The ŠKODA FABIA R5 <span>evo</span> Takes Its World Rally Bow

The ŠKODA FABIA R5 evo Takes Its World Rally Bow

Lifestyle Sports

The revamped version of ŠKODA’s most successful rally car is making its first start at the world championship. The rugged Rally de Portugal is the scene of its international première. ŠKODA Storyboard spent the whole day ahead of the official start reporting on what it takes to actually get to the starting line in the first place, with so much having to be done beforehand.

30. 5. 2019

The Rally de Portugal officially began on 30 May, though the racing itself is actually the culmination of lots of preparation and testing. Peek behind the scenes at the ŠKODA Motorsport team’s facilities, which usually remain hidden from even the most ardent fans. ŠKODA Storyboard took you on a journey with the brand new rally car, guiding you all the way from the car’s home factory in Mladá Boleslav to the rostrum of one of the most famous rallies in the world, the waves of the Atlantic lapping the shores nearby.

Two crews took part in the Rally de Portugal: Jan Kopecký/Pavel Dresler and Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen.

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Rally Portugal 2019 Start ceremony

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The green caravan

For most people, packing for a trip abroad is something that takes an hour or two. Loading the ŠKODA Motorsport service truck with everything important and preparing it for a trip, though, can take up to a month. Besides the cars themselves, the team transports dozens of tyres, hundreds of litres of fuel and water and thousands of tools, parts and components – from bolts of all sizes to gearboxes or bumpers. As well as transporting all the necessary stuff to the rally, the truck is used to support up to twenty mechanics in the service park.

The caravan leaves Mladá Boleslav a week before the rally. Every day, the crew is on the road for 12 hours, covering almost 1,000 kilometres. This means that the trip to Porto in Portugal, some 2,700 km away, will take three days. The team then has enough time for “pre-testing”, during which it can thoroughly test the car in local conditions before the actual start.

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This year, ŠKODA Motorsport is using a new truck, half a metre longer than the previous one to reach an overall length of close to 19 metres. “We now have more space inside, but we haven’t really changed the layout. The mechanics are used to a particular system and, when they need something, they automatically reach to the right place. During a rally, everything needs to flow as quickly as possible, because seconds matter in the service park as well,” explains Miroslav Šlambora, the coordinator of the rally car’s construction and the service facilities.

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Miroslav Šlambora
coordinator of the rally car’s construction and the service facilities

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One of the minor changes has been the positioning of the jacks, which are now accessible from the outside so the mechanics don’t have to carry these heavy 30 kg tools up and down the truck’s steps.

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Baptism of fire

The Rally de Portugal will be the first WRC 2 Pro round for the ŠKODA FABIA R5 evo, with two cars taking part, one driven by Jan Kopecký and Pavel Dresler, the other by Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen. Naturally, the revamped model has accrued thousands of kilometres during tests, and it has already completed a successful run at the Rallye Český Krumlov, but the Rally de Portugal is whole other ballgame. That’s why the pre-event test, which takes place on closed roads several days ahead of the rally, is so important this time.

“Both of the cars we have in Portugal are brand new. They were driven for the first time on the proving grounds in Mladá Boleslav about a week ago. We need to make sure that all the joints are tight and that there are no problems anywhere. The track conditions are almost identical to those of the rally itself and even the speed is the same or very similar. The stress during the testing is basically equal to that of a real rally,” reveals Miroslav Šlambora, the coordinator of the rally car’s construction and the service facilities. He also notes that the higher suspension travel, compared to that of the previous car, really proved its worth during the initial tests.

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Besides identifying the perfect suspension setup and testing the cars mechanically, various on-track repairs are practised during pre-tests. Drivers and co-drivers practise emergency wheel changes. One of the reasons this training is crucial is that the spanner for tightening the lugs has been moved from the car’s boot to the tailgate in the FABIA R5 evo – a seemingly inconsequential change which can save around 10 seconds in case of a puncture. The crew, though, has to get used to the new sequence of steps involved in one of the most stressful situations that can happen on a rally. Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen managed to change the wheel in 1 minute and 14 seconds. According to the mechanics, this is a pretty good time.

“The crew has to pull over, secure the car, unbuckle the safety harnesses, lift the car on a jack and change the wheel, then return everything, including the damaged wheel, back to the car and fix it all tightly, buckle up again, connect the intercom… Even just fastening the safety harnesses can take 20 seconds, as it’s not easy to buckle and tighten everything. However Jan Kopecký and Pavel Dresler are routinely able to change the wheel in a minute and 10-15 seconds,” says Šlambora.

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Home from home

In the beginning, there is just an empty concrete surface with a few coloured markings in the Portuguese service park. It takes a mere 24 hours to build an impressive facility for the entire rally team on the surface area of a family home – a service point for multiple cars, a technical centre for the engineers, a kitchen and dining area, plus offices or rest space for the crews and mechanics. There are computers, televisions and other equipment. Everything necessary is brought by a second accompanying truck. The six-man team has to unload around three tonnes of material and build an ingenious jigsaw of a structure on a space measuring 17 by 13 metres.

“It’s no ordinary tent, but a sophisticated structure. Everything has its own place and no two segments are interchangeable. The wiring and compressed air lines for the tools are inside the custom-made aluminium parts. With a bit of a stretch, you could say that it’s a fully functional house with canvas instead of walls,” says Petr Mahrík, the building supervisor.

Home-kamion

Each segment of the tent is denoted by a letter, each larger part has a number, and even the very tiniest bits have their own code. Everything fits together like a well-engineered construction set. “Using the manual, even amateurs could put it together, but I reckon it would take them a couple of weeks instead of two days. The frame itself is just the beginning, something like a skeleton,” explains Mahrík. The individual parts are systematically stored in the truck so that each comes out exactly at the right moment. Inside, there are large aluminium parts, floor tiles, toolkits, bolts and ropes. A perfect travelling Tetris. “We fill the semi-trailer to the brim. In the end, the only thing there’s room for is a pair of gloves. Then, we shut the door and set off,” smiles Mahrík.

The tent also has a winter version, which the team uses at Rally Sweden, for example. More fabric fitted to the basic construction to prevent heat escaping from the heated tent and to keep the temperature comfortable even in freezing conditions. The canvas parts need to be replaced regularly, roughly every two years.

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Reconnaisance

In the couple of days before the rally starts, all the crews have a chance to familiarise themselves with the stages that await them during the rally itself. They use specially modified cars, called “recce cars” – “recce” is short for reconnaissance. ŠKODA Motorsport uses the 4×4 version of the OCTAVIA RS for this job. During reconnaissance, the cars run the full route of the rally stages. This means that, especially in challenging gravel-road events like the Rally de Portugal, they have to cope with rough conditions. That’s why they use higher-profile tyres, modified dampers and additional skid plates. You can read more about recce cars in this article dedicated to them.

“For Kalle and me, it’s our first time in Portugal, so we have a lot to learn during the recce runs. The rules allow us to drive through each stage twice. During the first run, Kalle dictates the pacenotes to me and I write them down; on the second run, I read them and we fix any mistakes together,” explains co-driver Jonne Halttunen. Even though their teammates Jan Kopecký and Pavel Dresler have more experience of the Rally de Portugal, Kalle and Jonne cannot just “crib” from their pacenotes. “The notes are a very personal thing and each driver has their own style. If we encounter anything unexpected, we can consult each other, but for the most part, each driver prepares their own pacenotes,” explains Halttunen.

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Jonne Halttunen
Co-driver, ŠKODA Motorsport team

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Kalle Rovanperä’s position is made all the more difficult by the fact that he has to pull off a perfect run just from the pacenotes, with no previous experience of the rally. Even though, ahead of the rally itself, crews watch back the videos that have been filmed of the rally tracks with on-board cameras, plenty of surprises may still lie in wait for them on the stages. Mistakes in the pacenotes are always a possibility, so in some places the driver may be too fast and, in others, too slow. In Portugal, there are a lot of blackspots, such as narrow roads hemmed in by rocks or steep banks.

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Pavel Dresler a Jan Kopecký
co-driver with the last year’s WRC 2 champion, ŠKODA Motorsport team

“The last time we drove here was in 2016 and only three stages are identical to that year. We modified our old pacenotes for those, but the rest we had to create from scratch. There are ruts on the tracks and points where the sand is deep, but it’s not as rough as it has been in previous years. It’s a very technical rally and we’re looking forward to it,” says Pavel Dresler, co-driver of last year’s WRC 2 champion Jan Kopecký, whose fascinating job we showed you in a recent Storyboard article.

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Up against the clock for the first time

The last chance to test the cars’ setup before the rally itself is the shakedown, an event that is also popular with the fans. The drivers can make repeated runs in their rally cars. At the Rally de Portugal, this also includes a drive through a rally-cross arena with spectacular jumps. Even though the shakedown results are not counted towards the overall classification, the runs are timed and offer a clear indication of the speed and confidence of the crews.

Both ŠKODA Motorsport crews proved that they are well-prepared for the Rally de Portugal. In the second run of the shakedown, Jan Kopecký and Kalle Rovanperä even posted identical times and moved to the top of the RC2 class, cheered on by thousands of excited fans.

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“Everything is working as it should and we will not be making any more changes to the car’s settings. The main goal of the shakedown was to get me up to speed,” a visibly satisfied Kopecký said of his warm-up run. Compared to his young teammate, he’s got a lot more experience, but Rovanperä has trained on gravel roads in the Finnish forests since he was a kid and he’s really good on this type of surface.

“Of course I want to be faster than everyone else, but it sure is great that we are both fast,” said Kalle as he remarked on the identical times from the shakedown. However, he hints that even his vast experience of gravel tracks may not be enough to make up for his lack of familiarity with the stages themselves. “As we are here for the first time, we’ve got big gaps in our knowledge of the tracks, which we will try to fill. Some rallies can be won by a first-timer, but here that will be really difficult.”

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Kalle Rovanperä
rally driver, ŠKODA Motorsport team

You can watch the ŠKODA FABIA R5 evo’s international premiere throughout the weekend at www.skoda-motorsport.com/en.

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Related Stories Based on tags: 2019, FABIA, R5 evo, Rally Portugal, WRC 2 Pro

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