LEG 4: SAN JUAN DE MARCONA > SAN JUAN DE MARCONA (Total distance: 444km / Stage length: 330km)

On paper, at least, Tuesday’s stage seemed almost idyllic, with the cars starting in rows of four for a spectacular blast along a sandy Pacific beach before tackling more than 100 kilometres of dunes of varying sizes and, finally, a run through a difficult canyon to wrap up the day’s competitive action. In reality, however, the 444km loop around San Juan De Marcona – including 330km against the clock – provided lots of drama!

The challenge faced by tires, and the new KDR2+ in particular, varied from stony trails, to powdery sand and soft dunes – steep-side first! This presented the drivers with a real conundrum since they had two choices: either run with tire pressures of less than 1.3 bar to benefit from extra grip (but run the risk of hitting a rock and puncturing or having the cover come off the rim) or else start with a pressure of 1.6 to 1.8 bar and hope they don’t become embedded in the dunes.

Unfortunately, Toyota Gazoo Racing SA’s Hiluxes hit double-trouble when their day was initially marred by punctures before they became trapped in soft sand. Monday’s stage winner Nasser Al-Attiyah even had to dig his himself free on two separate occasions, losing practically an hour to the rally’s provisional leaders, while Cyril Despres suffered bad rear suspension damage.

The leg ended with a one-two-three finish for Peugeot, spearheaded by Sébastien Loeb who clocked his first fastest time of the rally, ahead of Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel who continues to top the overall order.

Unsurprisingly, day’s ordeal provided BFGoodrich®’s two technicians with plenty of work at the stop control. After an initial visual inspection of the tires, their daily stage-finish routine is to measure ground and tire temperatures, and gather feedback from the drivers on their tires’ performance over the different types of terrain as a function of the chosen tire pressures.

“It’s important to speak to the drivers as they complete the stage,” says Matt Hanlon, the development engineer behind the new BFGoodrich® KDR2+. “We get to check the tires and see what they really endure on the competitive sections, rather having to extrapolate once they have covered a long road section back to the bivouac. The drivers’ impressions are still fresh in their mind and, as a result, the information they give us before they forget is invaluable…”

In addition collecting data immediately after the stages, the technicians tour the bivouac later in the afternoon or evening and take photos as the covers come off their respective rims. Even from a distance of two metres, Matt and Jérôme are capable of spotting a problem like a puncture. “We are never completely satisfied,” notes Matt. “Our role is always to find new solutions to take the performance of our tires to new levels, especially on sand.”

A high number of crews spent the night out in the dunes, a nightmare scenario that could well be repeated for some on Wednesday’s run to Arequipa (stage length: 267km), especially as the car competitors will not be able to count on the aid of their biker comrades, while the dunes are expected to be even softer than those encountered near San Juan De Marcona!

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