary lamps, leading to restricted visibility. Nevertheless, after the stage Tänak consulted with his team and managed to resolve the issue. SS10 was the final stage of Day Two, and it took place in complete darkness. Tänak won this SS as well to overtake Meeke, who had until then led the standings, and take the rally lead.
In hindsight, winning both these two night stages was the key to victory for Tänak. The Yaris WRC had evolved into a car that could be driven with confidence in all situations, and this had enabled Tänak to exceed his rivals in poor conditions. On Day Three, Tänak placed second on five of the six forest stages, and so took complete control of the rally. Towards the end of the day, damage to his rear bumper meant that the cabin was incredibly noisy, and it became difficult for Tänak to hear his co-driver’s voice. Nevertheless, the Estonian recorded the fastest time on SS17, the day’s final stage. He finished Day Three with an 11-second advantage over his championship rival, who had risen to second in the rally standings.
On the final day, Tänak’s goal was the rally-ending Power Stage and the bonus championship points on offer. If he could set the fastest time on the Power Stage, he would secure five bonus points in addition to the 25 points on offer for winning the rally. Fully focused, Tänak went on the attack in tricky road conditions. His rivals for the championship were also fully focused, but Tänak won the stage by 0.4 seconds. With both the rally and Power Stage secured, it was a perfect end to the Rally GB.
“It was a really intense, long, and difficult battle, but I’m happy to have won,” said Tänak. “The team did everything to prepare the car for this rally—I am extremely grateful to all the members.” Tänak and his co-driver Martin Järveoja extended their leads at the top of their respective championships from 17 points to 28 points. Both titles could be decided in Round 13, Rally de España. However, Tänak increased his resolve to secure his first championship: “At this moment in time, nothing has been decided. I have to work harder and continue to attack.” In the final two rallies of the season, Tänak’s battles with his rivals will only increase in intensity, and even the slightest loss of time will not be tolerated. It is no exaggeration to say that the real battle starts here.
Meeke lost the rally lead on the final stage of Day Two. However, he had the important task of acquiring points for the manufacturers’ title, and he continued to prioritize driving in a consistent, reliable manner. Meeke finished the Rally GB in fourth position overall, just a single place off the podium and, together with Tänak, secured plenty of points for the team. As a result, the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team managed to cut the gap to first place in the manufacturers’ championship from 19 points to eight points—a significant boost in their quest to retain their title. Thanks to the contributions of Tänak, who won the rally, and Meeke, who executed his role as a team player superbly, the team’s ambition of winning both drivers’ and constructors’ championships is no longer impossible. The team will further increase its teamwork as it heads into Rally de España and the season-ending Rally Australia.
|1||Ott Tänak||Martin Järveoja||Toyota Yaris WRC||3h00m58.0s|
|2||Thierry Neuville||Nicolas Gilsoul||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+10.9s|
|3||Sébastien Ogier||Julien Ingrassia||Citroën C3 WRC||+23.8s|
|4||Kris Meeke||Seb Marshall||Toyota Yaris WRC||+35.6s|
|5||Elfyn Evans||Scott Martin||Ford Fiesta WRC||+48.6s|
|6||Andreas Mikkelsen||Anders Jaeger-Amland||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+58.2s|
|7||Pontus Tidemand||Ola Fløene||Ford Fiesta WRC||+5m23.8s|
|8||Craig Breen||Paul Nagle||Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC||+9m25.0s|
|9||Kalle Rovanperä||Jonne Halttunen||Škoda Fabia R5 Evo||+10m51.1s|
|10||Petter Solberg||Phil Mills||Volkswagen Polo GTI R5||+11m36.1s|
|R||Jari-Matti Latvala||Miikka Anttila||Toyota Yaris WRC|