Matters of moment
When leading Citroën driver Sebastian Loeb broke his arm, the British rally champion was rushed in to take his place
I had heard about Seb’s accident, but it was still a surprise when I got the call from Guy Frequelin to drive in the Rally of Turkey. I have always had a good relationship with Guy and it was pleasant to think that he still values me. Things immediately went a bit crazy as Turkey was right in the middle of a holiday and a change of house on Majorca. Fortunately, there was one thing I didn’t have to worry about and that was my fitness. Normally that only becomes a priority towards the end of a season when I think a new contract is in the offing. But I stay pretty much in shape.
The only reason I haven’t been doing WRC is lack of opportunity. We dabbled with a Skoda deal but it fell through. It is good to return with a competitive car with one of the best teams. In testing, it was clear that it had come on quite a bit but I was pleased that even with mechanical differentials it didn’t feel totally alien to me. It was always a forgiving car. It’s easy to jump into something and drive it to a certain level, but if you want to beat the best in the world, you have to get that last bit out of it which is much more difficult.
It is a shame that there aren’t more British drivers in the WRC. Guy Wilks and Kris Meeke are at the top of the British tree but it is hard for a young British driver to get the budget to go higher. Getting £100k to do the odd event is one thing, but the millions required for a full WRC programme is a big stumbling block. McRae Motorsport put a lot into Kris but there comes a point when it is hard to justify the investment. Five years ago I’m sure Kris would have a had a fully paid works drive but now there are only three paid drivers in the WRC — Seb, Marcus and Petter. The rest all bring money to drive.
The health of rallying is all down to money. The cars are so expensive now and the costs are high for any sponsor — he has to weigh up if the return is worth it. I am sure that if costs were reduced, it would bring more companies in. Maybe it is true that having 20 events would bring PR benefits, but if you halve the number of events, you will certainly reduce costs considerably.
As for the technology, cheaper cars has to be the way to go. The new S2000 is OK but it is not very fast, or spectacular to watch. That’s why we have done this exercise with the R4. It is cheaper than a WRC car and should be quicker and more spectacular to watch than an S2000. I think that would work well even at the top level.
It’s a shame Turkey didn’t work out better. The conditions on the first day were awful. In fact think it may have been the most difficult rally in my entire career, and not just because I was coming back after a break. Having to nominate a tyre package before the event was new to me and we went too much on tyres for harder, drier roads. That dropped me back a bit but we had some good times otherwise. The last straw was to have the alternator fail on the very last stage. And the new SuperRally rules meant that to qualify as a finisher, you have to stay with the car until the organisers recover it. So we were up in the mountains for two to three hours. Not the way I’d envisaged finishing my weekend.