This is Part 2 of TON’s Director of Operations Chuck Long interviewing Chris Duplessis before Chris left for Neste Oil Rally Finland. Here they talk about the differences between car preparation and rules in the WRC Academy and for Rally America events, and more. Catch Part 1 at this link.
TON – What’s the difference between the WRC-prepped car and yours that you’re running here in the Rally America series?
CD – Probably the biggest thing is how they prep it and how it’s been built, just the fit and finish. They’ve built probably 200 of them so everything’s exactly perfect – where the wiring’s run, where the hoses are all laid. Whereas I’ve built two, so it’s like, “Oh, it would have been better to put the hoses here,” and change stuff up a bit. And then just the set-up. They know the set-up for Finland or the set-up for Greece, so as far as ride height and camber angles and toe angles and you know, clicks on the suspension, they really have that dialed in so that’s a big difference. We actually ran the set-up we’re gonna have on our car in Finland at Maine [New England Forest Rally]. They sent me the sheet ahead of time so I tried that just to get used to it and it actually worked very well and it was quite a bit different from what I had set my car for. So I thought, “this is pretty good” and then it was all different and it was actually way better, so just that alone is a huge step for me to start knowing how to set up stuff.
TON – and that kind of goes to, “what are you taking away from this?” That has to be huge, let alone all the experience with that, to be able to get the set-up and the car prep from the folks who have been doing it for years and years.
CD – Yeah, it’s the guys who’ve engineered the R2, and they’ve worked on other projects like the Focus. It’s all the M-Sport guys – they bring all their best engineers so I’ve got a chance to talk to them about some things. We actually had a bush mechanics class which was really neat, and there was actually some stuff that I hadn’t thought of or known that they showed us, which was pretty good. And every round we get a class, so they teach us bush mechanics or marketing or I think this time we’ve got one with Pirelli, so we’re going to learn about tires and how to choose compound. We even got a chance to listen to the M-Sport and Ford guys’ meteorologist. They’ve got a meteorologist with the team that can read the weather and decide what tires they need, and when it’s going to rain and what part of the country it’s raining in.
TON – When you say “bush mechanics” does that mean like field expedient repairs out on the stage?
CD – Yeah, they called it “bush mechanics”. They showed us, just like we kind of show here at Team O’Neil during our courses, with the radiator and using a wrench to make a bracket and pinching off a brake line. This is actually a pretty good story – last year in the Academy they talked about Craig Breen, the kid who won the academy championship. In their bush mechanics class they had before one of the rounds, they showed how you have to have 4 tires on the car, but if you lash [a damaged tire] on like this, that counts, and so he ended up ripping a wheel off and he did exactly what they said and got it on there, and dragged it back to service. They ended up disqualifying him because they said that wasn’t road legal, it wasn’t safe, so they ended up changing a WRC rule to say, “all four tires have to be rolling”.
TON – Now that leads to the Rally America car, with the rules as far as builds and so forth. Can you take away any of that information you’ve gleaned on how to set up, to add to the cars here?
CD – Yeah, the Rally America rules are a lot more open. Basically, [in the WRC Academy] the R2 is homologated, so you really can’t change a thing. There’s even an issue where the tires rub on the inner fender and they actually cut the sidewall, and they’ll bend the fender and with the WRC Academy cars, every car comes in with a fender bent because they can’t actually cut out the bracket that’s in the way, where here you can just cut that out. And there you have to leave the service park with the car how it showed up, whereas here you could drag it back on three wheels. So yeah, the rules are definitely a little looser here which is actually a little bit easier, keeps it a little bit cheaper, but it’s also cool to see how a sanctioning body as big as the FIA keeps everything right on track.
TON – And all those cars are equally prepped, or as much as possible. Are you going to be running the same car that you had in Greece and Portugal, so it’s kind of your car for the events?
CD – Yep, my car is actually the car that won the championship last year – it’s the one that Craig Breen won the championship in so it’s definitely a fast car, it’s been proven. But yeah, it’s been the same all the way through, and I don’t think it would change unless I balled it all up.
TON – And they’re good crews over there? I think most of the guys are Polish?
CD – Yeah, the cars are serviced and taken care of in Poland, so most of the guys are Polish. They’re awesome guys. It’s funny, you know I show up and talk to them, and ask them if I can help out. I think if you’re nice to the mechanics they take a little extra time on your car.
TON – Well, you know that from being a mechanic all your life too, that you need to give them a lot of credit.
CD – We actually ended up bringing two of the mechanics out with us in Portugal after the rally and they loved it, and so in Greece everyone was like, “Where are we going? What are we doing?” So, it’s been good fun.