Motorsport Italia team manager Bruno di Pianto reflects on the team's pre-Rally Sweden test and the advice Marcus Gronholm gave to Lotos Team WRC driver Michal Kosciuszko.
We arrived in Sweden Saturday night, spent Sunday setting up the service area in Hagfors then set-off Monday for out test with Michal Kosciuszko and Marcus Gronholm. We were all very excited to be working with Marcus. Michal said it was like a fast track course in learning how to tackle driving in the snow.
Michal drove around 170km and learnt a lot. In his own words:
"It was amazing to drive my MINI WRC in such conditions with the beautiful roads here in Sweden covered in snow and ice and such a legendary driver who could immediately show me where to gain time using his incredible experience. For me, driving on snow is virtually an unknown quantity (I haven't done it for seven years in conditions which demand winter tyres)! I'm impressed with the MINI's grip level, but I need to learn how to use it."
I also waited to hear Marcus' feedback on Michal's performance and that was positive and constructive:
"Michal hasn't got much experience in these conditions, but I have to say he really isn't bad! He's still got something to learn, but it's a question of time and experience now to learn to feel the grip and the braking points. Mainly I showed Michal that you shouldn't go too fast into slow corners. You have to keep the line and then get on the throttle early, rather than leaning on the snow banks on every corner. You don't have to please the crowds by sliding sideways. Instead you should brake later, keep the line and accelerate out early. Michal's keen to learn and pick up everything I can tell him from my experience. He listens. One day isn't long enough to cover everything though and he also has to test his set-up. We didn't have much time, but everything was really OK!"
Of course, Marcus is right, Rome wasn't built in a day and we hope to welcome him back with the team in his mentor role in future.
One vital piece of advice Marcus gave was that young drivers focus on set-up improvements, sometimes overlooking the skill necessary to make good pace notes, which can save a lot of time throughout a rally. Michal and Maciek already had a challenge ahead during recce here, because Sweden and Greece are the only two events on the 2013 WRC Calendar that they've never done together before. As well as focusing on pace note quality, they had to make pace notes from scratch!
Looking to the event, they need to be prepared for the extreme speed the stages demand. Rally Sweden is one of the fastest events on the calendar, yet Michal will hit close to 200kmph driving over ice that it's tough just to stand up on! Michal needs to be confident, believe in himself and carry his speed through high-speed corners.
The other challenge will be mastering the tyres. Michal has to live with stud-wear and minimise the damage caused by drastic loss of traction towards the end of a loop. If it's warmer on the first pass then the wear won't be too bad. However, in the afternoon, and especially, with the national rally cars passing over some stages as well as the WRC competitors, drivers can lose studs easily due to the ruts in the road. It's a real skill to be able to deal with the drop off this creates in winter tyre performance.
Lastly, we have to prepare to run second on the road. Starting order is even more vital than normal when there's fresh snow falling. The first car on the road will lose time road-sweeping, which could also affect Michal. However, if he completes a stage before the snow hits, it could be an advantage being further up in the running order.
The competition will be fierce, but as always we're here to do our best.