What a busy week it has been with Rally Finland behind us. While we were unable to capture the result we went there for we were still able to bank valuable points and keep us in a tight fight within the top 5 of the World Championship.
With over 40% of the route this year being new it meant that there was a lot more work than normal writing, adjusting and refining the pace notes. This also coupled with the fact that we did not compete on any of last year’s day 2 stages (which were this years day 1) meant we had a lot of homework and preparation that needed done between the recce and the rally.
It was also strange this year to see how much road sweeping played in affect during the rally. What compounded this more than normal is that the region had had a lot of rain in the build up to the event, which then followed with some sunshine meant the base of the roads become very compact and hard. On top of this you had a thin layer of small gravel that acted like ball bearings. Initially before the event we thought 3rd on the road (our championship position) was a good place to be, but it soon become apparent that it wasn’t – that become worse on Saturday when after Sébastien dropped back with some problems, we were then second on the road.
We started a little slowly on Friday morning, trying to adapt to a smoother more precise driving style that seemed efficient in testing. However the stage times begged to differ, so we then reverted back to my more aggressive natural style, which was a step in the right direction. Try as we did, it was clear that the road positions were playing a bigger part in the outcome of the rally and no matter what we tried with my driving or car setup, the pattern and time difference of stage times to our nearest competitors didn’t change. But it was pleasing to be competitive with Sébastien and Andreas who were on the road around us, and competing directly with the guys behind us.
One thing that did come more apparent to me this weekend is while I have always understood the sweeping affect on the first pass, this was the first time I also experienced it on the second pass, which I normally did not think was such an issue on the repeat loop of stages. So some good lessons were learnt from this and adapting a better driving approach and car setup for when we are in loose conditions for the future. Of course it is something that is hard to test for, as after 3-4 runs at test the loose gravel is gone and the rest of the day is spent on a road that is swept with good grip. So some homework will be done in this area.
The rest of the rally went without issue for us however, and on Saturday and Sunday I was happy and enjoyed the driving. Especially this year the stages were the smoothest and best I have ever seen in Finland, which was incredible to drive. On the short final day, we were involved in a close battle with our team mate Thierry for 4th, and despite missing out by 2 seconds, it was pleasing to get some bonus points on the powerstage, and overall we were the fastest over the day. So some positives to take away from the weekend and plenty of lessons.
It was also great to see more drivers on the podium, with Kris Meeke being the first British driver to win Rally Finland (an event normally dominated by Scandinavians) and his team mate Craig Breen getting his first podium. The WRC is going through an exciting phase which is only building up to what I believe will be an even better year next year.
For now, we now change tact’s as we head for 4 tarmac rallies in a row. Not my area of expertise but we will treat these events as an opportunity to learn and develop – as after all if we want to have a chance of fighting for the title in the future, we cant just be fast on gravel. So the training starts immediately, with some tarmac training this week in France with Nicolas Bernadi, followed by 2 days of testing next week. The following week it is the team’s home rally – Rally Germany.
As was the case in Finland, it will be great to have many Kiwi fans cheering us on in Germany. It’s amazing to see just how many Kiwi’s are supporting us at each and every WRC event and is always a proud moment whenever you see the flag waving on the stages or the service park.
A huge thanks to our team and everyone involved here in Europe helping to make it happen along with our New Zealand partners – Hyundai New Zealand, Pakn’Save and Z Energy.
Thanks again for all your support and the 2 weeks for Rally Germany will come around very quickly. Until then,