When I left Pretoria early Sunday morning it was so overcast that the auto lights on the Hyundai switched on and my optimism about Corona disappearing in a week and a driveable track at Rallystar was about the same.
The closer I got to the track the more water puddles I saw next to the road and my 20% semi-optimism turned into 120% pessimism.
When I got to Rallystar’s specialist driver tracks I was glad to see that there were only four worrying puddles of water.
The test was on.
The car looked great and the Team Salom Rally Entourage, as well as Theuns, looked ready to get the job done.
A secret between us – you and me – after having driven in the Yaris on our first session on tar – I truly did not look forward to the experience on dirt!
I convinced myself that the bad handling with which Theuns still managed to come second overall behind the seriously quick and powerful Subaru of Rinus Plomp, was due to the wrong setup for tar.
After the normal serious checking of tyre pressures, pretending to wipe the windscreen and lights, adjusting the belts to fit me and my cushion so that I could see where we were going to die – Theuns fired up the engine and …all the computer warning lights were dead – morsdood!
Theuns put his mouth through the small hole in the side window and called Tjaart Jr van der Walt to tell him about this calamity. Tjaart told him why it was like that and Theuns made up his mind to drive around that little problem and to listen to revs etc.
I did not really think when I told him which part of the track we were going to use for the suspension setup – but woke up when he dropped the clutch and we were on our way to the highest jump with a hairpin hidden right behind it – in Africa.
Tyre pressures may be right – but the tyres were under 20 degrees C- and he did not even pretend to lift off to control the jump distance from the jump to the top end of the hairpin.
The feedback into my helmet sounded like Miemie Coertse in her heyday – the instruction to and over the jump was Right Four over adverse bump into left four over easy jump hairpin left – stay in.
I think I shouted “Mayday, mayday hairpin all the way!” or something to that effect!
The Yaris hit the jump, went up and landed right in the left into the hairpin’s corner. The Pirelli tyres did what they were originally made for and the bloody car turned and drifted sideways right around the hairpin without putting a wheel wrong.
At the end of the 540m run, Theuns did a neat handbrake turn and we pointed in the right direction – so off we went to repeat the same suspension setting stage.
Faster over the jump every time – by now I have settled in and started to enjoy the ride.
After a few laps, we went in for a tyre change.
We were going to have a first go with the MRF tyres that will this year be used in the rally championship.
The tyres looked good – which is always a good sales gimmick, but whether they worked well, that was another question.
The tyres are very hard to get over the rims which normally indicates strong sidewalls – I can hear a few asses chirping that the same happens when you try and fit fourteen-inch over fifteen-inch rims – maar nou ja … you get them everywhere.
Still, the proof would lie in the handling – and guess what we were again going to attack the jump on cold tyres. Luckily about 30 degrees C as they spend a bit of time in the sun.
R4 into left four opens over easy-jump – caution hairpin left – stay in. All was OK except for the last bit – Theuns hung the backside as far from “stay in” as possible and our well being depended on the forward grip the two MRF’s on the front wheels could bring to the party.
Dig, dig..diggg and out we went in a straight line on our way to the right 5 about seventy metres away!
We then went out on the high-speed track with all the different corners you can think of to get Theuns back into the gravel swing!
The track was very slippy in places and he battled to get the timing between reducing speed and powering up without the ever-popular “whap-whap-whap” nonsense on the throttle through corners.
The problem was a definite throttle lag of around 1 second every time the revs dropped below 3000.
This, without doubt, is my worse nightmare (except accidentally clicking the TV and opening anything where that grinning face of “Tyd met Aleit” can stare at me), when we are looking for faster times from a driver – and his/her self-confidence simply fades away – due to the uncertainty of the moment of acceleration – which is understandable.
It is like those old guns which the Voortrekkers used – you pull the trigger and wait and then eventually when you take a look down the barrel why the shot did not go off – it does!
We worked out a bit of a tactic around the “lag” and Theuns started posting respectable times – very respectable to tell the truth.
After some testing, I decided to take a lap time and he posted a 4m 51,56s without fiddling too much about style and spots where time was lost.
Then, of course, the hard work started – we identified a few problem points and then – like I always do – we concentrated on the strong points – we upped the already high speed through sixes and sevens and worked a bit on braking distances – which is a natural bastard on these cars.
If you are not used to the braking ability of it, you stop a hundred meters before a corner and have to restart to get to the corner!
The problem is that few people get that speed and distance thing sorted easily, but we progressed nicely.
There was one absolute shitty corner though on the route and we had a different battle with it every time we arrived there.
The calls for the corner was “Caution Right Four tightens Sudden Right Nine!” and the fast and dry entry gave a false impression of possible traction. We went wider and wider every time and a tree on my side did its best to move away, but could not.
The next time around – I called a change into that instruction – trying to get Theuns to cut deeper into the corner and gain earlier traction.
Wishful thinking – I called too late and Theuns did not turn hard enough which put us on the slippiest piece of the corner and the tree that tried to avoid my side – switched on its magnets and vóilà – everything went silent except for my bad ankle that you could hear squeak-cracking as I tried to help stop the car by pressing the footboard with my foot.
The impact was harder than I expected – but the damage much less than it sounded like.
So a bit of bending and swearing fixed that all up and off we went again with Theuns taking an oath that he was going to sort “that 90-degree thing” out.
After a great day of driving in a good rally car – Theuns managed a time of 4m32.3.
The target between you and me – is 4m24.0s and then it will take a man on something better than a horse to catch him.
I am happy that considering all the handicaps that played a role, we are on schedule to do what we intend doing in 2020 and that is to give all-comers a serious run for their money!
I think that Kobus Roos and company chose the right compound available for the MRF tyres.
The MRF’s seem to last much better than what I am used to and added to that they give at least similar traction than the Dunlops we used.
The only problem I see with them is that guys who “rally for fun” (something I could and will never understand) will never get these tyres to their optimal working temperature, but when you do get the heat up and get these babies are running at the proper temperature – I believe their real colour will show.
That is all for now – we will keep you posted on the performance of the Salom Rally team as we go along and sort things out to draw people back to rallies and give the sponsors value for money.
Well done to all – Tjaart van der Walt, Kobus Roos, Pieter Anker, Danie and then Erwee van der Walt the junior engineer – more about him later.
Well done to Theuns and very well done to me! 🙂