“I don’t want this to read like some PR whitewash over an error on our part,” Richard Tuthill insists. “We had a fully engineered, production-based solution on the FIA’s table in May. We’ve tested the car over 120 kilometres on gravel, absolutely flat out. This car is fantastic on gravel and should be racing in Wales. But it won’t be, and we all know why.”
I understand Richard’s frustration. Less than a week before Tuthill’s R-GT Porsche was due to take the start of Wales Rally GB, the FIA decided to reject the car’s gravel specification for the Oxfordshire team’s home event, despite all of the planned modifications being fully described in plans submitted to Switzerland almost six months ago. Having sucked up a truckload of R-GT red tape already this year, this was one step too far.
Earlier this week, the R-GT was taken to Walters Arena in Wales, home of many gravel test sessions and identical terrain to the Rally GB gravel stages. In-car footage from testing shows the R-GT Porsche’s incredible speed: the 911 pulls two gears higher than Tuthill historic cars on the same stages and easily hits the limiter in sixth on the longest stretches of gravel.
‘The car was born to be driven on gravel,” says Richard. “It is well balanced, amazingly easy to drive and with the wonderful 3.8-litre engine and sequential six-speed gearbox, it is very, very fast. We experimented with the setup up throughout the day and will continue to develop certain areas, but I could not have imagined it could be so good from the very first KM. It’s more than ready to hit the stages, be they gravel or snow.
“Combined with the car’s performance on asphalt, this confirms that it is an all-rounder and can be used across the world in all regional championships, where the regulations follow FIA guidance.”
Tuthill Porsche FIA Rally GB
Lengthy discussions at FIA headquarters in Geneva could not move its technical department to approve the car for use on this weekend’s Rally GB. It’s a blow to Team Tuthill, the rally organisers who have headlined so much promotion with the R-GT Porsche but mainly to the fans; hundreds of whom were looking forward to witnessing the return of a Porsche 911 to WRC gravel stages.
Richard explains the impasse. “Within existing R-GT regulations, there is scope to allow modification to the suspension uprights that are fitted to the chosen base model. However, this only allows the fitment of gravel brakes. In the case of the 997 RGT, the upright is too big to fit within a 15 inch gravel wheel, regardless of the size of caliper and disc fitted. Understandably the FIA needs to review how this issue can be resolved and, not surprisingly, it is unwilling to allow complete freedom for modification on safety grounds.
“We found a solution from Porsche factory parts, which we tested to great effect. That solution, developed by our chief engineer who is one of the most experienced motorsport engineers in the world with thirty years of Le Mans, WRC and Dakar behind him, was still not enough to convince the FIA. While we fully accept that any new category will raise technical challenges that need open discussion and thinking to get around, I cannot hide my frustration at the way this decision has been made, given we started this enquiry in May.”
FIA Leadership through F1 Motorsport Crisis
Lately it seems that the FIA has given up on the ‘sport’ side of motorsport in the vested financial interests of its commercial manufacturer partners. With F1 in crisis and the governing body standing by motionless, will the FIA ever draw back those curtains of red tape and start listening to fans who only care about racing? Or does the inactivity reflect a lack of leadership as the FIA president works his connections to land a plum job at the UN: a theory I read on one of the leading F1 blogs last week? So much for a bright future.