The FIA WRC Academy crews will be well prepared for the challenges that lay in wait on the 58th Acropolis Rally this week as they complete a comprehensive training programme incorporating a mix of practical, theoretical, social and cultural activities.
Famed as the roughest event on the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar, the crews had the opportunity to relax at the Loutraki Thermal Spa before the recce started followed by a lesson in ‘bush mechanics’ from one of Ford World Rally Team’s most experienced technicians.
Formerly known as the legendary city of Thermae, the rally base in Loutraki is home to the healing waters which, according to Greek mythology, were bathed in by Artemis and Apollo. Today, the thermal springs have been transformed into a modern spa resort in which the ancient approach to therapy, relaxation and rejuvenation continues.
At the invitation of the Mayor of Loutraki, the WRC Academy crews were given the opportunity to experience the healing waters for themselves as they relaxed ahead of the rally. Only one competitor, Ashley Haigh-Smith, was brave enough to take a cold dip in the plunge pool after the sauna, but all where able to unwind and catch up with their colleagues. This activity provided an ideal opportunity for the young stars to focus their minds for what is set to be one of the most challenging events in their careers to date.
In a new approach from the theoretical training of the WRC Academy’s inaugural season, this year’s series will see the crews partake in more practical, hands-on training as M-Sport endeavours to provide the stars of tomorrow with a broad range of knowledge and techniques needed to become a future world champion. As such, this week also saw the WRC Academy crews complete a training session in ‘bush mechanics’ from Ford World Rally Team technician, Darren ‘Daz’ Mason.
Having worked with rally cars in private teams since 1989, Mason started working with the Ford World Rally Team in 1996 as part of the recce team seconded from Gordon Spooner Engineering. In 2001, he moved to work with M-Sport and has been a key part of the team, providing pre-event recce support and as a senior technician to some of the sports most iconic names. With experience of over 200 WRC events, Mason has worked with the likes of Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae, Marcus Grönholm, Mikko Hirvonen, Markko Märtin, Franҫois Duval, Toni Gardemeister, Juha Kankkunen, Petter Solberg and now Jari-Matti Latvala.
‘Bush mechanics’ is essentially the art of fixing an ailing rally car using only the tools to hand on the stage or road section, a discipline in which the legendary Colin McRae was an expert. Whilst driving for the Subaru World Rally Team, McRae famously repaired a bent rear suspension link with the help of a locally sourced rock in Argentina – removing the suspension arm from the car and dropping the rock from a height in an attempt to straighten the link before re-fitting it to the car. The Scot’s ingenuity prevented retirement and helped him make it back to service where the technicians were able to replace the damaged part. More recently, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov claimed a record-breaking second place at the 2012 Vodafone Rally de Portugal having repaired a broken throttle pedal with cable-ties and tank tape from the cockpit of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC – a feat which ultimately enabled the Russian to make it to the finish where he became the youngest ever driver to stand on a WRC podium.
The most important points covered in the session included instruction on assessing the level of damage that may have been caused, the time that may be lost, how safe the temporary repair is deemed to be and whether or not it would be realistic to continue. Considering the abrasive nature of the Acropolis Rally, the WRC Academy’s practical training may prove invaluable to the crews as they look to secure a strong result this weekend.
Speaking on the importance of ‘bush mechanics’, Ford World Rally Team technician, Darren Mason, said:
“The aim of the ‘bush mechanics’ training session was to give the WRC Academy crews a general insight into some of the ways in which a rally car can be temporarily repaired – using basic materials which can be carried in the car or found ‘in the bush’ out on the stages – to a state where the car can continue to reach the end of the stage or service where it can be repaired properly.
“The Acropolis Rally will present the crews with the most difficult conditions the WRC has to offer and the combination of heat with the abrasive terrain will test them to the limit. Thinking outside the lines a little and being inventive can sometimes be all it takes to get out of trouble. Every situation will be different, but a few simple ideas can go a long way: be it securing major components in place with straps, keeping water in a cooling system by engineering temporary radiator repairs or sealing a crack in the oil sump with a bar of soap.
“All of the WRC Academy crews attended the session and showed genuine interest and enthusiasm. Hopefully, if they are unfortunate enough to find themselves in a tricky situation, some of what they have learnt could prove vital and keep them on the road.”
Following the training, WRC Academy competitor, Fredrik Åhlin said:
“The training was really good and has actually already come in useful for us as we broke a spring platform on the damper of our recce car yesterday! Thanks to the training, we were able to locate the problem and stabilise it using an exhaust clamp which lasted us the whole recce.
“For sure, the training will be a big help on the rally too. This is an event where you will be lucky to get to the finish with no problems and the skills we learnt will no doubt make it easier to make it back to service for a full repair should we encounter any problems.”
Continuing their training, the WRC Academy crews will attend a Q&A session with Citroën Total World Rally Team’s Mikko Hirvonen this evening (Wednesday) where they will have an opportunity to learn from the 2011 WRC runner-up’s experiences having contested the Greek stages on nine previous occasions.
Supported by Ford Racing in Europe and with control tyres from Pirelli, the WRC Academy kicks off with a 25km Super Special on Thursday evening before embarking on the opening loop of stages on Friday and Saturday.
- Training prepares FIA WRC Academy crews for season start
- FIA WRC Academy training days revealed
- FIA WRC Academy pre-season training dates announced
- Introducing the FIA WRC Academy crews of 2012
- FIA WRC Academy crews set to tackle legendary Acropolis
- Petter Solberg praises FIA WRC Academy
- Tough tarmac challenge awaits Pirelli WRC Academy crews in France
- 2012 FIA WRC Academy
- FIA WRC Academy launch
- M-sport Rescue Crews Train For The Season Ahead