How I got started on the road to the WRC

10th April 2014

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of my first rally as a driver. It was the year that Sébastien Loeb won his first World Rally Championship and seems like a long time ago.

I was 16 years old at the time and I had already done a lot of co-driving for my father. The interest was obviously there straight away and I eventually saved up enough money to buy an Opel Ascona to run in the Economy Class in Sweden. I actually remember it quite well and I did the South Swedish Rally with my father in 2004 where we met a guy who was running a rally later in the summer. He said that we could drive in that if we got the appropriate licences and it started from there.

After the Ascona I bought a Volvo 740, the model which was used in the Volvo Original Cup. The championship was massive in Sweden and had lots of drivers. I used a similar car to the ones in the series and did the ‘education’ rallies. They used the same stages, which really helped, and it was while doing that I got the contract with Subaru Norway to race the 2003 Subaru Impreza in my first WRC event – the 2006 Swedish Rally.

At that stage I had only done eight proper rallies! (Mads neglects to mention he won seven of those eight – Ed). I had done various other rallies that weren’t competitive in order to learn to use pace notes because I wasn’t allowed to use them in the education rallies.

I was lucky in that I was surrounded by people enthusiastic about rallying – you need that to get into a sport. I think that’s why there have historically been lots of Scandinavians in rallying. It’s in the blood and it’s also in the standard of national championships. There are lots of things that contribute to a country being good at a sport, but those two are important.

Interestingly there were actually three Norwegians in the top five places in the Rally de Portugal the weekend just gone – myself in third, Andreas Mikkelsen in fourth and Henning Solberg in fifth – and Finnish Mikko Hirvonen finished second behind Ogier.

The weekend went well and while Ogier was very quick, we managed to get through a very demanding rally without any slip ups or mistakes. It’s a very tricky event, and very slippery, and by staying out of trouble, it paid off. There was a very high attrition rate – my team-mate Kris Meeke, Robert Kubica, Elfyn Evans and Jari-Matti Latvala all crashed – which I think is down to how close the competition is and how difficult the rally is. When the field is as competitive as it is at the moment the chances of something happening increases hugely.

After a difficult year last year I think I’m starting to show my potential again with Citroën, we’re on the way back to the front. We can be quick without taking too many risks and now that we have some good results under our belts we can start pushing a bit harder. OK, the harder you push, the more risk there is, but it’s all about momentum and confidence.

Confidence is so important in rallying, especially as you’re part of a team and you have a lot more responsibility. It’s even more disappointing when you make a mistake – not only are you destroying the rally for you and your co-driver, but also for an entire team of people. Also, now that I’m racing for Citroën’s factory team that also adds more pressure.

Two podium finishes so far this year mean that we have some good points in the bank and once you have those, it’s easier to increase the risk and not be so devastated when you do make a mistake.

We’ve only just finished Rally de Portugal so we haven’t started the preparation for Argentina yet (May 8-11). We will quite soon, but first of all it’s the Easter holiday and I will take advantage of that by relaxing and recharging the batteries. Have a great Easter everyone.

Driver columns
Sébastien Buemi
Lucas di Grassi
Dario Franchitti
Olly Gavin
Andy Jordan
Johnny Mowlem
John Surtees
Paul Tracy

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