Under scrutiny; Rally Engineering Development

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The French connection

Jimmy McRae has received a great deal of praise in the last couple of years following success in the British Open Rally Championship in both 1987 and 1988, as has Ford since he claimed the title on both occasions driving a Sierra Cosworth. Talent and a competitive car would not be enough, however, without the third side of the triangle, that of the preparation. To the casual observer, it might seem that the popular Scotsman was driving a car prepared by Ford itself, but this is far from the case.

The evolution of Rally Engineering Development (RED) is typical of many specialist motorsport companies. Geoff Fielding was a rally enthusiast who did not have the time to prepare his car but, as the director of a number of lucrative businesses, he did have the necessary finance. Following the principle that paying off a mortgage is preferable to paying rent, he was prepared to spend his money provided it might one day bring him some return. The result was that Ray Sherratt, a mechanic with Mainland Car Deliveries (MCD), a car transport business owned by Fielding, was employed to prepare a rally car full-time.

From such humble beginnings in 1979, this fledgling preparation outfit, known at the time as MCD Services in deference to Fielding’s main business, quickly broadened its horizons. The following year a Group 4 Escort was prepared for Malcolm Patrick to run in 21 events, and even won first time out. Such rally stars as Roger Clark, Ari Vatanen, Louise Aitken-Walker, Malcolm Wilson, Mark Lovell and Willie Rutherford all went on to drive MCD-prepared cars at some stage in the early Eighties.

To cope with the demand for its services, the team, by now managed by David Campion, expanded out of Fielding’s garage into small premises in Widnes. And, having evolved out of MCD Services in 1984, RED moved yet again in 1988, into 5000 sq ft of purpose-built property in one of Widnes’ many industrial estates.

When Campion left the team his place as General Manager was taken by Peter Cattanach, who now presides over a staff of 22. In charge of logistics and ensuring all the hotels are booked, the transportation organised and the carnets correctly filled is Rallies Manager John Millington, who also has to look after the French-registered car which continually travels backwards and forwards across the Channel on a British-registered transporter surrounded by British-made spares. In Millington’s case, 1992 is eagerly awaited!

The fleet at his disposal includes five fully-kitted vans loaned from Ford, five estate cars, three of which also belong to Ford, and a very impressive transporter which has been specially adapted from a three-decker to enable two fully-loaded service vans to be accommodated on the lower deck and a rally car and two estate cars on the upper. A large box at the front can carry up to 80 tyres.

Technical matters are the responsibility of Ray Sherratt, who will be looking after Colin (son of Jimmy) McRae’s Group N Sierra Cosworth this year, and Frank Rowland, the leading mechanic on the Group A machines. Working under them are 17 mechanics, while two secretaries take care of the office administration.

As it has done since 1986, the team operates in two arenas, running cars in the British Open and, surprisingly, in the French championship. Despite the antisocial conditions and long hours the crew has to endure in the field, none pass up the opportunity of going out with the team. Cattanach believes one of the principal reasons for the low turnover of personnel is this perk of the job, although there are many times when a warm open fire and a pint of bitter might seem more enticing for the hard-worked staff.

In 1988 the team ran Jimmy McRae in the British series and Didier Auriol in France, which required four cars, but this year the inclusion of a Group N programme in Britain for the first time has meant expansion to six cars.

All the cars actually belong to Ford, their official entrant, although RED has full responsibility for their preparation and maintenance. They arrive as shells, and Ford provides all the parts necessary to build them.

The financial arrangements between manufacturer and preparation company differ each year. In 1988, for example, RED was paid a sum of money to run the cars and the tab for replacement parts was picked up by Ford’s motorsport division; this year a budget has been provided for running McRae which includes an allowance for parts, but if that allowance is exceeded RED must pick up the tab. The deal on Colin’s car is similar to that for his father, with the cars, spares and replacements on loan and a budget provided, but this restriction does not apply to the French programme.

Pirelli tyres will be used in 1989, maintaining a long relationship between the two companies. There is little to choose between Pirellis and Michelins — the French firm makes a better slick, but Pirelli’s intermediate is superior — so tyre-choice has hinged on which offers the better deal; as RED would expect to get through 80 tyres per car per event, at the average price of £110 each, it is an expensive business. In a deal negotiated through Ford, Andy Hallam of Pirelli has calculated what he considers a reasonable number of tyres for each event; any extras will be paid for.

The team works very closely with its suppliers and there is a constant flow of information between manufacturer, supplier and team. The feedback suppliers can get from rallying was well illustrated on last year’s Ulster, when the bigger brakes fitted to the Sierra were not working properly and were causing uneven wear. RED isolated the cause and reported back to Automotive Products who, once they accepted that there was a problem, promptly rectified it.

As with decorating, it is preparation which is the secret of success. According to Cattanachi “We set ourselves the highest standards possible, from the preparation of the cars themselves to the loading of the vans, where everything is meticulously checked. Some think we go over the top, but if we spend so much money going to the event there is no point in skimping on anything.”

On arrival from the manufacturer, major units such as gearboxes and differentials are stripped down and checked by the two mechanics in the transmission department, and this is repeated after every event. RED does not have the staff, however, to inspect every item in minute detail, and has to accept that the parts fabricated especially for Group A, brake calipers for example, will be of a higher quality than standard mass-produced ones. Where possible the car is given a day’s shakedown prior to its next outing, so as to show up any weaknesses.

The workshop also includes sub-assembly and machine-tool areas where the various lathes and drills are located. Engines, however, are not touched, but are sent to specialist tuner Terry Hoyle in Essex. New engines are converted into Group A spec, and can normally go through two British Open events if nothing untoward happens. They are then sent back to Hoyle, who strips them down, rebuilds and then tests them on the dyno, using the same slave turbo on each unit to ensure consistent output figures.

RED itself refurbishes the turbochargers, which have improved since their early days as the Achilles heel of the Sierra Cosworth but still need changing after every event. Since the complete unit costs £1000, the body is retained unless damaged and a new turbo core is installed.

The Sierra’s simplicity helps to explain its reliability. The 2-litre engine was developed as a competition unit which was subsequently fitted into road cars, in complete contrast to the updated standard engines which many manufacturers adopt for competition use. The simple five-speed Getrag gearbox rarely gives a problem and differentials are generally reliable although they can suffer on long events. Brakes can be marginal on tarmac rallies.

Although the opposition has been catching up, Cattanach expects the Cosworth to hold its own against the competition in the 1989 British Open. On the loose-surface rallies, where four-wheel-drive cars have an advantage, a great deal will depend on the conditions, but if Jimmy McRae can finish consistently in the top three and win the tarmac events, he should be able to retain his title. His biggest challenge is likely to come from David Llewellin in the Toyota GT-Four, a car RED got to know last year in a brief and unproductive spell.

Through no fault of Ray Sherratt, the man in charge of the project, the Toyota experiment foundered due to lack of preparation time. The car did not start the Quip Stages rally because the engine failed, retired halfway through the Audi Sport with a cracked gearbox casing and stopped after only four stages of the RAC with another engine failure. In every case, the components which failed were not RED’s responsibility.

Where Toyota Team Europe had had two years to develop the car, RED received a shell at the end of July, for the Quip Stages in September. Parts took time to arrive and the car was still being built on the afternoon of the rally. Naturally there was no time at all for testing.

RED was prepared to persevere with the Toyota in 1989, but as Cattanach explained: “Toyota GB’s only interest, as their name suggests, was in Great Britain. Also all they could promise for 1989 was just one car for the British Open and the RAC and an outside chance of a second one if they could raise some money. To keep RED occupied it was nothing like enough. On the other hand Toyota would not have minded us running other cars in different events, such as the Sierra in France.

“Ford, however, offered us France and drives for Jimmy and Colin. Jimmy has won the British Open five times and wants to do other things, but there were two deciding factors in his decision to stay with us and Ford. Firstly a car is available for other events if RED can raise the money, and secondly his position in the team ensured a place for his son.”

It is in sponsorship-hunting that the team is at its weakest. A journalist and an advertising agency are retained to look for sponsors while Jimmy also devotes some of his time to the task. To assess the magnitude of the job, the sum required for two cars on three European events costs in the region of £200,000, a figure far beyond the budget of local businesses.

All this is far removed from 1985, when RED found itself in the luxurious position of having a manufacturer approaching it with a budget: Austin Rover offered the company a three-year contract to run the bright new hope of Britain, the ill-fated Metro 6R4, for Didier Auriol in the French championship, Willie Rutherford in the National Rally Championship and David Llewellin and Harri Toivonen in the 1986 British Open. Sadly, the contract was terminated after one year following the ban on Group B cars in international rallying.

RED had attracted a great deal of attention in 1984 when it introduced the RED 4T Sierra, a development of the two-wheel-drive Sierra with a Terry Hoyle-developed 2.0 BDG turbocharged engine which Louise Aitken-Walker took to third place in the National Championship. The factory then spent the winter fitting Ferguson four-wheel drive to its special, which, in the hands of Roger Clark, promptly took third place behind Tony Pond’s Metro 6R4 and the works Quattro of David Llewellin on its debut in Wales. Willie Rutherford subsequently took over the car, won the Granite City and Cumbria rallies, and was runner-up in the 1985 championship.

Although the team’s contract with Austin Rover came to a premature end, it brought about one positive result for which the team is even today very grateful — it brought it into contact with the man Peter Cattanach thinks is one of the top five rally drivers in the world, Didier Auriol. Austin Rover France had approached ARG’s rally supremo John Davenport as it wanted to enter a car in France for up-and-coming Auriol. The job of running him was put out to tender to private teams, so RED put in a quote. To its amazement it won the contract. Naturally there was a steep learning curve at first, but within a couple of years RED came to be regarded by many in France as one of Europe’s premier rally teams.

None of the team had met Didier before, and if the truth be known, they had not even heard of him, but by the end of the championship they had struck up such a good relationship with him, they wanted to run him again in 1987.

After becoming France’s new champion in the Metro, and having money in his pocket in the shape of backing from ’33 Export, Auriol was heavily courted by the Snobeck team, which was running semi-works Mercedes-Benz, but in the end he decided to stay if RED could run him in a competitive car. Stuart Turner, the head of Ford motorsport, convinced Ford France to become involved, and the happy result for all parties was further championships in both 1987 and 1988, and an invitation for the popular Frenchman to join the works Lancia team in 1989. His place in the team has been taken by Cesar Boroni, Group N champion of France, who will be run by RED in all rounds of the 1989 French series except the Tour de Corse, where he will be taken on by the works Ford team for this world championship qualifier. In the past RED has relied on its own crew rather than on local recruits, but Boroni will be bringing one mechanic to accompany him on recces and join the 12-man team for the events themselves.

The Ford contract is for only one year at a time, though Cattanach concedes a three year deal would help to encourage long-term development: “A clever man in my position should watch what car manufacturers are releasing that could form the basis of a good rally car. Ideally we would like to have a contract with a major manufacturer to run a team on the World Championship, like Toyota Team Europe. It is important to do it for a manufacturer and not as a privateer, for that is the only way of ensuring state-of-the-art equipment. Ford is very good in this respect, and we receive parts soon after the works cars. Occasionally, however, they use parts we do not receive. For example they ran alloy rear wishbones in Corsica last year and we are only getting them now.

“We would also like to get into touring car racing, but we cannot risk setting the wheels in motion without the finance. We need to convince somebody that we are capable of doing it, and get them to pay. At one stage it looked a distinct possibility, but it all fell through. We would not consider any other type of racing. Ray Sherratt has a thing about rallycross, but that branch of the sport has limited sponsorship opportunities.

“Another factor we have to take into consideration is that most of our mechanics are ex-navigators and ex-drivers, and working with us is a way they can continue in the sport. If we decided to switch away from rallying, many would leave, as they love to go rallying at the top level.

1989 will not be a walkover for the team in either the British or French championships, indeed it might well be an uphill battle with extra opposition forming in the shape of Toyota’s GT-Four and Mitsubishi’s four-wheel-steered Galant, but according to Ford’s Stuart Turner, “the key reason for their excellent record as a rally team is their complete professionalism and business-like approach”, and that is not about to change. WPK

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