Thursday 30 July 2015

Rally - Question time

Think of Somerset and you probably think of cider, cheese and a leisurely way of life, but not for one man, Phil Barrett. Originally from Ilminster he is the engineer responsible for Volkswagen Polo WRC engines at each round of the World Rally Championship series. Formerly with Jaguar/Land Rover and before that Cosworth, Prodrive, Ilmor and Mitsubishi, amongst others, Phil faces one of his biggest challenges this weekend.

With the return of the ‘Ouninpohja’ stage on this weekend’s Rally Finland, the demands on engine and chassis are huge. On the 33 km route last used on the 2013 Rally Finland, the WRC machines took off exactly 77 times and were in the air for a total of 30.4 seconds – unrivalled by any other special stages in the world.

What makes the Rally Finland magical for an engine engineer?
Phil Barrett: “Quite simply: it is all about speed. Finland is one of several rallies in which the engine performance is more crucial to the performance of the overall package of the World Rally Car than in other places. In addition to Finland, other rallies where this is the case include Mexico and Sweden. On top of this, Finland has the longest history and greatest tradition as a full throttle rally. Finland is the greatest challenge for the engine department, so to speak.”

 What are the exact demands that the Rally Finland places on engines?
Phil: “You need as much horsepower as possible, that much is clear. But there is another, lesser known effect. According to the regulations, the speed of an engine must not exceed 8,500 rpm. Getting as close as possible to this value without exceeding it on the long, full throttle sections and on the many jumps sounds easier than it is. If the rpm is exceeded, an FIA system intervenes – extremely sharply and abruptly. So you need to make sure that you keep the maximum speed as high as possible without this system intervening. However, you can also lose five kilometres per hour at top speed if the engine control is too conservative.”

The Polo R WRC holds the record for speed on ‘Ouninpohja’. Do you think it will be broken this year?
Phil (laughs): “I would love to answer with a definite ’yes’. But I think that it depends on the circumstances of the rally. If it is as close again as it was in Poland, all the drivers will go at full throttle without compromise. And as far as the Polo R WRC is concerned, it has improved in all areas since 2013, which is when ’Ouninpohja’ was last held. The engine has developed further, but so have the aerodynamics and the chassis. The chassis in particular is what has improved the overall package – so in theory it is possible.”

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