Ahead of the penultimate round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship this weekend in Turkey, Rallycross World paid the M-Sport team a visit at it’s base in Cumbria, North West England for an exclusive insight into how they turned a World Rally Car into a World RX front runner.
M-Sport is most famous for running rally legends Colin McRae and Marcus Gronholm at the forefront of the WRC with Ford, but more recently have started to diversify, embarking on a GT3 project with Bentley, and a rallycross programme with Ken Block in both World RX and the GRC. The rallycross machine is based on a Fiesta WRC chassis which has proved potent. On the cars World RX debut in Norway earlier this year, Block reached the podium, a result he may well have repeated in France were it not for a forgotten joker lap in one of the heat races. He finished fourth. Block’s pace, and that of the Fiesta, has opened eyes to the ability of the American and his British built machine.
“Ken has been doing rallycross and asked us at the start of last year if we would be interested in doing him a car. Our technical people looked at all the regs and we felt that we could do it. Ken drove our Fiesta WRC car on some rallies and I think he felt that there was a lot of potential in our chassis, I assume that’s what promoted him to come to us,” says M-Sport director Malcolm Wilson. “The current car is based on a WRC shell, we will be changing things more for next year like moving the fuel tank and things in that area, but in principle it’s WRC based. Certainly all the geometry and pick up points etc are the same. I’ve always felt that there has been a place for rallycross. When I wasn’t even old enough to drive, rallycross was fantastic to watch on TV. I used to watch every Saturday on Grandstand. It’s great for TV, a good spectacle. For me it’s totally different to rally. It’s great that IMG has got hold of it and they appear to be doing a really good job.”
The man put in charge or M-Sport’s rallycross programme was engineer Tim Jackson, who feels the squad’s wide ranging knowledge and impressive in-house facilities helped get the project off the ground in a tight timeframe. “It all came together reasonably quickly, we effectively used the knowledge we have from the WRC, and also at the time we were getting involved in the GT Bentley project too, so it was a case of taking the best bits of everything really. Ken had a bit of rallycross experience, one of the things that they helped with was with knowing the environments of the rallycross events. It is very different to WRC rallies and the time you have between races to re-prepare the car is a lot shorter, it was those kinds of things that they were able to give information on so we could prepare for those situations.”
Always confident that they could do a good job with the Fiesta RX, M-Sport decided to go their own way with the car rather than trying to glean too much information from existing Supercars. That presented it’s own challenges for the predominantly rally orientated outfit. “It was difficult, because in the WRC everyone has homologation papers for their cars and we’d see the papers from the other manufacturers. In rallycross, there isn’t that information. In a way that wasn’t great for us coming into it because you not sure how to approach problems, but on the other hand it’s really good because you are coming at it with a clean sheet of paper. The freedom of it, and the freedom of a new challenge is good, and the opportunity for development race-by-race is good too. The rallycross car is fundamentally the same as the WRC car, but with the radiator in the back and things. The engine is effectively based on the Focus WRC because it’s two litre, but there are a lot of differences to deal with the power, like strengthening. We worked with Pipo for the engine [who also build Petter Solberg’s Citroen DS3 motor.] The transmission is from Sadev, who we also use for the Fiesta R5. The rallycross project has worked quite well with out existing technical partners.”
Jackson says that the rallycross project has been met with enthusiasm in the M-Sport workshops. “You get a bit of renewed enthusiasm when you are becoming involved in something that is new. Especially with the publicity of the World championship, when people see it on TV you can be proud that you have had an involvement with a car that has done well. The TV side of rallycross makes it very attractive to sponsors which makes the series attractive on it’s own.”
The Cumbrian team has built two cars, one that is owned by M-Sport and lives with them in the UK, the other owned by Block’s team in America. Currently just running Block in the UK based car, M-Sport are open to suggestions about running other drivers in 2015. Former WRC driver Matthew Wilson attended the event at Loheac last month, and hinted that he fancied a go in the future.
“At the end of last year we were talking to a few people about opportunities for this year, but in the end as a company we had so much else on, it was us that went to them and said “look, we’re not in a position to be able to do this straight away.” We’d really like to, obviously, but when we do things we want to do them right. We felt having a full time entry for this year would have been difficult for us to achieve, but we are looking again for opportunities to have people in the car for next year. At the moment Ken’s plans for next year are up in the air as far as I understand, he has a lot of sponsor commitments so tying down a calendar for him that suits all of his commitments is pretty tricky, that’s why we are just doing the events we are this year. We’d be happy to entertain all possibilities with drivers and teams, we’re a business at the end of the day, and if we can do things that will help promote our business then that’s great.”
Back to this season, and Jackson has always felt confident that success could be achieved, even if those looking on were surprised by Block’s pace in Norway, and against the fast local Frenchmen at Loheac. “Derek [Dauncey, Block’s team manager] and I went to Portugal at the start of the year and we came away thinking ‘We can really do quite well here.’ The podium in Norway was nice, but I wouldn’t say a big surprise. Perhaps for other people looking on it was. We knew we can do a good job, and it was very satisfying to get a good result in our first event. Ken does so many different events, his control of high powered cars on the edge as with gymkhana is helping him in rallycross, but really what he is able to do with minimal testing because of his time constraints is impressive.”« Previous Post Next Post »