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Q&A: Christian Loriaux (Ford) - EXCLUSIVE

21 December 2007

by Rob Wilkins


TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH CHRISTIAN LORIAUX: CLICK HERE


Christian Loriaux is the technical director at the BP Ford World Rally Team and the man responsible for heading up the team that designs and develops the Focus RS WRC car. We caught up with Christian at the end of October and here he speaks exclusively to Rallycourse and Crash.net Radio about his role, the challenges it encompasses and more...


Crash.net:
Christian, Ford introduced the new Focus RS WRC 07 this year for the Rally Finland. What were the main changes made to the car in comparison to the 06 model?

CL:
There were not tons of changes, because the '06 car was already so evolved and competitive. It was difficult to make it much better. But we refined a fair bit in terms of aerodynamics with a new rear wing. We had a new front bumper too because with the original one we had very little time for testing and it was effectively too low. The front of the front bumper dragged on the ground all the time and so we changed that. There was also constant development on the engine and a lot of weight saving on that and on all of the other components on the car. All-in-all there was probably a weight saving of 20 kilos and more on the car, which helped us to lower the centre of gravity and improve the weight distribution of the car.

Crash.net:
That sounds like a lot of fine tuning, is that basically why those changes were made?

CL:
Yeah it is a lot of fine-tuning because now-a-days to find 25 kilos in a car, which is already optimised, you need to find like 250 parts where you can save 100 grams. It is not a matter of changing one part and saving 20 or 25 kilos. It is a matter of changing 250 parts and saving 100 grams at a time. It is a pretty laborious job and sometimes you think are we pushing it a bit too far? But it is needed if you want to succeed and keep on winning.

Crash.net:
How does the Focus RS WRC 07 compare in your opinion to the cars of your rivals, the Citroen C4 and the Subaru Impreza?

CL:
I'd like to hope it is better and at the moment we are leading both the manufacturers' world championship and the drivers' world championship [in the end Ford won the manufacturers' again, but Marcus Gronholm lost out in the drivers' championship – ed]. I'd like to hope we manage to get one or two of those titles. But you have to be careful. Like McLaren showed in Formula 1 this year it is very difficult to win a championship. Anything can happen at the last minute. You have to be very careful. But the car has won, I have lost count of how many rallies, because Mikko Hirvonen has just won Rally Japan over the weekend and we had five Focus' in the top seven there. The car has proven it is fast on everything because we have won on snow, on rough gravel and nearly on tarmac too. It has been very reliable. We haven't had any retirements yet this season - and touch wood there are two rallies to go and if it keeps going that well we should have a very good season.

Crash.net:
What advantages does the 07 Focus have and what disadvantages does it have in relation to the competition?

CL:
I'd like to hope we don't have any disadvantages. The Focus is a very good car to start with and we have a very good team of people that put the car together well. Everybody is very conscientious. I have got a team of 20-25 engineers and designers behind me that are all very professional and motivated to win. That is why we have a competitive car. I'd like to think it is the fastest car out there and I think we have pretty much proven that. But so far it has been the most reliable one as well. It seems the team has done a good job and hopefully we will get the rewards.

I don't see any disadvantages. OK to start with, for sure, the Focus is quite a big car, compared to the C4, which is a smaller car. As such we have more drag and a higher centre of gravity because the car is higher. On paper then we have got a small disadvantage but we seem to be able to manage to cope with it. So, no real disadvantages.

Crash.net:
How did Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen re-act to the new car when they drove it? What were their initial impressions?

CL:
Usually we do back-to-backs when we do a new car, but this time, because the changes were not so massive, we effectively didn't do a back-to-back test. We knew the cars behaviour was better because we could see the handling was better in some places. But we couldn't really tell how much better and faster it would be and we were a bit surprised by how much we were in front of the opposition when we started competing with it in Finland. But that was good to see and we were not going to complain about it!

Crash.net:
Did it take them time to adapt to it at all?

CL:
No not at all because the car is very similar to the previous ones – but just easier to drive. We knew what direction we wanted to improve it and we did and so there was no need for adaptation for them.

Crash.net:
The Focus RS WRC is developed in-house, but is there anything that is out-sourced and brought in, maybe the dampers and so on?

CL:
For sure we do work in very close collaboration with some suppliers - and the dampers are a good example. We work with a company called Reiger, which is based in Holland. We have been working with them for the best part of 8-9 years. They do all the dampers and send them over to us. They are like a branch of our company but they are not – they are completely independent. But we are like friends and we work closely.

The same with the engine - the engine development is done by a French company. They are very competent people as well and they have had a few titles – world rally championship titles. They are another very important supplier to us.

There is BF Goodrich, our tyres suppliers too, who supply us with very good and competitive tyres. There are many parts of the puzzle. The same can be said for the transmission - which is designed mainly by us – but which is supplied by Ricardo Motorsport, in Leamington Spa in the Midlands.

Like I say, a lot of people are involved and obviously we have got a very close working relationship with the main Ford factory in Dunton. They support us with engineering requests and parts and supply and so on. There are a lot of people involved.

Crash.net:
What have been the main technical challenges this year?

CL:
This year we had to start using one engine for three rallies for cost saving. That was a good challenge. We have tried to use the gearbox a bit more as well. We have got two sets of transmissions per car for two rallies - and obviously we get new rallies coming into the championship.

For example Rally Ireland next month is a big, big challenge. It is a completely new rally for the world championship with very specific settings because the roads are very narrow, very fast and bumpy. Rally Ireland is actually probably the biggest engineering challenge of the season for us. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

Crash.net:
Has it been a good year for tech in the WRC?

CL:
Difficult to say - today none of them are good years technology wise and there is an economy of crisis. It is hard for all the manufacturers and there motorsport budgets are smaller and in view of that, the FIA, the organising body, are trying to reduce costs. We are limiting the technology more and more every day and it is quite restricted because of cost implications.

Crash.net:
What do you think of Super 2000 cars? How good are they?

CL:
I think they will be pretty slow and pretty boring to watch. In a way I can see that they could reduce the costs a bit – maybe. But the cost of the car I think is not a big factor in the overall cost of the championship. I am worried that they will be less spectacular and slower and will detract people from rallying rather than attract people.

It is good to have a rule change so that we have a big re-set and all the manufacturers can feel then that they can come in without being beaten by the people that have been there a long time and have a lot of experience. There is a need for a big change but I am not convinced that S2000 is the right way to go. I think we should still keep the car with the minimum of power and do a big re-set with new regulations to make the cars cheaper, but still we need to make sure that we keep them spectacular. We also need flexible enough regulations - and not so restrictive, so that every manufacturer has got a chance of making a competitive car. That is very important. With World Rally Cars we have had seven or eight manufacturers' in it and everybody has had the chance to win a rally and make a car that could win the world championship. I am not sure that this will be the case with Super 2000. That is what worries me a bit.

Crash.net:
How easy will it be to bolt a turbo onto a S2000 car, given the FIA's thinking on the Super 2000+?

CL:
That is impossible to be honest. That is a bit of a dream for people who don't know much about engineering. When you do a Super 2000 car basically you start with a 2 litre atmospheric car. That is going to give you 300 Newton major or 400 Newton major of torque – absolute maximum, probably not 400. So you will design all of your car and your transmission to be optimised for that if you want to make a competitive S2000. The minute then you bolt a turbo on that you are going to double the torque coming out of that engine and that is why you increase the power. But if you double the torque your S2000 transmission will explode in about 2 kilometres and the same with your driveshaft and so on and so on. So all you start doing with a S2000 car in view of having a S2000 car with a turbo and having that car competitive, then in that case you make the gearbox and all transmission to live for the 400 Newton major and that will mean it will be as reliable as a S2000 with turbo. But that also means that your S2000 will be uncompetitive because its transmission will be far too heavy. I hope that is not too confusing. But that is what it is. It will be easy to do but you would have to choose which one of the version you want to make competitive and sacrifice the other one, which is not very good.

Crash.net:
Do Super 2000 cars represent a sensible alternative for the FIA World Rally Championship or is it simply capping technology in a sport which should be driven by engineering excellence?

CL:
As I say it is good to have a big re-set. There is no harm either in trying to reduce costs but we have to do it in a sensible way and think about it very carefully. The idea of a S2000 with a turbo will work if you don't have to keep all the transmissions and so on from the [standard] S2000. It is good to have change and it is time for a change to try and attract people. Now I think we should make the minimum modifications to World Rally Cars. Some manufacturers' have just committed to making a World Rally Car, like Suzuki, and they are just coming into the sport and now they are being told maybe they are going to have to scrap their car. I think the most important thing for a championship to be successful is to have stability so that the manufacturer can make a plan and sell that plan to their board of directors. If the rules change every six months then nobody can plan and nobody will come into the sport.

Crash.net:
What do S200 cars - and WRC technology - bring to road cars? Do you get any transfer over of technology?

CL:
It is very difficult now-a-days. You do get a transfer with some things - like the way we work on transmissions, gear change technology and gear change speed. Maybe a bit of what we develop on braking and what we use to develop on stability control as well, for the rest though it is pretty difficult. All engines are quite efficient already.

Some stuff will go back down to road cars and it does sometimes, but it is limited because all development budgets in motorsport facilities are probably a 1000 times, if not 10,000 times smaller than the development budget of a proper road car manufacturer. A road car manufacturer can spend billions let say to develop a new ABS system. Where as our budget is nowhere near that for the whole operation. Overall it is difficult today, although there are still some returns.

Crash.net:
For the future, what do you think of the use of bio-fuels and so on? Is that the way forward?

CL:
It is a very political question. Yes we need to look at the environment and we need to make an effort and show that motorsport looks after the environment. But is bio-fuel the right thing? I don't know. When you look at the bio-fuel everybody will tell you if you look at it at a proper scale where it would make a change on the environment it is not viable because we could not supply it. So it is a bit more of a PR thing than a real solution.

I think the real solution will be more like the hybrids and things like that. What they are doing in Formula 1 allowing people to store energy and to restore it later to save fuel is interesting.

I think an interesting concept would be the one that they have got in MotoGP. Effectively there everybody is given the same fixed amount of fuel for a race and then you need to use that the most efficiently possible because obviously if you want more power you have to make it out of the same fuel and the only way to do that is to improve your efficiency. So if each team is given 'x' amount of fuel to do a rally and everybody has got the same amount that would really force people to look at efficiency and overall efficiency of the car. I think that would bring a solution that could go back into road cars and would be a clever way for the future.

Crash.net:
How important is it for the WRC to go 'green' and embrace more environmentally friendly technology?

CL:
I am sure it is important for the WRC because it is important for everybody and the WRC cannot ignore the need of the world. We are a shop window and we are out there to demonstrate what Ford can do. At the moment we are demonstrating that Ford can do the best handling car, the fastest car and the most reliable. But as well as that we need to demonstrate that we can do something that is environmentally friendly and that can solve the petrol crisis and the pollution crisis of the future and of today.


TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH CHRISTIAN LORIAUX: CLICK HERE


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