Rallyraid Info Service Network
Everyone knows the Rally-Raid Goliaths that the works Volkswagen team, with their quartet of deep blue Race Toureg 3s have become, graced all three steps of the podium at last months Dakar. At first glance it might look like a clockwork performance of German precision, but closer inspection of the timesheets reveals that, at least initially, there was a serious threat to their dominance from the X-Raid BMW team… Fair enough, you might think, as the Dakar certainly wasn’t just a VW demonstration run, but X-Raid is a private team and runs on a mere fraction the former’s budget… So on paper at least, with the almost unlimited resources available to the works team, the VWs should have been lost in a cloud of dust at the top of the standings, but for the first few days, before multiple punctures wrecked his chances, Stephane Peterhansel even had hopes of victory… and I wanted to find out how that was possible… So I decided to ask someone who should know, someone who like Peterhansel is one of only a very few people to have his name in print above the VW’s. Meet Russia’s Boris Gadasin. On the Russian steppes in last year’s Silk Way rally he was third after the first stage and 4th after the second… until he hit an un-marked bump at 170km/h and rolled end over end five times. But what stands out as a little more impressive than Peterhansel’s drive is that Gadasin was driving a car he’d designed, built and developed entirely by himself…
St Petersburg, Russia. Mid-winter. Late on a February evening I walk down a dimly lit backstreet in a severely run-down industrial estate. Massive icicles hang from the irregular gutters of Soviet-era factories with chimneys wheezing out God-know what chemicals into the freezing air. I slip unsteadily over the icy potholes and atop at a bleary-eyed security guard who has a rusty pistol at his hip. Reluctantly he nods me down a narrow path dug out of the snow towards a heavy metal door plastered with car product stickers. Thankfully, as soon as I step through I am in a familiar and secure world once again. Calendars of fast cars and naked girls adorn the walls and a welcoming smell hangs in the air… a heady mix of burnt fuel and hot transmission oil. The large logo over the desk reads G-Force and in a small office full of folders and framed photos of airborne rally cars I meet the man who is the G in G-Force.
There aren’t many Russian motorsport world champions. Some might say that young Vitaly Petrov had the outcome of the F1 championship in his hands and Kamaz drivers Vladimir Chargin and Firbaus Kabirov have 10 Dakar wins between them, but with 2 FIA Baja World Cups to his name Gadasin is also on that very short list.
After getting frustrated about not being able to instigate his development plans in the teams he drove for, two years ago he took a massive leap of faith and started up his own… and promptly won the FIA World Cup in his self-built car’s first year. As he sat the mug of tea on the desk I asked him just what that takes.
“There is a simple answer that explains everything,” he said, “And of course, that is budget. It’s easy to understand that the more money you have also the more possibilities you have as well. Every single component on the car, no matter how small… and also in the team, has to be optimised to the very best possible ratio between cost and performance. But don’t forget, it’s also very, very important what you do with the money… remember Toyota in F1, the biggest budget but no results. A successful team is not just a group of friends having fun, it is constructed from fundamental components. The cars of course, but each member plays a vital role… and in a small team like ours, many roles at once.”
I took my notebook out and under the headings he dictated began to write.
“So, first, the car. Right from even before the design process, still when the first thoughts and ideas are in your head the first thing about it is that it has to be all about compromise. The first restrictions are about the regulations, but then you have to think about what parts you can install, what parts you can afford to have because the prices between the absolute best components and those that will be just about good enough is hugely different. VW’s first though is only about the quality of the parts whereas ours has to be about cost. It can be no other way. And then when you are driving it’s about how hard you can push everything as for us it’s just an impossible cost to change everything at each service… not just because of the money but because we only have two mechanics on our car, not twenty.”
“The car is called a G-Force Proto,” I said, “But what exactly is it bsed on?”
“Well, the first problem that restricts us here in Russia is that you are not allowed to build a car up from nothing, it has to be based on a production unit. So,we have the central parts of a Nissan Navara chassis whichything else is built around. It’s much heavier than a space-frame construction of course, but then again it’s also much stronger… As you saw in the Silk Way Rally, we rolled five times, but three weeks later the same car was in the Portalegre 500 in Portugal. The engine is a 7 litre V8 from a Chevrolet Corvette as the only way we can compete with the torque of the diesel cars is with a large petrol engine. The gearbox is a 6-speed sequential Sadev, the axles we made ourselves and suspension… well, in Rally-Raid the dampers are not something we can compromise with so we only have the best, and that’s Donerre, although we only have 4 of these amazing antiroll ones whereas I would really like to have 8!
“I don’t know how it is for the big teams, but for us we need mechanics who are Rally-Raid fanatics first and mechanics second. We need guys who finish work when the job’s done, not because the clock says that it is a certain time. At the Belgorad Rally-Raid last week it was –15 and at the Silk Way they travelled in the van more than 5000km in 8 days and were working on the car in the desert. You don’t work out a wage for someone to lie on the ice and fix the car, it has to come from the love of what they are doing. Lyosha and Dima are more like part of a family than employees.”
Boris started his motorsport career some 15 years ago winning the Ladoga Trophy, one of the world’s toughest off-road events before the need for speed took over his love of mud. Since then he has stood on the podium over a hundred times… but is still slightly dismissive of his abilities. “Speed is not the most important thing,” he insists. “Understanding the car is where true performance comes from. A professional team will have a driver, a chief mechanic and a test driver all working together. In G-Force I am all three together and getting the car right is vital because in my opinion correct set-up is worth about 30% of even 40% of overall performance. There are no tracks to test on here in Russia, so we use the smaller events to get the set up right for the larger FIA World Cup. But for me, the one most important person in the team is not the driver, its the manager…”
“It’s hard to rate the team manager as it’s the driver that takes the podium and the points, but if there is a list of top team managers in Russia then I am very sure that Svetlana Shakhova would be at the top of it. She knows the rules perfectly, she was Clerk of the Course at the Northern Forest Baja for example, and this is very important when you want to build the car to the maximum, and she also sorts out all the problems with the organisers… and logistics, and event entry forms, visas, etc… Her higher education is as a lawyer! It’s possible to say that not only would we not be able to be where we are now without her, we would be nowhere!”
For the international events G-Force have the lovely Marina who translates for them. “But again, she is more for us than just a translator. She is the one who chases our errant packages around Europe from our suppliers, does the English for our website, sorts out the PR and as well as translating for us she also our international negotiator. And as well as all of that she is Svetlana’s assistant. You see, we need to optimise every single component,” he smiled.
“They say that the driver wins seconds but that co-driver loses minutes, don’t they?” Boris smiles slyly. “A good co-driver is not afraid of the high speeds, and so can look out of the window for reference.” The name of his co-driver for the Silk Way rally, Vladimir Demyanenko, can be found on the Dakar leaderboard in 4th place in the truck category, reading the notes for none other than that Kamaz Master Team and his current partner is Dan Schiemel who runs his own competition navigation academy.”
And I start to get an understanding what he means by every part needing to be optimised; everyone in the team is at the top of their game and giving their all. And I can also see that the way this happens in G-Force is because Boris is who he is. There is no personality cult in here, no raging ego in the man on the opposite side of the table, just a quiet confidence of someone with a complete understanding of his abilities, and of those around him.
Money is next on the list and Boris sighs, “I know that in Europe and in America there are good tax reasons why companies sponsor teams, but in Russia there is no incentive like this., so we have to think of different ways to raise funds… and this is why we have built a third car to rent out to customer drivers. But we do this a little differently from other teams as we give a car that is absolutely full specification, just the same as mine, actually even newer, not one filled with old, second-hand or cheap components like we know is the case in some teams. This means that if you are the right type of driver you can even beat me in this car!” The third car was rented out at the Silk Way and I remember the guy getting out of the car in the evening with a massive smile on his face having the best experience of his life. “It’s already been booked for the 2011 Silk Way, but it’s free for some of the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Bajas… and,” he said with a slowly widening smiling, “There’ll be two cars available to rent for the Dakar!”
“There is a new car coming soon, but again before I even put a pencil to the paper that is on the drawing board the question is how much money do we have to invest? This time though we know that the main component this time is the engine. The VWs and BMWs have diesels which are easy for the massive factory teams to tune, but for us it would be impossible to develop effectively, it’s just too much high-technology. But we run with restrictors so its not power we are after but more torque and so we need to go bigger. These are not official figures of course, but we figure that VW can get something like 1000Nm from theirs we get 750. So for us now the 7 litre V8 is just not big enough, so the new car will have an engine from the Le Mans series! Also, I am trying to decide whether to have independent suspension, but again, this is also a very hard thing to set up properly. When you look at the VWs jumping you can see that they always land perfectly, but most of the other cars land hard on their nose. Like it always is, it’s a compromise. But there is one other thing that every small teams needs, and that is luck. For example, a stupid little fuel filter element failed on the Portalegre 500 and this cost us the whole championship… and then because we didn’t change every single part of the engine, which was overheated from fuel starvation, the whole thing blew up in the test we ran last week. Probably such a thing wouldn’t even have failed on a works car and then anyway they would have changed the whole engine just in case, but that is the way it is.”
So Boris says that it is money and luck, but after speaking to him I think that the secret of a great private team that punches high above its weight is the ability of the director to attract the best people to him and then to extract the best from them. And to do this at the highest level takes a rather special person. Meet Boris Gadasin.
If you’re interested in renting a G-Force Proto for the Dakar or other event you can contact their lovely international negotiator Marina Kosenkova through their webiste www.gfmsport.ru