So the first tarmac rally of the year was no walk in the park. However a 5th place in the weekends Rally Germany has lifted us to a tie of 3rd in the World Championship. Sometimes to put things in perspective for myself, it is amazing to think we are fighting for a top 3 in the world championship in our second full season in the sport. Of course the ultimate goal is the top, but step-by-step we are getting closer – and while doing so achieving all our goals along the way.
We always knew that tarmac was going to be more of a challenge for us this year and the aim was to use Germany and the following tarmac rallies to develop for the future. However, Germany is maybe the least tarmac specific event of them all, with narrow vineyard roads, a lot of gravel and mud pulled onto the road and changeable weather means the driving techniques I developed before the event did not translate as well as we hoped.
Of course we expected more from our speed but we did show progress from the start of the rally until the end. Sunday’s drier and more consistent conditions also suited us better as we were more competitive against the guys ahead who were in a big battle for the podium – in fact our team mates Dani and Thierry were only separated by 0.1 second for 2nd and 3rd.
Our event got off to an eventful start, with 3 big moments in the first 3 stages. First a timely spin on the opening stage cost us 20 seconds, followed by being caught out in the braking zone on the following stage which caused the rear to step out, hit a drain, and break the left rear wheel. This cost us a further 30 seconds. Then we saved the best for last – a high speed 6th gear moment where we slid wide, brushing the trees, spinning down the road at 90 degrees for 100m, clipping the grape vines on the other side of the road and somehow – gathering it back to continue on. Other than cosmetic and aero damage, which affected our performance, the car was relatively undamaged and John and I were soon laughing between ourselves in the car – more out of relief than anything.
Saturday and Sunday by contrast were more boring and straightforward. The isolated rain showers made tyre choices difficult and driving conditions slippery, but it was good experience and throughout the 2 days we made some small steps from both analysing the data, and advice from our teammate Dani Sordo.
Last year in Germany we finished 9th and this year 5th. So Germany was our weakest event last year also and we feared a lot better in both Corsica and Spain (up coming tarmac rallies) which with more flowing stages (less tight junctions and hairpins) suited my driving style better. However, we will certainly not rely on that alone and with the cancellation of China rally we will use the extra time to work with my engineer looking at the onboard’s and data to make sure we are much more competitive in Corsica. At the same time I am also realistic, knowing that I have only ever competed in 8 tarmac rallies in my life – we are competing against the fastest tarmac drivers in the world, most who grew up on it. For us from NZ it’s a very foreign surface, it’s a surface I’m still not 100% comfortable on and the only way this will improve is with time and patience. Its almost like starting rallying again when we first started out. So I’m confident we will get there.
Huge thanks to the team as always for the amazing job they did all weekend and the double podium is great reward for all the work that goes into the project. It was also humbling to have many Kiwis supporting us at the event, including our own VIP tour group who all had a great time.
Despite the 5 week gap it’s a busy time, with several PR duties, a quick trip back to NZ, testing of both the 2017 car and to prepare for upcoming events this year.
Thanks for your continued support and looking forward to Corsica Rally.