Thought you might like some thoughts on driving Geen on a Rally.
Rauno Aaltonen, known as the professor was a very successful development engineer and rally driver (it’s unusual to find the two together). As he says “driving a rally car is a busy job”.
On arrival at a stage start we join a queue of cars waiting to go. My job at this point is to get focussed. Mostly I will be trying to manage the build up of heat in the engine: hanging back in shade for example. I will be looking at who is in front and behind: will they be easy to pass? How much quicker are we so where in the stage are we likely to catch them.
Jonathan will tell me what information he can glean: length of the stage, bad junction at 2.3km and so on. I will be listening to the cars in front setting off, assessing how much traction they have off the line and then the noise of their engine: big lift after three seconds? Ah ha, big corner just after the start.
Once we’re near the front of the queue I will be assessing the start line: which side do I want to position the car on? They are seldom in a straight line so getting the whole car pointing in the direction we want to travel in with the steering in a straight line is critical. Sometimes I will put the car off line because the earlier cars have cut up the start line and we’ll get better traction on another part.
Once on the line I will block out the marshalls and spectators as best I can: it’s too easy to get distracted. At ten seconds to go I lift the revs from tickover. At five seconds I take the engine to launch revs, in Geen about 2100. At three seconds I engage the clutch until I can feel it bite and strain against the handbrake. At one second I go, bring the clutch up and let the handbrake off so as the Marshall says go the car is moving.
The first fifteen feet are about managing clutch slip with the revs low. In a day event, or one with a lot of service support, or where you were looking for every second of performance you might dump a load of revs through the clutch and absorb the clutch slip, heat and damage. But this is an endurance event, so I keep the revs low until the clutch is completely out and the gear completely in.
Then the fun part, massive acceleration in a relatively low risk phase of the stage. Geen has great gobs of torque in any gear. Once first is fully engaged, one and a half seconds after departure I get on the throttle and take the revs to peak power at about 5000revs. Glorious noise from the V8. You have to manage the power as you don’t want the car squirreling about or fishtailing. Fastest possible change into second and maximum throttle, we’ll be doing 60mph in about five seconds on the rough.
By the time were up in to second the focus is on where the corners are going. Anywhere we can use our third gear, fast corners and what straights you get on a stage, Geen is in her element. She gains speed as fast as many sports cars, and that’s on loose or tarmac surfaces.
Approaching corners is all about managing our exit speed, oh yes, and not leaving the stage. It’s very demanding on crew and car. We did a very fast tarmac stage in the hills yesterday and arrived at the finish with our brakes, front and back, just this side of on fire. Brake temperatures at this point could be as high as 700 degrees centigrade.
Just down the valley from here we passed a monument. Dated 20 September 1944, it was in front of a burnt out farmhouse. I would guess it marked the scene of another ghastly atrocity. So much of the lands we have travelled through in Eastern Europe are steeped in so much blood and tragedy.
We’re right up in the clouds in the Italian Alps staying at a ski resort.
Just got two days results in one go. We are currently ninth, the two cars in front when we were eleventh we have passed. The Volvo catching us from behind is closing fast and is now less than two minutes behind. The pressure is on him as there may only be two days of competing left and he is not closing the gap quite fast enough, making a minute a day. We may yet keep him behind us as we really are taking it very easy to get to Paris.
The Bristol we overtook is making some impressive times, but I think we have passed him. Still plenty of scope to cock things up…
It was a long hard day. It rained for a good chunk of the day once we passed into Italy. At one point we were driving in a monsoon and there was such a volume of water on the road it was lifting the car. The tests were all tarmac hillclimbs up the steepest switchbacks. Geen’s power, short length and cute steering make it easier, but the sheer physics of getting up gradients and round endless hairpins are tough. The poor tyres are taking a hammering but are still giving good service, they appear to have been a good choice for the event. The spectators, and my god there have been a lot of them, certainly enjoy all the squealing.
We cut dinner with the rally and ate in our hotel, a cracking meal and surprisingly enjoyable having food hot and brought to the table. I am very much looking forward to not eating ham and cheese sandwiches or selecting food from buffets.