From Le Mans to classic rallying in Mexico as a motorsport journalist I cover many different types of racing in many different places, but in my opinion one of the best forms of motorsport is also the most criminally under reported; rally raid.
Yes, the Dakar is certainly epic and spectacular but what about the FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies, the championship for rally-raid cars? Have you ever heard of it? Can you list the countries the rounds take place in? Who is leading this year’s championship? Exactly! The Dakar does a good job of making the Argentinean and Chilean countryside look like the final frontier but they never explain just how technically amazing the cars are, like the WEC or F1 do. OK, so a MINI, a Hi-Lux and a Peugeot might not be at the top of a petrol head’s list of most spectacular cars but under the skin rally-raid cars are basically the direct descendants of the mid-80s Group B beasts that the WRC couldn’t cope with… Space-frame chassis, massive suspension, unlimited drive trains and engines only limited in power, not size. (There’s a Russian team that use an 8.2l V8 out of an ALMS Corvette!) Their brutal battlegrounds are on stages that would encompass a whole WRC round in one go, on terrain that would destroy a little Fiesta, DS3, or an i20. And Filipe Serra from Portugal, the unofficial motorsport capital of the world, drives and Opel. Imagine a Group B Mokka… actually you don’t need to imagine because exclusively for Opel Scene magazine we have a beneath the skin story to explain why this might be the toughest Mokka in the world!
Filipe, from Portalegre Portugal, grew up around competition and from 9 years old used to ‘help’ his father in the organisation of the Baja Portalegre, now 28 years old it’s one of the most prestigious rally-raid events you’ve never heard of. These days, running StyleAuto Motorsport, a rally and race preparation workshop, he not only gets to design and build these supercars from the ground up, he gets paid to sit in the passenger seat next to Nuno Matos, a job that made them the 2010 FIA World Cup T2 champions. As you can imagine being a world champion is big business and when Nuno felt the time was right to step up from the showroom T2 class to the Prototype T1 Opel Portugal were interested in going with him to have a presence in the Portuguese rally raid championship. In 2011 the team’s previous car, the Astra was developed, but with Nuno’s first foray into the top class being a tough learning curve the results weren’t exactly what he was hoping for… to start with. But the current 2015 championship, with an all-new car is a different story! Enter the Mokka T1.
With the reference to the Group B cars you already know that this Mokka is not just a normal road car converted for competition. There is no production bodyshell with a cage inside and upgraded suspension here, this is a thoroughbred racecar from the ground up. The space frame chassis is made of carbon steel tube, designed and constructed in Depieres by Fernando Santos. With a thickness of just 3mm, a circumference of between 40 and 55mm, depending on where it was mounted, it’s an incredibly strong construction but also very light. So light in fact that when the car was finished they needed to add 250kg of lead weights to get it up to the minimum weight of 1952kg! Another detail to help understand how serious this Mokka is, it’s powered by the same engine as the all-conquering X-Raid MINIs, the cars that have dominated the Dakar for the last three years straight. The 3 litre twin-turbo diesel gives out 310 bhp but more importantly, a healthy 800Nm of torque… “The stages in the World Cup are very technical, lots of tight turns and short straights so we need the power to be in the low rpm range. This is why the diesel is better for us than a big V8.” It doesn’t come cheap though. A single unit with ECU and ancillaries is worth a cool 12,000 euros.
The gearbox is a 6-speed SADEV, with a self-locking center differential, a seriously tough piece of equipment used in many Dakar vehicles including all the MINIs, Toyotas and event the Kamaz trucks… as well as Ken Block’s insane Hoonigan’s Mustang. The terrain of the events is so tough that the suspension has to be bullet proof and so there are two shocks on each corner, made by Maxishocks. Stopping power comes from 6 piston Brembo callipers, one on each wheel. The body is all fibre glass, and is very accurate to the original because the original panels were used as moulds, so if you needed to you could swap and original door from the road car and it would fit. The panels are bolted onto the chassis so although at first glance it recognisable as a Mokka it actually the only parts from the original are the lights and mirrors. What about the glass? Nope. It’s the same size and shape but because of the anti-condensation system that Ford has but Opel doesn’t it’s from a Fiesta. It’s not about starting up on a winter’s morning… blasting through fords and water splashes with superheated brakes and transmission creates a lot of steam!
“The build deadline we had for the Mokka was for the first round XX but it was a very tight timescale. I had five guys full-time on it because even though you know what radiator, transmission and steering box you’re going to use you still have to make all the mounts, and we’d install one part and then find that the next bit wouldn’t fit. Many times we didn’t think we’d make it in time but we were always enthusiastic and positive and it came together.” After the major components were installed it was time to work on the interior, mounting the seats, belts, dashboard and steering wheel etc… One positive of building the car like this was that the mechanics got to know it inside out long before we got to the first service pack in an event. But then with three days to go we started to finish the wiring. It’s a job that can take three hours or three days… and unfortunately it ended up taking us a long time to finish. We got to scrutineering at the race, the car passed, but without a single kilometre of testing of course there was no point in racing it and so we drove the old Astra instead. But in the three races they have entered this year they’ve had a 2nd a 4th and with a win in the last event are currently leading the championship! Now that’s one cool Mokka!
Photos. Vitor Mota