“I know nothing about rallying. I’ve seen the pictures in magazines, sometimes watched it on television. And I deliberately haven’t listened to anyone about rally driving. I want to find out for myself.” - Ayrton Senna
Few Formula One drivers tried to tackle rallying for real. Robert Kubica is the latest guinea pig to one of motorsports biggest questions: “Can a formula race car driver make it in rallying?” So far, Robert is mostly about crashes in WRC, but he managed to sack a few wins in ERC to make him a credible driver.
There was also Kimi Raikkönnen, who - after seemingly losing his mojo with Ferrari in F1 - turned briefly to Finland’s national sport. His move even urged legendary, four-time World Champion Finnish rally driver Juha Kankunnen for a one-time comeback for Rally Finland in 2010 to battle the F1-ace. Kimi’s rally career wasn’t as spectacular as his open-wheel racing one, nevertheless he got as far to score a stage win.
But then of course almost all British F1 drivers had some sort of outing in rallying, and there were some rally drivers who had an eye for Formula One, most notably Colin McRae and Sébastian Loeb of recent times.
And there was Senna.
Famously, British CARS and CAR CONVERSIONS magazine did a feature in 1986 with the then yet-rising star Ayrton Senna testing several rally cars.
The cars on Senna’s list were a 1.3-litre Vauxhall Nova, a Group A mkII Volkswagen Golf GTi, a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, a 3.4-litre Cosworth V6-powered, 4WD Ford Escort and the infamous Group B Austin Metro 6R4, only in “Clubman” specification with only 250bhp at the wheels.
Inevitably, the change from open-wheel track racers with downforce on smooth asphalt to rally cars on a forest stage is dramatic, Senna goes through the cars starting with the ones lower on power and easier to handle.
Rallying is considered to be the most complex and most challenging form of motor sports by many from the driver’s perspective, it is then interesting to read Senna’s comments as he is slowly getting the vibe of rally driving:
The funny thing is you don’t know which way you are going... It’s so rough the car is going bang!-bang!-bang! And I keep thinking ‘next time we’re not going to do it’. For a first experience my heart kept together.... And you have to put a lot of effort in [the forearm] to really keep it together, like when you hit some bumps in the middle of the corner. The steering wheel is fighting, and suddenly the steering wheel starts to go away. So I realise that, halfway through, and I start to put a lot of pressure here – and if you don’t do that for sure you lose it at the corner. Suddenly the steering wheel will go away from you... The thing is, in a racing car, you know exactly each corner, because you do that, I don’t know, one hundred times a day in testing. You know precisely how bumpy it is, where you make the line, and you have to be that precise. You know the run-off area, and you have more. . . more feeling of all the things. Here, it’s much more natural. Because you have to improvise all the time. You have to have a lot of judgement. There is no room for error. Otherwise you go off the road. . In the racing car you have the kerb. If you slide a little bit in the middle of the corner, you go over the kerb or over the grass as the last thing. Here, no. You don’t have the choice.. [Comparing the satisfaction of the perfect Formula One lap and the perfect charge through a forest stage] is difficult because here there is much more excitement, I think. It’s much more exciting here than in a Formula One car. Because here you don’t have the top, top speed, but you have a tremendous acceleration. In the Escort, unbelievable acceleration – and it’s rough. It’s a much more instant emotion than it is in a Formula One car. In a Formula One car you go-go-gogo-go! and then you come down. Here you go to a peak and come down, go to a peak and come down. It’s a different approach. It was something very different. You have to be very rough with the car and I never did that before. You just tend not to do it. You see and you back off. To go rallying the risk is far, far too high. And I have taken enough risks in Formula One to be where I am. But maybe to drive in an open place, you have a track where if you make a mistake you just go off then, yes, try more. Try harder to find the limit. I would probably enjoy that. But just for myself, just to try, like we did today. To learn more. I think, overall, it has been much more exciting than I expected. Much more’ involving. It has involved me much more than I thought. I didn’t feel the time going by. It went so fast because I was finding out, and learning more and going harder and harder. Having some moments… it was very exciting. Feeling the car in the air and then bottoming. Something I have never experienced before in a road car. In a road car you go easy, eh?
Who would have been the best co-driver to Senna?
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All quotes are from racecar-engineering.com
Images courtesy of ‘Cars and Car Conversions’