Phil Hall’s Rally Italia Sardinia Diary

Written By Phil Hall

Rally Sardinia is probably one of the toughest rallies I’ve done, it’s right up there with Turkey and Mexico. Even the recce is extreme, getting around the stages in a recce car is a challenge in itself.

The event was very hot, very dusty, and in places extremely rough. It took grit and determination to succeed.

We didn’t make the right tyre choice for the first loop of stages on Friday, and that cost us some time, but we had a clean run which was positive and to the plan. The afternoon loop we made better tyre choices and saw the benefit – even though the temperatures in the car soared. Our fitness training was paying off.

Saturday was going well, but a puncture in the last stage of the loop on both passes (which had to be changed in the stage) saw us drop a fair bit of time. We’d practised tyre changing a lot though so we did our best to minimise the effect. Saturday was a very long day, an early 5am start and a late finish meant you really had to maintain focus. Preparation was key, maintaining hydration and energy levels, and working as a team to maximise efficiency.

Sunday was a tricky day, with only 4 relatively short stages. Unfortunately, we cracked the oil sump on the engine on the very last stage – even making it on to the final road section. We made temporary repairs by the side of the road and carried on, attempting to drag the car to the finish, but it wasn’t to be. Our repairs melted as the engine got hot, and we ran out of materials to keep fixing it, ultimately leading to us having to retire at the side of the road to the finish.

A disappointing end to the rally in some respects, but it did allow us to demonstrate our determination to succeed. As always, a huge thanks to our team at M-Sport Poland who were incredible all event.

Phil’s 2019 Tour de Corse Diary

‘6 notes per line, 3 lines per page, 2 pages per kilometre… 347km. That is about twelve and a half thousand pieces of information delivered, to split second accuracy, over the Tour de Course – at a conservative guess.

It’s a hell of a challenge for a co-driver.

It is also one of the most rewarding challenges. Tour de Corse is my favourite event on the WRC calendar not just because of the epic roads and incredible views, but also because there is a huge amount of satisfaction to be gained in completing it.

Phil Hall. Photo credit, M-Sport

Recce itself is requires huge attention to detail, not just from the driver – noting every bend and hazard – but also the sheer logistics of it; we stayed in three different hotels on each of the three recce days as the stages are so spread out across the island. Food stops, petrol opportunities, and long days all had to be taken into account weeks before the rally started.

Likewise, the ceremonial start was held at the opposite end of the island, and so hotels had to be booked for that, as well as coordination of our team to meet there.

This all adds to the adventure and flavour of undertaking the Tour de Corse, it’s not like any other rally.

And when we reach the competition itself, you have to be totally focused on delivering the notes exactly on time – there are so many corners, all coming so quickly, that you cannot think about anything other than the task at hand. I find it quite a nice place to be, in the car on those stages. Obviously, you have to be focused on every stage of every rally… but Corsica is another level.

We had a great rally, we finished 5th in JWRC which puts us 6th overall in the Championship. All the time we are learning and building, and the JWRC is such a great place to be. I’m really enjoying everything about this championship and can’t wait for Sardinia in June.’

Tom Williams and Phil Hall. Photo credit, M-Sport.

Phil Hall’s Junior WRC Rally Sweden Diary

It might sound obvious, but Rally Sweden is cold!

I know this year there has been a lot of talk about ‘the conditions’ in the stages, how temperatures were quite warm and there was a fair amount of gravel in places, but that doesn’t mean the event was what you’d call tropical.

Everything you do has to take into account the environment in which you are competing – the low sun of the Scandinavian winter, finding an ice-free spot to jack the car up to change the wheels around (so you can stand up!), or even just not bringing snow into the car on your boots (which then melts and turns the footwell into a swimming pool).

Recce on Sweden is logistically quite straight forward, however the days are quite short because of the day light. You have to get a lot done in a reasonably short amount of time – you aren’t pushed for time but you need to remain focussed. We had a good recce and really saw the work we had put into our pacenotes over the winter start to show.

The event starts with a long drive down to Karlstad for the opening super-special, which is always packed with fans. I really enjoy the whole atmosphere at Rally Sweden, and this is where it all starts – live acts, lots of entertainment, and hugely enthusiastic crowds.

The Rally itself was not only a test of speed, but also of tyre strategy. There was quite a lot of gravel in the stages, and this meant the tyre preservation was absolutely key. We were moving tyres around on the car after every stage to maximise the studs we had between each service. It also meant we had to plan where we pushed and where we saved our tyres.

Phil Hall and Tom Williams tackle the amazing Colins Crest! Photo credit M-Sport

A characteristic of Sweden which is not always noted is that it has some very long days. On most competition days we would be up for 6.00am to go to get the car from Parc Ferme, and we might not be back to our hotel until around 11.00pm in the evening. It’s a physically and mentally demanding rally, and it’s one I remember for a lack of sleep.

We came away from the event with our first top 3 time in the JWRC, and 4th overall in the JWRC – which we are really happy with. It’s been a great start to our season and hopefully we can keep building and improving throughout the year – next stop, Corsica!

Phil Hall’s 2018 Junior WRC Review

Phil Hall and Tom Williams

Twenty-Eighteen has been an incredible year in JWRC and WRC3, with a few R5 and AP4 outings too.

I passed a few milestones as well; I completed my travels to 6 continents (just Antarctica to go!), I made my 20th WRC start, and I earned my first WRC category win.

The year started off very cold, with Sigdal Rally in Norway as a warm-up for WRC Sweden. I really enjoy snow and ice rallying, the atmosphere is always incredible and the challenge of competing in such a harsh environment pushes my adventure buttons.

In stark contrast, the next stop was WRC Mexico – hot, high, and very dry. An extreme physical challenge, with stages lined by huge numbers of truly passionate fans. The atmosphere at the start of the rally was unlike anything I’ve experienced.

Next was one of my favourite rallies in the world – Tour de Corse, the twisting tarmac roads are a big test of co-driver skill and I relish the challenge – reading flat out for 50km (or 90 pages of pacenotes) and delivering it all exactly right is a great feeling.

After Tour de Corse, we headed to WRC Portugal, more heat and dust. A tricky event for us, but we learnt a lot and found good pace.

Continuing on the loose, in July we undertook the gravel grand prix itself; Rally Finland. I spent a lot of time in Finland during my time with Toyota Gazoo Racing, so I always feel quite at home in Jyvaskyla. This year the high-speed stages incorporated more narrow roads, which brought a whole new dynamic to the event.

The final round of the JWRC, though not our final WRC event of the year, was Rally Turkey. There is only one way to describe this event – Brutal! A test of resilience and skilled, measured driving. Getting to the end was an achievement in itself, and managing to do so without going into Rally 2 is something I’m quite proud of. We worked hard; battling punctures, broken suspension, and the heat and dust, to return a solid result – and demonstrate just how tough the little Fiesta R2T really is.

One of the highlights of my year was us winning WRC3 on my home event, Wales Rally GB. We had a really good rally, and set a nice pace from the start. Everything came together in the rain and fog of Friday and we managed to pull out a good lead which we maintained to the end of the event, despite a puncture.

The finale of our WRC season was Rally Spain, the mixed surface challenge was treacherous with heavy rainfall on the tarmac mixed with dust on the gravel. The heavily muddied tarmac roads offered a particularly tough challenge, but we were extremely happy with our pace.

Overall, an exciting and rewarding 3rd year in the WRC for me, 20 WRC starts on the board and hopefully many more to come.

 

Phil Hall’s Wales Rally GB Diary!

It’s going to rain on Rally GB, that’s for certain. It means the grip levels and visibility levels can be highly unpredictable.

This makes recce super-critical. Make good pace notes, and you can go faster in the fog. We had a great recce in GB, it felt good to be on home turf, however with the route change a lot of the stages were unfamiliar to us. I can tell you, for me there is no better feeling in Rallying than being flat out in the fog, knowing the two of you in the car are absolutely committed to the pace notes.

The other thing about Wales Rally GB is that’s it’s a test of endurance too, not in the rough, battering way that Turkey was, but in the get up at 4am and go to bed at midnight kind of way. Long, long days with few opportunities to service the car or get a break. Big distances in wet, cold, muddy conditions. It’s a classic challenge.

We had a good shakedown, and a good opening stage on Thursday night. And we followed that on Friday by getting stuck in and building a nice lead in the howling, rain-soaked forests of North Wales. We had a good day.

Saturday should have been about managing the gap, but a puncture in the second pass of Myherin saw us drop a lot of time. So, we had to fight back.

And over Saturday evening and Sunday that’s what we did, ultimately coming away with our first WRC 3 category win… and on our home event! A very happy memory.

Phil Hall’s Rally Turkey diary

Rally Turkey was a rally like no other I’ve competed on. An incredible test of endurance and determination.

The recce was a challenge in itself, we picked up two punctures on our recce car. The rough nature of the stages made writing difficult, and the dust made navigating tricky. However, we were rewarded with some of the most beautiful stages I have seen, this rally was held amongst truly stunning scenery.

The route of the rally was nicely compact, with short liaison sections and easy access to the stages.

The rally itself was a war of attrition, we had to go slowly in places to preserve the car and then speed up to maximum attack on the smoother sections. The trick was knowing where to go fast, and where to go slow; and that meant making really good pace notes.

The soaring heat and choking dust made life inside the rally car a challenge, it’s where our focus on fitness and preparation really helped. We had to change three punctures in the stages, another area we’ve practised hard to save precious seconds.  The Fiesta R2T held up really well against the ruts and boulders on the stages, some of the rocks on the line were size of a beach ball! We damaged the rear suspension and had to complete one loop of stages with not much in the way of damping on the rear right, which led to some interesting handling characteristics. However, the M-Sport team were fantastic, and worked incredibly hard to keep each car running perfectly in the tough conditions.

The rally start was a great experience on the sea front in Marmaris, a huge amount of fans lined the streets and there was a huge party atmosphere (in fact there was a huge fan presence across the whole rally). The city centre stage that night was one of the best ones I have done, featuring open sections as well as tight hairpins.

Friday was probably the toughest and roughest leg, with stages to the north, Saturday saw (relatively) smoother stages to the east, and Sunday saw four shorted stages finishing right outside the service park. Friday and Saturday had a mixture of long, endurance-sapping stages of nearly 40km, and short high intensity tests, so strategy was key.

Overall, an awesome event. Well run and attended with huge enthusiasm by fans and marshals alike, I really enjoyed the challenge.

Tom Williams and Phil Hall finished in sixth place.

Phil Hall’s Rally Finland diary.

Tuesday: Finland recce is always fun, I love getting back into these stages. I spent so much time in this area when I was competing with Tommi Makinen Racing that it feels like a second home. Today we recce’d six stages, a mixture of the traditional flat-out Finnish roads and newly added tighter and twisty sections.

Wednesday: More recce today, pacenotes in Finland are super-critical, the speed you are carrying, often in the air, means that you have to commit absolutely. The jumps require bravery and skill, because you can’t really turn a car when its wheels aren’t touching the road. Tom and I have been working really hard on our pacenotes over the last few weeks, and we can feel the difference here.

Thursday: A big day today, we had an early tyre meeting with Pirelli to help us decide on our tyre strategy and then straight into shakedown. Shakedown was extremely hot, and the weather continued throughout the weekend. We found a good set up and felt confident in the car. After lunch Tom had some PR engagements for the event, and I continued to work on the notes and strategy. Finally, in the evening we had the start of the rally and SS1 through the centre of Jyvaskyla.

Friday: The first proper day of rallying, we started with a good pace and settled in well. The new stage configuration of using smaller, narrower, rougher roads was tricky to say the least as they were still very fast in the little M-Sport Fiesta R2T. The Pirelli tyres worked really well, and our tyre strategy was giving us the grip we needed. I really enjoy these Finnish roads, it’s great to get a flow with the pacenotes and synch with the driver… it’s amazing how fast you can go.

Saturday: Iconic stages today, with the new narrower twist. We were locked in a great battle with New Zealand Champions Dave Holder/Jason Farmer, absolutely great guys and we were having a lot of fun – tiny gaps on every stage. Unfortunately, Dave and Jason picked up a double puncture on the second loop of stages dropping them out of contention. Meanwhile, we were feeling good in the car and especially in our pace notes – all the hard work since Portugal on our fitness, pace notes, and all-around performance, was really paying off.

Phil Hall jumps to best-ever JWRC finish with Tom Williams in Finland – Image credit M-Sport/JWRC

Sunday: 4 Stages. It’s not that far to hang on to our best result in the JWRC. Except this is Finland, and anything can happen. Finishing with the legendary Ruuhimaki test, and a monumental jump to finish (which we took absolutely flat, see the video on my social media), we kept on it to the very end and were rewarded with a fantastic result.  Now we are focusing on the next round of the JWRC in Turkey.

Phil Hall (L) celebrates with Tom Williams (R) – Image credit M-Sport/JWRC

Follow me on Instagram and Twitter (@PhilHallRally) for more behind the scenes JWRC stuff!

 

Phil Hall’s Rally de Portugal diary

Day One (Tuesday 15th of May)

Ford Fiesta reece car – Photo courtesy of Phil Hall

Recce for Rally Portugal is particularly challenging, the stages are tight and twisty but also rough. Today we did 6 incredible stages, which will form the route for Friday and Sunday. A lot of KM covered and in the hot and dusty conditions you really have to focus.

Rally de Portugal reece day – Photo courtesy of Phil Hall

 

I get a few funny looks around the world when I turn up to Recce with a pillow ‘borrowed’ from the hotel. But on rough roads it makes all the difference to lean on as a shock absorber. Along with a lot of practice it means I can usually get all my notes down tidily on the first pass, with little touch up work later. It’s actually quite interesting to see which countries make the best Recce pillows. Keep an eye on my Twitter as I usually post the best ones.

 

Recce day Two (Wednesday 16th of May)

Similar to day 1, another challenging day of recce awaited us. Today we covered the Lousada super special as well as the monster that is Amarante. The surface in Portugal changes a lot so it is important to make sure your pacenotes take this into account.

Thursday: (17th of May)

Shakedown is a spectacular, if short, stage finishing in a huge arena full to the brim with fans. We had a good run, getting a good feeling for the car and the surface.

After a long drive to the ceremonial start, a great opportunity to meet the incredibly passionate Portuguese fans, we headed to the Super Special at Lousada. The sheer volume of rally fans crammed into this venue was a sight to behold.

 

Friday: (18th of May)

The rough northern stages bring their own challenges, we tried to keep it clean and were running comfortably inside the top ten despite a puncture. For a co-driver here in the heat and dust it is very important to keep focused. the tight twisty stages require a lot of information to be delivered often whilst the road is very rough.

Tom and Phil press on in their M-Sport built Fiesta R2

Saturday: (19th of May)

A new day and a new surface, and the iconic Amarante test. At 37km this is a big test for crews, and for us unfortunately where it all unravelled. Amarante hasn’t been kind to me, I rolled out of the Drive DMACK Fiesta Trophy event on this stage in 2016, and again today we had a small roll that put us into Rally 2.

 

Sunday: (20th of May)

Another tough day, and the attrition rate was high. A few stages were cancelled because of incidents and we focused on just being clean and getting to the finish. despite a couple of near misses, we did just that and got to the end. In fact, we managed to hold on to our top ten position, with 7th overall in the JWRC.

 

Things to take away about Rally Portugal:

– The Fans are incredible!

– The stages are a true test of physical and mental stamina

– Dust!

-Truly iconic roads

 

Many thanks again to Phil Hall for this great diary! Why not give him a follow on Twitter? @PhilHallRally

Also give Tom @williamsrally a follow too!