March 13, 2011

Driving on ice

Those of us who braved the highways during the UK’s recent cold snap will know just what a challenge driving on snow and ice can be. It’s heartening, however, that even professional rally drivers find such conditions testing.

Instead of dealing with the white stuff by brewing up a flask of Java and making a mental note to buy a shovel, rally drivers adopt a rather more exciting technique for coping with grip deficiency – they powerslide.

The unique characteristics of snow as a rally stage surface demand an entirely different driving style. As rally cars have become ever more advanced, the lurid, power-sliding spectacle that defined the sport has gradually been replaced by a rather more sedate approach to cornering, rear wheels following in the fronts’ tracks for best grip and traction. Modern rally cars are capable of generating such grip that oversteer on asphalt or gravel is inefficient.

On snow and ice, though, this trendy new driving style is horribly slow. Its pre-eminent practitioner, seven-time world champion Sébastien Loeb, has just one snowy success among his record tally of 63 WRC wins. In such wintry circumstances, rally drivers need to come over all Scandinavian and loosen up.

Even with heavily studded snow tyres, a rally car can’t generate remotely similar levels of cornering bite on snow and ice. The front end just wants to push wide leading to a) time sapping understeer and , possibly, b) an accident.

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