Testing in the land of snow and ice

Testing in the land of snow and ice

Take a look beyond the Arctic Circle, where the latest generation ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 was put through its paces. What were the racing drivers and engineers focusing on?

17. 2. 2022 Lifestyle Motorsport

Testing is a marathon not a sprint, and it requires total commitment from all the members of the development team, not only at ŠKODA Motorsport’s base near Mladá Boleslav, but also on test tracks right across Europe. As a result, the white and green ŠKODA Motorsport caravan has made its way to Spain, France, Corsica, Germany and Finland.

On the border of the Arctic Circle engineers tested the new car in the unforgiving conditions of deep Scandinavian winter, putting the car through its paces on an icy surface with studded tyres. Top drivers took turns behind the wheel of the camouflaged prototype. Current WRC2 category world champion and European champion Andreas Mikkelsen was joined by Finnish champion Emil Lindholm and experienced WRC category driver Kris Meeke. 

They were all very complimentary about the new car’s performance on the snow. “I already had a very good feeling about the car on asphalt and gravel, and now I can now say the same on snow. I feel very, very good in the car. From the driver’s point of view there isn’t that much difference between snow and gravel, but both you and the car still have to adapt. I think the development is going in the right direction and I’m happy with the progress the car is making,” Mikkelsen said.

Meeke, who likes driving on snow best of all was also satisfied. “The entire test went smoothly, we didn’t have any major setbacks. The engineers tried out various elements on the car, and I think we managed to test everything we’d planned to. I have to say that I really enjoyed driving the new car.”

Days full of one test drive after another, evenings devoted to evaluation and servicing

Jan Krasula, project leader of development new generation ŠKODA FABIA Rally2, talked to us about the testing process, the preparations and how things went in Finland.

What are you actually testing and how is this kind of testing planned?
Before the test, the engineers who are responsible for the different parts of the car compile a list of requirements. We have to put together a plan to test all these requirements on specific drives in a way that ensures the various aspects we’re testing don’t interfere with each other. It’s not enough to test new components just once, though, so we test them on different courses, each time with different drivers. Even though we have a very detailed plan, in the end we still have to improvise a bit so that as many requirements as possible get properly tested.

Jan Krasula

What does a standard test day look like? 
We start by setting everything up so we’re ready to go at 9 am. Before that, the crew needs to try out the cockpit of the car and do some runs to familiarise themselves with the track. The engineers will set up photocells on the track for measuring times. We usually test until 6 pm. We manage 10-15 runs in a day, with servicing in between to change parts or car setups. After the last run, the engineers and crew do an analysis of the day and the mechanics do an evening service, checking and adjusting the car for the next day. The length of the evening services can vary. Sometimes it’s done in two hours, other times we work past midnight.

What surfaces have you tested the new car on? 
We try to test the new car on as many surfaces as possible so there are no surprises for the crews when they start racing proper. We’ve tested on smooth and bumpy asphalt, high-grip and slippery asphalt, in the dry and in the wet. For gravel it’s similar: there we started on sandier surfaces and moved on to stony gravel. We’ve tested the car on slow and fast tracks, and now we’re in Finland on snow and ice.

At what stage is the testing of the new car and what are you focusing on now? 
We are slightly past the halfway point. The first thing we checked was that the car was reliable enough. Now we are coming to the end of the phase where we compare various technical solutions and slowly entering the phase when the technical specifications have been finalised and we start working on the setup of the car.

Are you satisfied with the way the winter testing went in Finland?
Yes, we are. First, we had good conditions, and second, we were able to put in lots of kilometres without any major technical problems, which allowed us to get everything we needed done.

In your eyes, what are the main differences between testing racing cars and regular production cars?
Our situation is a bit simpler in that we have one specification for the car – we don’t have to test different engines and gearboxes and or different loads on the car. We also don’t have to deal with crash tests, for example, unlike mass-produced cars. We test with fewer prototypes. On the other hand, we constantly have to disassemble and reassemble our prototypes, we have much less time for testing, and our car has to meet the strict homologation, safety and technical regulations issued by the FIA.

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