WRC's gravel crews: the unsung heroes of snow and ice

Rally News

Behind Loeb and Ogier's heroics at the Monte Carlo Rally were the hardworking recce cars and gravel crews, providing real-time condition updates that proved crucial on the narrow mountain passes

Toyota Yaris GR on 2022 Monte Carlo Rally recce

Toyota Yaris GR is the current favourite for WRC recce teams

Gregory Lenormand/DPPI

As the battle between Sébastiens Ogier and Loeb swayed to and fro across the notoriously changeable conditions of the Monte Carlo Rally, they needed unquestioning faith in the behind-the-scenes efforts of their support crews, both back at the service park and on the stages.

Without the vital information the teams supply, drivers would be flying blind into stages recced days before, when conditions may have been entirely different.

Over the three days prior to the rally, drivers and co drivers can traverse the routes and compile their pace notes. They are not allowed to use their competition cars, and instead rely on a variety of recce machines, which could make up a class of the WRC on their own.

It would seem the new favoured weapon for reconnaissance duties is the Toyota Yaris GR (for those waiting for one to be delivered, they were all in Monaco with lamp pods fitted), but there is amazing diversity across the service park.

Hyundai WRC BMW 1 Series recce car on 2022 Monte Carlo Rally

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Toyota Yaris GR recce car on 2022 Monte Carlo rally

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For many years M-Sport used upgraded Volvo S60s but has now switched to Ford products. Hyundai meanwhile skulks about in de-badged BMW 1-Series, the road going i20 or i30 clearly deemed not up to the task (they would probably like to use Yaris GRs, but that may not go down so well in Seoul).

There are of course still plenty of Imprezas and Evos knocking around, however, the prize of best recce car has to go to veteran François Delecour, running in the R-GT class with an Alpine. His weapon to scope out the stages, a 992-gen Porsche 911 Targa of course, updated with nothing more than a set of winter treads!

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With the recces done, there is no rest for these souped up road cars as they are handed over to the gravel crews. Their job is to drive each stage before it commences, trying to get through as close to the point where it closes to non-race traffic as possible. The crews will take notes on where conditions may have changed, which corners have iced, which are now dry, and then pace notes are updated to match. The drivers are entirely reliant on the quality of these additions, as without them it’s all too easy to hurtle into a corner blind expecting it to be clear, only to hit sheet ice and barrel off into the scenery.

Anyone who has been on roads around a rally will notice that the gravel crews don’t hang about, they must get from stage to stage as quickly as possible, bending whatever road rules they might have to in the process. They are unsung heroes of rallying, and their unassuming steeds get hammered over a far greater distance than the competition machinery, while having just as important a role in success as their glamorous competition stablemates.

There are of course armies of other personnel making sure the WRC heroes can keep the hammer down with confidence, for example, the last line of defence against changing conditions (which can switch from dry to ice in minutes over the Monte’s cols) are team members stationed at remote points with a mobile phone, giving minute by minute updates. You’ll see them sometimes, an unassuming team jacket dotted in amongst the spectators, notepad in hand providing indispensable intelligence.

After watching the two greatest rally drivers of the last twenty years do battle, it is worth sparing a thought for the grunt work below the surface and the team effort needed to create such success.

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