Toyota’s World Rally Championship team technical director Tom Fowler is a difficult man to please. It goes with the job. And, what’s more, he doesn’t really like surprises. He prefers predictability through engineering.
Asked by DirtFish to talk through the Toyota Yaris WRC’s first asphalt outing on Pirellis (don’t forget Takamoto Katsuta used the firm’s snow tires to drive a Yaris to victory on the last season’s Itäralli), Fowler’s response was typically precise.
He started with the weather.
“Maybe a bit too much on the wintry side,” he said. “We had good weather conditions to start to understand the new tires.
“It was mixed conditions with some snow and, maybe, not enough opportunity to try the pure Tarmac settings and tires. That was a little bit lacking with all the snow.
“Usually, it’s the other way around and you have to go hunting for the snow.
“We have a pre and a post-Christmas test for Monte. Usually, it comes to January and we’re watching the weather forecast and considering which [test] road to go for. If you’re trying to get some snow, there’s something of the lottery to that – so having some information on the snow side of things in the bag does take some of the pressure off.”
Pirelli supplied all the teams with plenty of data on the characteristics and working conditions for each of the four options (studded and stud-less winter, soft and super-soft compound dry tire) available.
Fowler added: “In general, we’re happy with that and happy with the test. For Tarmac it hasn’t been so demanding on the car [set-up] changes we’ve needed for the switch to Pirelli. There’s nothing fundamental – all adjustments have been within the scope of what we would expect to change.
“Monte’s a very special rally which comes down to tire selection and strategy on where to push and how to understand the conditions. Our Monte test is usually associated with fine-tuning to what we expect the weather to do and to understand the compromise required to get through a difficult section [of the stage] to get to the place on the road where your package will be optimized.
“The matrix of information we collate for Monte is huge compared with somewhere like Spain where you expect to use one tire in one condition, maybe with one option tire if the conditions change.”
Fowler says the breadth of those conditions makes subtle compromise as important as the need for an out-and-out racer of a car. And the tire aspect is very much part of the Monte Carlo compromise.
Fowler added: “I would imagine things will get a little bit more complicated when we have to nail down the set-up for the car to get it down to the last fraction of a second per kilometer on a more consistent rally.
“But for Monte Carlo there’s so much global information to collect that, in some ways, it makes a little bit easier when you get a big change – you’re sort of filling in a template which you prepared before rather than searching for the last millisecond.”