Cook left out in the cold on WRC Rally Sweden
WRC Rally Sweden has been Louise’s biggest rally career challenge in every sense. The battle started just a few days into the new year and a week prior to the entry deadline. Louise had not 1, but 2 of her major sponsors delay their marketing plans. Louise reacted by trying to raise the funds to compete and listed her FIA trophy on eBay with an optimistic hope that it may bring enough in to cover the Championship and Rally entry fees.
The listing inspired 2 supporters to set up crowdfunding pages in order to prevent Louise from selling the beloved FIA Rally Trophy and allow Louise to compete. The crowdfunding campaigns were amazingly successful and the entry fees to the rally were raised in just 5 days. This allowed Louise more time to try to find the rest of the budget for the rally.
There was support from a multitude of sponsors of all different sizes getting behind Louise and things were getting closer every day. It was looking more and more positive whilst at the same time the WRC Rally Sweden event was coming up fast.
The week before the rally Louise’s hopes and dreams were kept alive when the historically world famous oil brand Duckhams saw Louise’s plea for support on TV and really wanted to help. Despite being a bit early for the scheduled relaunch of the Duckhams brand, they wanted to help save Louise’s rally season.
“It was amazing news! It is a brand really close to my heart. I still have a little Duckhams oil can keyring that my Dad gave me from over 15 years ago. I felt very honoured and proud of their kind support. Duckhams were the final piece in saving the rally and on top of all the other amazing support from sponsors and the unbelievable crowdfunders, things were now possible, I feel so grateful”
Rally Sweden was to be Louise’s first time competing on the ice and snow and with the lack of budget and time prior to the event and the pre-event testing and set-up days now cancelled, it was destined to be a tough event and a learning curve for Louise.
The first time Louise was to drive the car on the surface was the one pass of the shakedown stage.
“We just had the same set-up as Rally Finland, a set-up suited to medium and high speed gravel stages. The Rally Sweden stages were a lot more twisty, and the tyre was nothing like anything I had competed on before. It did not behave anything like a normal tyre. The rear of the car was everywhere, the car was pretty un-driveable. The rear geometry was wrong and the welded geometry rear beam of the Fiesta R2 means there is not scope to change things without a new rear beam. I raised the front ride height in a desperate attempt to give the rear some grip. This left us with a slight improvement in balance but we had high degrees of oversteer and understeer, far from ideal in such slippy conditions”
Louise started the event in the spectator packed stadium in the centre of Karlstad. The stage, lit with flashing lights and fireworks is quite a crowd pleaser.
“I just had no experience with the tyre. The running order meant we set off just after the current World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier and eventual rally winner Jari-Matti Latvala. The tyres created a strange effect with the iced stage. The massive studded tyres ground down the sheet ice to a strange frozen powder and I did not know until I tried to set off that they would do that. I set off and wheel span badly, I thought I had snapped a driveshaft it was that bad. I then found a little traction but I lost 5 seconds on the start line. The tyres seemed fantastic at braking but the icey stage littered with obstacles was no place for me to test the limit of the tyre.”
The first proper forest stage of the rally was SS2 Rojden. The stage started next to a war memorial in remembrance of the tragic accident and death of 4 British soldiers who lost their lives when crash landing in Lake Rojden 2 days after WW2 had ended.
The stage was going well for Louise, not trying too hard but having a nice rhythm, though managing the rear of the car was still very tricky. A very fast section into a big braking zone caught Louise out.
“The corner should have been cautioned, it is now! When you have two passes at 50 MPH then hit the same section at 100 MPH the dangers look a lot more obvious with the speed. I slowed down nearly enough but went off line just slightly on the braking zone and the difference in grip in Sweden between on the cut line and off the line is ridiculous and the car would not turn in.”
“There was about 10 times less grip off line. The problem is the line is nowhere near the normal racing line you would expect.”
The crew landed on their side after driving through a ditch. The spectators quickly returned the car to the wheels and they were away again. Louise’s confidence had taken a knock and they ran wide again a few miles down the stage being rescued again by the Rally Sweden spectators. Louise gradually got back into things throughout the day but the learning curve was tough.
“I am just learning things under the pressure of competition, which is okay, but you simply cannot maintain performance when you are on such a learning curve”
The crew got through the day okay and were in 31st place in the rally with all the time loss in the morning stage.
The next morning saw a new stage for WRC Rally Sweden, a stage called Knon. It was a demanding stage and the fastest stage ever. In fact it was so fast that the stage had to be taken out of the event for the scheduled second run in the afternoon as it was deemed illegally fast by the FIA from the times set by the front runners on their first pass through. The fast stage did not go without incident; Louise left the road at around 90 MPH on one of the very fast sections of the stage fighting the car back on through the snow bank relieved to return unscaved.
“The grip was just changing so much throughout the stage. One minute I had good grip, the next there was none. The cars handling was tricky, I was really suffering from serious understeer in the faster corners and we just pushed too hard keeping the speed in the car. We were very lucky there was nothing bad under the snow so we returned to the road safely simply by keeping flat out all the way.”
Louise spent the day adjusting the pressures in the unfamiliar tyres, gradually gaining a better feel with the car. The second run of the Vargasen stage was going well for the British Driver before disaster struck just 2 km from the end of the stage.
“The car and tyres were working better and we had slightly better grip, the chassis was way off still but we had got to a better place. The stage was going well and we were over 8 seconds up on the previous run through the stage. There was a rutted corner with loads of grip, but the following corner was frozen solid and the tyres had not been cutting into the surface. I came out of the line and we ran a little wide. There was sadly a massive rock waiting for us and it threw us into the air and we landed in between some giant rocks and some trees. The spectators did an amazing job to get us back on the road. We sadly lost the bumper during the incident and as we launched over Colin’s Crest the bonnet flew up destroying the lamp pod and windscreen”
The car had damage to the sill from the off, there was too much to be fixed in the 45 minute service and with a broken windscreen it would be unlikely to be able to run the next short stage in Karlstad. The crew chose to use the Rally 2 ruling which would allow the team 3 hours to fix the car.
The team needed a windscreen so had to strip down the Fiesta recce car borrowing the windscreen for the rally car and leaving a sad looking Fiesta road car sat in the -15 degrees icy service park. The crew manage to fix everything on the car and it was back in shape for the final day of the rally.
In the morning, the car passed scrutiny but there was a question on the seat bracket. The car’s seat brackets had bent in the impact of the incident and though replaced with a stronger Recaro seat bracket that had been homologated with the seat it had not been homologated with the car. The FIA representatives would not let the crew compete with these seat brackets and forced Louise to retire from the rally with only 3 stages left to go.
“We were absolutely devastated, the team had been up all night working on the car and we did everything we needed to do to get the car ready to compete and finish the final day. To be beaten by a piece of paper in the end really hurt. The support for the rally had been amazing and to not come away with the finish having done everything within our power just hurt.”
Louise is looking to compete in her next round of the WRC3 Championship in Rally Corsica and is now in the funding battle again and looking for sponsors to make the next round and to be involved for the 2017 season.