Louise Cook from Maidstone competed in her fifth World Rally Championship round event of this weekend, Rally Italia Sardegna. It has been a steep learning curve and a massive financial hike to get on the bottom rung of the World Rally Championship ladder but Louise has not faltered.
“It is a huge jump between domestic competition and the WRC, nothing can really prepare you for the demanding nature of the rounds and events. I jumped in at the deep end for Rallye Monte Carlo and have just worked like hell to keep my head above the water and it is half working.” Said Louise.
The recconaissence went OK for Cook but Louise explained that the sandy based surface was like nothing she had driven on before.
“It was a very alien surface, judging the grip was difficult, as was judging which areas would get damaged by the World Rally Cars ahead of me.” Said Louise.
The opening day of the rally saw the 29km Terranova stage run twice. The first pass in the light of day and once in darkness.
“It was tough, I felt very rusty. I had not driven a rally car since Rally New Zealand in June, nearly four months ago. This is something I need to change for 2013, more time in the car is essential. At the moment I am just pleased to make the rounds, gain the experience and avoid any fines.” Said Louise.
The second day was tough for Cook as she found herself continually catching the Subaru Impreza in front. Cook had to work hard at seeing through the dust trail and not clipping any of the rocks.
“The problem is, with International Rallies, the start time of the next stage is always based on the start time of the previous. So, basically I had to start every stage behind him, re catch him and go past mid stage, it was a bit hairy at times but you cant back off too much in the dust because you easily lose lots of time.”Said Louise.
Louise was feeling much better by the second pass of the stages. The last stage of the day was a re-run of the famous Monte Lerno Stage and the famous Micky’s jump.
“I was unsure how to take the jump, we got away with it the first time through and I felt like the car would not take much more of a heavier landing than the first time. I sped up anyway! I love the feeling of launching the Fiesta over jumps, I could not help myself. Besides I only had eight tyres and the less time my tyres were on the ground, the longer they would last, right?” Said Louise.
On the way back to service, Louise smelt engine oil in the car. Louise kept the revs low in case of a problem and it was just as well. Arriving in Olbia, the oil warning light came on at the service in control. The engine was switched off and the crew pushed the rally car into the control.
“As soon as your oil pressure is low the engine starts to rip itself apart. We were very lucky to get it back, but I feared we had took the sump out and knew we had no spare.” Said Louise.
With 45 minutes to find the problem, the car was jacked up and the sump guard was immediately taken off only to find it soaked in a pool of oil.
“When I saw that, I thought we had definitely cracked the sump on the landing, and with no spare sump, I was worried it was rally over and I was heading home.”
A quick check over showed the sump to be only dented but the oil filter had been crushed and was leaking. The crew fitted a new oil filter and the rally was back on for Cook.
Day 3 of the rally kicked off with another 30km stage. It was a tough stage and about 20km into the stage disaster struck. Louise was braking hard from a flat out section into tight right corner and the car lost drive. It was obvious that the driveshaft had snapped.
“I was devastated, I felt like I was learning so much on this rally, more than any event so far. To be forced into super rally on the first stage of the day meant missing out on the much needed mileage. I knew the stages were tough on the car, and I have to be realistic about my car compared to the other cars in the WRC. It’s weaknesses will show sometimes, it is more or less a road car with a few bits uprated. There were a lot of water damaged up hills, undulated roads, bumps and jumps, which all take their toll on transmissions and driveshafts. I did back off accordingly when the conditions were very rough but I also need to be attacking these rallies at a certain speed to learn.” Said Louise.
The crew broke down in what seemed to be one of the most popular spectator areas of the stage. The fans swarmed to the car for photos and autographs, a strange distraction from a depressing start to the day.
Two hours passed waiting for the service crew to arrive with the trailer and take the Fiesta back to service. As the adrenaline started to drop, Louise felt more and more pain in her left arm.
“I broke my collar bone four years ago, and the pain and discomfort felt very familiar. I checked it out and when I could wobble the bone back and forth, I realised that it must have cracked on one of the jump’s landings! I always have discomfort with it on rallies anyway, because it protrudes and with the belts and HANS safety device tightly strapped down, its not the nicest feeling. I never thought it would break again though. If the car was fixable, which we were pretty certain it was, I was not letting it stop me from going back out for the last day of the rally.” Said Louise.
So, under Rally 2 rules, the team had a maximum of three hours to get the car in working order for Louise to start Day 4. With only 16km of rough stages left and the car in front too far ahead to catch after the time penalties of missing the stages, the plan was to finish the rally.
“I was in a bit of pain and had to get Stefan to help with the handbrake for the tight hairpins. I was determined to finish the rally and though there was only 1 point up for grabs I knew that would keep me in eighth place in the PWRC standings.” Said Louise.
The crew brought the ST back home in 30 overall out of 41 starters and gained 10th place in the Production World Rally Championship and 1 point. The finale of the season is just around the corner, Rally Catalunya Costa Daurada will be the last challenge of Cookie’s debut in the WRC.