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...
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?
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.
That sounds like a lot of fine tuning, is that basically why those changes were made?
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.
How does the Focus RS WRC 07 compare in your opinion to the cars of your rivals, the Citroen
C4 and the Subaru Impreza?
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.
What advantages does the 07 Focus have and what disadvantages does it have in relation to the competition?
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.
How did Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen
re-act to the new car when they drove it? What were their initial impressions?
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!
Did it take them time to adapt to it at all?