Car improvements boost McRae's title bid
Nov 02, 2004
Alister McRae heads to his favourite event of the season, Telstra Rally Australia, with his hopes of scooping the FIA World Production Championship title boosted by yet more car revisions on his RED-prepared Subaru Impreza.
The Scot will start the event fourth in the points-standings, but is only three points behind the championship leader. Adding to the excitement, one of his other rivals has already dropped out of contention because he has already used all his six points-scoring rounds, although there are still four drivers in with a chance of clinching the title.
With points awarded to the top eight finishers, on a scale of 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1, Jardine Lloyd Thompson Rally Team driver McRae knows his best chance of scooping the title is to win the category outright on the gravel-strewn roads around Perth.
The event is characterised by the incredibly slippery ball bearing-like gravel balls that sit on the surface of the tree-lined stages. Although the weather is almost invariably dry, this unique gravel means drivers often struggle for grip in much the same way that they do on the wettest mud during events like Wales Rally GB.
Other highlights of the event, which is hosting the world championship finale for the first time, include the crowd-pleasing superspecial at Gloucester Park and the man-made jumps in Sotico, which provide some of the most dramatic action images from the season of World Rally Championship competition.
The series finale also has an extra significance for McRae. While competing at Telstra Rally Australia in 1999, Alister met his wife Tara. As a family they now spend approximately two months per year in their home in Perth, enjoying the mild climate and easy-going life style Perth offers.
What car improvements are on the way?
There are some more damper developments coming and there has been even more work done on the engine to improve power and driveability. They are only small steps, but every edge is going to make a difference.
Will you get a chance to test the changes?
Yes. The boys from RED are coming out a few days early to acclimatise and then we will spend the Monday before the rally begins trying the different bits and pieces. In particular, it will be good to get the dampers right, as they really help with finding grip.
Will you drive thinking about the championship position?
The only thing on my mind at the start will be winning, and of course winning is the best guarantee I can have of being able to do my best for the title. But even then it’s going to be hard, because championship leader Jani Paasonen can afford to finish behind me and still win the crown.
How well do you know the event?
It’s an event I love and one that I have always enjoyed competing on. But my problem is that my title rivals know it well too. Jani was there with Mitsubishi two years ago, Niall (McShea) was there last year and was runner-up, and Toshi Arai has been there a lot in recent years too. Having missed the event for two years, I’ve got some catching up to do.
What characteristics stick out in your mind about the event?
Warm weather, good organisation, the strange road surface and the fact that the trees that line the road are really close to the edges. Mistakes are punished very hard.
Tell us about that road surface?
It’s just incredibly slippery. It’s like driving on marbles and even walking on it can be incredibly tough. To get the best out of the car on it you have to go for a set-up similar to the one we used in New Zealand or Wales Rally GB. Although the surface is very different on all three events, the goal is the same – searching for grip.
So presumably your non-championship outing on Wales Rally GB is a help?
Yes. Although it was great to win the Production class there, the best bit was being able to test various settings with the dampers and suspension and really work out how best to get the best traction and grip from the car.
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