The 2005 Rally of Italy in Sardinia was fantastic!
This was the rally where I learned something from my Finnish team buddy Toni: "Go absolutely flat out until first corner, almost go off, after that slow down just little bit and continue stage....for sure time will be good..." I first thought he was kidding. He wasn't, and soon I was doing the same, or at least trying to...
This was the rally where we were parked up a hill with the handbrake on, before a stage. The brake fluid cooled, released the pressure in the calipers...then suddenly the car rolled down the hill... Good thing many other drivers were there to help hold my car. Scary!
This was the rally where, on some stage, we were stuck in Gigi's dust for a while. He had just ripped a wheel off. Oh well.
This was also the rally where we played a poker game on the last leg, which paid off.
The rally was extremely difficult, there was a hell of a lot of competition from all over. Stakes were high and the pressure was on. Everybody had their share of ups and downs. After 2 days of hard driving on the narrow, dusty and tricky Sardinia stages, the classification looked like this:
I had a bunch of guys breathing down my neck and I knew it wasn't gonna be simple, I had to keep some speed. Just cruising to the finish was not an option. I wanted to get up to eighth, I thought it was possible, if I drove steady and if somebody eventually had a problem. I had lots to think about, on saturday night. What could I do?
Then I had an idea.
First thing in the morning, I went over to have a chat with the Ford tire specialist:
"Morning, how are you...etc, etc...listen I have this question.....I was wondering if I could run..."
"I know what you're gonna say!" He said "You want to put some 8 compound!"
8 compound tire was the softest rubber we had. Something you would only use in the rain, or in cold weather like maybe at night. It was dry, but the night had been fresh...We were starting early, the stages were all short. I thought the fresh temps plus the short stages would help keep the tire temps under control. They would have time to cool down between stages. I thought that maybe it could work. Worst case scenario would be I don't make it back, cause I'd run out of rubber someplace in the hills. The tires needed to hold for 66.3km. But if it worked points were possible. I had to get to 8th for the 1st point.
"mmmh....yes...waddaya think about it?" I said.
"If you were Francois Duval I'd tell you it's a very bad idea...but I think you could try it..." I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but I knew Duval was rather rough on his tires and brakes.
So, why not, I asked to fit some 8's on my car.
So out we went to do the 6 stages. The softer rubber helped put in some very useful speed in the first 3. The bet was working. The idea was to hit hard on the first 3, climb up the leaderboard, hope that others would give up trying for the second half.
Sorry I forgot to mention the little detail, about others giving up, which was crucial because after the first half my tires were already almost gone. I was not going to be able to keep up the speed to the end. Cruising on the last stages was a must. Luckily, the guys with whom I was in competition did not know that (especially Juuso Pykälistö)! They could have had me in the last stages. As far as we knew they were on 9's.
Funny thing was that in the middle of the loop, we found ourselves in this little village, just before a regroup, we were swapping tires front to rear and rotating our spare when I had a word with Duval's co-driver who said: "...you have 8's!!! Are you crazy..." I thought perhaps quoting Ford's tire guy as a response to him would not have been clever, so....no comment. Even funnier was, a little later before the day's 4th stage, I suddenly hear Loeb saying to me "...ils marchent bien tes 8, hein?" (they work well, your 8's, huh?). I guess at Citroën, news travel fast. Good thing Juuso didn't hear about that... Remember always keep your mouth shut!
After all we finished 7th, scored 2 points. All this thanks in great part to soft rubber. The final result looked like this: