17 April 2014
Francois-Xavier Demaison, Volkswagen - Q&A
Ahead of Rally Argentina next month, Francois-Xavier Demaison - Volkswagen's technical project leader for the WRC - provides an insight into the Polo R WRC and chats about the challenges ahead in 2014...
Francois-Xavier 'FX' Demaison, technical project leader for the WRC at Volkswagen, has been involved in the World Rally Championship for ten years. As such, he arrived in the Volkswagen team with a wealth of WRC experience. He saw the opportunity in Wolfsburg and Hannover to take responsibility for the project, from the initial sketches to the World Championship title. And he has done precisely that since 2011.
Here in an interview - kindly supplied by Volkswagen Motorsport - the creator of the Polo R WRC chats about new developments, new opponents and new challenges...
You are known as the father of the Polo R WRC, and now you actually have twins - the 2013 World Championship-winning car and the new 2014 version. How can you tell the difference between the two?
It is actually not that easy. The most obvious thing is probably the new design. Under the bonnet, the 2014 version is a more durable variant of the 2013 Polo R WRC, with many areas more stable and reliable. The asphalt and gravel versions each have reinforced suspension parts, and a number of drive components have also been modified.
Volkswagen had no retirement as a result of a technical issue in 2013 - why was reliability such a major issue?
First of all, our drivers always want to push hard – perhaps even more so in 2014 than in 2013. We experienced a few setbacks last year due to the drivers' aggressive driving style – something which is often a necessity if you're aiming for a win. However, if Jari- Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen in Finland, and Sebastien Ogier in Germany, had already had the reinforced components on their cars, they might still have reached the finish. On top of that were a few less obvious issues, which we wanted to solve with new components. We wanted to make the Polo R WRC more bulletproof. And we obviously also wanted to make our mechanics' lives a little easier at the rallies.
There was a limited number of Jokers, which in turn restricted the options available for making any far-reaching changes to the Polo R WRC. How did you weigh up the pros and cons of the individual modifications?
We held a number of discussions with technical director Willy Rampf on this topic. As a result of the limited number of Jokers, we opted for the more reliable variant. Once you have played a Joker, there is no going back – you have to use the modified components as they are. There are only a few changes that affect the performance itself. For example, we now have more set-up options in one or two areas.
To what extent has the Polo R WRC been modified to suit the preferences and driving styles of the three drivers?
Our top two drivers, Sebastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala, have fundamentally different driving styles. Seb is always looking for the shortest route between corners, while Jari-Matti likes to throw his car sideways along the road. Seb had the advantage of a year's testing, and adjusted the Polo R WRC to suit his driving style. When Jari-Matti joined us at the end of 2012, he initially wanted to modify the Polo R WRC to meet his requirements. However, it turned out that Seb's driving style is the quicker of the two – so Jari-Matti gradually adapted his style to this 'central European style'. That is not something you can do overnight.
What role have the individual technical partners played? For example, the Polo R WRC has new shock absorbers...
We developed a new damper for this year, and the wealth of experience and knowledge of ZF really helped us a lot. Partners like ZF play a key role. And shock absorbers are very important in the World Rally Championship. However, you can say exactly the same about Michelin and tyres, for example, as well as our other technical partners.
How difficult will it be to defend the title – from a technician's point of view?
It is always harder to defend the title than it is to win it in the first place. I think we surprised a lot of people last year and caught some off their guard. Many, including ourselves, did not expect us to be challenging from the word go and throughout the entire season. We are now the team that everyone wants to beat. It is easy to lose concentration and make a silly mistake, or to take things lightly. You can soon lose a rally or the World Championship that way. Everyone in the team has to be hungry for success – mechanics, engineers and drivers.
Compared to last year, how strong do you expect the opposition – old and new – to be?
I am taking every single one of our opponents seriously. They could easily do to us what we did to them last season. I refer primarily to Hyundai there. Citroen and Ford also line up with new drivers, and are also determined to beat us. 2014 will definitely not be easy for us, and we will not rest on our laurels.
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