Snowbanks. Solid snowbanks. The winter rally-saving dream of drivers up and down the World Rally Championship service park will line the route for this month’s Arctic Rally Finland. But will they dare to use them?
I remember being on an early Ford Focus RS WRC test with Colin McRae, somewhere a very long way north of Lanark, somewhere the roads were white-walled. The Scot was in his element.
“You can go into corners a gear higher than you would normally – that’s how much more speed you can carry if you get it right,” McRae told me. “But you have to get it right.
“You have to be careful with the snowbank. You set the car up before the corner and you want the rear quarter just leaning on it. If you go in much too quick, you can grab the handbrake turn in and hit it quite hard and it might save you – but sometimes you do that and, because of the angle and attitude of the car, it can just turn the front of the car in [to the snowbank].
“It’s crucial not to have too much steering input; you can feel when the car’s leaning on the wall and you’re just giving it plenty of right foot. That’s great. Equally, if the snowbank’s not as strong as you thought it was, you can end up looking a bit of a tit.”
Let’s be honest, all drivers are up for going a gear higher. But with this current generation of cars, that carries more risk than ever because of one thing: aero.
Hyundai Motorsport star Craig Breen has just finished his pre-Arctic test and he’s in complete agreement with the 1995 World Rally Champion. But he sounds a word of warning.
“The aero’s not made to be whacked into a snowbank,” Breen told DirtFish.
“Hit it at the wrong angle and it can be quite brittle. It’s going to be a fairly fine line to tread on the rally.
“OK we had good conditions in Sweden in 2018, but these banks are the proper ones and it’s arguably the fastest and most efficient way through the corner to lean on them, but if you lose the aero or parts of it then you can pay for that on some of the fast straights and faster corners.
“And one thing we know about this part of Finland is that it’s got a lot of fast straights and fast corners. There will be a trade-off between taking that bonus of extra corner speed from the snowbank and maintaining the downforce.”
The February 26-28 event will be Breen’s first time back in a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC on a WRC round since he finished second at Rally Estonia last year. The Irishman won what was a pre-Ypres warm-up event (Aarova Rally Oudenaarde) in October, but since then all his seat time has come in a Rally2-specification i20.
“The test went well. It’s always great to get back into these cars,” said Breen.
“The surface was a little bit of a challenge though. I was surprised how rutted it got and when you’re using the road both ways, you end up with ruts on both sides of the corners.
“From what I’ve been told the stages themselves will be better. It’s looking like a fantastic rally. The town [Rovaniemi] is really nice with a great atmosphere and these are amazing rally conditions, to drive through these deep-frozen conditions with the sun shining across a white wilderness will be stunning.”
Asked if he was afraid of the wolves Esapekka Lappi told DirtFish about, Breen said: “No. If I’m meeting the wolves it means I’ve retired and if that’s the case I’m probably more afraid of Andrea [Adamo, Hyundai Motorsport team principal] than I am of the wolves!”