TECHNICAL AIDS were making racing too easy for drivers, rally cars will never be fully electric, and roadcars are filled with too much gimmick technology. These are the views of straight-talking Christian Loriaux, technical director for the Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Championship (WRC) Team.
THE INQUIRER caught up with the Ford chief ahead of the Spanish Rally this weekend, and he gave us his candid thoughts about the current state of WRC.
Teams participating in the WRC this year have had to make do with a number of regulation changes, many of which significantly limit high technology used in cars.
Loriaux told The INQUIRER that this ‘back to basics’ approach has been a good thing for the sport as it has put more onus on driver skill, helped to ensure that rallies are more exciting and helped to cut costs to attract more manufacturers.
“Strictly speaking there is not much tech in our 2011 Ford Fiesta compared to the 2004 car. In that season the car had ABS, clutch control, paddle shift, traction control, active differentials, ride height control with GPS, electronic dampers and active suspension. Having all that tech was fabulous but the cost was high and it was making it too easy for drivers,” he said.
“There was a big debate between manufacturers about the regulation changes. Citroen wanted to keep things like the central diff and VW wanted the paddle shift. But you either ban all hydraulics or keep them all, and they came round to this way of thinking.”
Loriaux gave an example of just how much drivers had become reliant on technology, noting that before manual gearboxes were reintroduced, drivers were just required to press a button to launch the car from the start line.
“If the driver was slow off the start it was because his engineer was an imbecile. Anyone could have sat in our old Focus and from the start to the first corner have been as fast as Sebastien Loeb [seven-time world champion].
“It is good to put the responsibility of launching the car back on the drivers. They are paid [£3m to £4m] a year and they should have the skills and responsibility.”
Additional changes include reducing the minimum weight of the car to 1,200kg, which has posed difficulties as use of light-weight materials such as titanium, carbon fibre, magnesium and ceramics have also been banned.
“With so many things banned we’ve been working to make engines, gearboxes and electronics as efficient as possible,” he explained.
“We’ve also been using better quality material. Some aluminium we’re using now is better than steel that was made 30 years ago. The advancements in laser welding and laser cutting have also helped us manufacture parts that we could never have dreamed of 10 years ago.”