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GRC Season Review: Ian Davies, Part 2

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

After a second place finish at X Games, the Monster World Rally Team, with driver Ken Block and lead engineer Ian Davies, appeared to be ready to challenge for wins and re-enter the championship race. With three races to go and a drop event available, the goal was to keep making it to main events and scoring enough strong finishes to keep climbing in the points.

But it wasn’t easy. Block had to overcome two major accidents at New Hampshire on the way to a fifth place finish there, with Davies leading the MWRT crew in a pair of extensive repair sessions. In one case, the crew had seven minutes to get the car on the grid to make it into the last chance qualifier.

Las Vegas and SEMA were different stories, as the No. 43 Monster Energy Ford Fiesta HFHV was among the fastest cars on track in both events. But a possible third place points finish was thwarted after mechanical issues at SEMA; Davies has said that Block drove in the final with the inside of the car on fire. Here, he talks about the importance of strong qualifying, coming back stronger next year, and how the series has improved over the course of the season:

Photo credit: Matthew Kalish

Tell us about the repair jobs that the team did after the two accidents in New Hampshire. How significant was the damage after rolling in qualifying, and how extensive was the damage after Ken hit the tires in the heat race? 

Going on to New Hampshire, we had a bit of bad luck where Ken was off the side in the braking on that tight hairpin that was wooden, and he rolled the car off the side. And I think that puts a team on a back foot—we worked all night to fix that car to get it back out the following day. (In the heat) he got sort of forced in, or there was nowhere to go, he ended up in the tires with a broken front windscreen, a broken hood, a whole lot of damage then, and again, we were up against it.

I remember we had seven minutes to get the car back on the grid for the LCQ. And the car had no fenders, no front bumper, no hood, no windshield, and seven minutes later, that car was on the grid. I remember one of the Finnish guys, Henrik, one of my mechanics, inside the car in Ken’s seat kicking out the windscreen as we were all trying to cut it out. But seven minutes later, we put him on the grid, and we got fifth place and some good points for that.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

One of the things you’ve said before is that every tenth of a second really counts in qualifying. You had one of the fastest cars on track and were one of only two teams to win all three of your heat races. How important is it to “make your own luck,” as you’ve said, on the way to the final?

It’s just massively important. Every race you do from the time you start seeding is important, because the seeding is only the start of it. It then gives you seeding for the next heat and the next heat, and as long as you keep winning, you get that choice of being in that good position, and getting away is important. We’re sort of a believer that first or fifth is the place to be. To say that we started in fifth place at X Games, behind Sebastien Loeb. And that pole sitter is always going to get away. So depending on how tight the first turn is, or how much room there is going into the first turn, fifth is never a bad place to be, because you know the pole guy, the quickest man out there, is going to get away.

In the first Vegas race, we just had a slight gear change issue which cost Ken a couple of tenths and put us second and not on pole. Again, we knew from there that we’d made a big improvement over the summer, and that we could stay with Tanner (Foust). And luckily, we were able to prove that again at the SEMA race, that we were able to out-qualify Tanner to get that pole position.

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

Given the bad luck that the team had early in the season—the “plane crash” as you called it at Charlotte, the two accidents at New Hampshire, and so on—do you consider fifth place an acceptable championship result?

I think we should have been third. All we had to do was beat (Samuel) Hübinette in SEMA to have gotten the points to have third in the championship. I think that would have been acceptable given the bad break. I think that SEMA was particularly hard to stomach because it also cost us that podium place in the championship. SEMA was a bitter pill, I think, for Ken and the team because again, we’d been doing so well. But you have to learn the lessons and move on. So we’re coming back next year, and we’re not coming back to make the numbers up, you know? We’re coming back to win the championship. That’s what we intended to do this year, it didn’t go our way, I think we’ve learned a lot, and we will come back next year stronger with an aim to be GRC champions.

After competing in a full season of GRC events, what are your thoughts on the format of the racing, the jump, and the way that the series runs its events as far as safety is concerned?

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

I think the jump is very controversial, (but) if you have no jump, and not a decent gravel section, it becomes a straightforward circuit race. If we’re not careful, it becomes like Charlotte, a 600-horsepower touring car race. I like the jump, I think the jump is good. There’s always going to be a safety question over the jump, and I think they’ve made big improvements this year. We’ve seen a couple of jumps by the privateer guys who have not been so clever in the past couple of races. Fortunately they’ve walked away with not a lot of life-threatening injuries. I know Richard (Burton)’s got some problems with his back but I’m sure that Richard will be back.

I think you treat the jump with respect. I think there’s a speed and we all know the speed. It’s one of those things that we don’t keep to ourselves—all the teams speak to each other. We’re now allowed speedo(meter)s in the car. I think one of the early problems was that the drivers didn’t have any idea of how fast they were going over the jumps, because speedometers were not allowed as part of the regulations for rallycross. Those regulations were changed in order to give us speedos, so that’s made it safer for 90% of the grid, they now actually know what speed they’re going over. The sweet spot is between 47 and 52 (miles per hour).

Image via Ford Racing Facebook

I think both of the Subarus that we’ve seen crash recently would admit that they’ve missed gears or had problems going up the jump. And I don’t really know how you can make it any safer for those people. I think there’s always likely to be accidents off of the jump. But it’s at 47 miles per hour, it’s not at 147 miles per hour. I think the one that (Toomas Heikkinen) had in X Games was particularly nasty, but now they’ve put more shock-absorbent material on those, and the drivers seem to know that if they’re not going to make it, they go sideways over and land in the bottom.

So I think the jump should stay, because it’s the one thing that Global Rallycross has that no other event as far as cars go has. As Global Rallycross has grown, they now can see from designing their tracks and the drivers walking the tracks, where there are areas that people aren’t happy around. I think going with the NASCAR safety teams and the fire people has been excellent. One of the good things about not having standalone events and being part of NASCAR or IndyCar is that those medical facilities are there at those big race circuits.

Ian Davies can be found on Twitter @I_a_n_Davies. He also maintains a Facebook page. Follow Ken Block and the Monster World Rally Team at @kblock43 and @MWRT.

—Chris Leone

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