Debriefing – Portugal

« The automatic reflexes are still there! »

For the fifth time during the launch of this enthralling 2019 season, Thierry and I climbed onto the podium. The moment after we cut the contact of our Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC following the finish of the Power Stage, I must admit that we had a small pang of emotion. Similar to me Thierry is a ‘fighter’, a winner … So, to finish in second spot boils down to being…the first loser! But thinking about it, this silver medal is actually timely and represents an excellent result. Allow me to explain.

In the first case we needed to deal with the post-Chili. Even though Thierry and I are well prepared and well trained, in a small corner of one’s mind one always questions whether after such a misadventure will everything function as before.  Will all the automatic reflexes still be there? If on the one had we set off on a false rhythm in SS1, once the set-up had been refined, there was total harmony. As proof the five scratches we clocked up over the weekend. And this gap of less than 16 seconds separates us from the top place. So, we were quickly reassured.

As Ott Tänak stated, this Rally of Portugal was an extremely difficult event. Which once again demonstrated that this season the pace is incredibly high, meaning that the slightest error is costlier than ever before. On top of that it was very hot inside the cockpit throughout the weekend. But once again, the experience which Thierry and I benefit from, made all the difference. The Portuguese course, with its damaging surfaces, especially during the second passage in the special stages, we know well. Better still, we have the impression of mastering them … In the highly tricky sections it was impressive to observe how Thierry is truly able to read the terrain, retaining a high rhythm in certain places, and easing off in others. This allowed us to retain a solid pace throughout the event. Admittedly we have the feeling that Tänak has a certain safety margin up his sleeve which allows him to respond in the event we put in an attack. But he’s not free from the odd mistake, and he never profited from a comfortable lead …

After this gruelling Portuguese episode, we will only enjoy a few days rest prior to tackling Sardinia. Where the heat will also be pretty important, not forgetting that the course boasts a fair amount of similarities with Portugal. It is an event that Thierry and I really appreciate, and which we have won in the past. We are really fired up, and more than ever ready to do battle for overall victory. This 2019 championship will remain undecided through to the end, so we have no other choice than to grab everything that comes our way!

Once again, many thanks for all your encouraging remarks, during and after the Portuguese event. Such support has allowed us to take off on a high note, and in the end, to produce a good deal in the championship. Speak soon!

Nicolas Gilsoul

Debriefing – Chili

« Preparation for the Rally of Portugal has already started … »

After two victories in Corsica and Argentina, with Thierry, once again we wanted to be the talk of the town in Chili. It’s done… but not in the way we had hoped, unfortunately! First and foremost, I wish to salute and thank all those who in one way or another showed their support following our spectacular accident in SS8 on Saturday morning. Despite the violence of the shock we were not injured, even though several days of rest are necessary to allow the body to recover from the centrifugal force we experienced during that series of barrel rolls.

It’s in such instances as that one that physical training takes on its full meaning. And that the safety inside a rally car’s cockpit has enormously evolved. Without a physical training worthy of its name, and state of the art technology, be it the Hyundai’s survival cell, which perfectly played its part, the bucket seat, the helmet or the HANS system straps, the consequences could have been pretty unpleasant. Hauling ourselves out of the wreck, we were pretty shocked, but we were standing upright, unscathed. That’s the essential …

As explained here and there, our off-road was the result of a bend we rather ‘surmounted’. There was hardly anything in it, some twenty odd centimetres at most. In a nutshell, a small error with major consequences. During a part of our recceing there was a great deal of fog, which added to the difficulty in discovering and trying to understand a demanding course, and with a road profile, very undulating, with loads of drops and peaks, somewhat similar to Finland. Chili boasts a large number of bends and curves where one needs to set the car up without seeing the exit.

On Friday the special stages were narrower and slower, which best suited the Toyota, whereas on Saturday it was wider and faster, and the Hyundai performed well! This was later confirmed after our retirement by several scratches for Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena. The nine times world champion quickly worked out how to handle the ’i20 Coupé WRC in these conditions, in such a manner that for Hyundai, the points he scored together with those of Andreas Mikkelsen, means that this Rally of Chili did not turn into a disaster. Quite clearly the car has progressed, and it was shown. In Saturday’s first special stage, we had in fact notched up a scratch time, which says a lot about our level of performance as from the moment we were no longer the first on the road.

Remaining positive, this void result in Chili will allow us to tackle the Rally of Portugal in a more ‘comfortable’ manner, not having to open the first day. Which overall is not bad. We noticed event after event, that the three Ogier-Tänak-Neuville competitors systematically are to be found playing up front, the result varying depending on the weather conditions, the state of the roads, etc.. And the one taking the lead in the championship knows that he will be at a disadvantage in the following event. In other words, it’s still a long season …

After twenty-four days far away from home, I’m looking forward to playing the role of father again and taking a few days off until the end of the week. Which has not prevented me from starting to attack the preparations for the Rally of Portugal from an administrative point of view during my trip home.

A question of curtailing all rumours, I can confirm that at the end of the week Hyundai Motorsport will be carrying out tests with a view to Portugal. It had been foreseen a long time ago that I would not be involved, and that Julien Vial will be the one, accompanying Bruno Thiry in the role of opener, and who would be next to Thierry. Julien, with whom I work a lot, knows our pace notes system, and it goes without saying that the day I am not able to compete in an event in the righthand bucket seat, it would be him who would replace me.  So for Julien Vial it is interesting to clock up kilometres in the Hyundai cockpit, with a view to becoming aware of the speed at which the countryside flies past. During these tests it is also foreseen that Thierry would not get behind the wheel before the third day. So, no worries then…

More adventures on the horizon, and a few souvenirs that will serve as a preface to the Rally of Portugal!

Nicolas Gilsoul

Thank you.

Hi everybody,

It’s the end of an incredible season. So many feelings are going through my head at the moment, but the strongest of them all is gratitude. Thank you to the Hyundai Motorsport team –especially to our mechanics– for their fantastic job. Thank you to Thierry for his trust, our journey is far from being over. Thank you to my family and close friends for their unconditional support. And thank to you, our fans from Belgium and beyond, thank you for supporting us in victory and defeat, thank you for your thousands of messages…

To all of you, I’m extremely thankful and I realise every day how lucky I am to do what I love for a living and wave high the colours of a country that truly loves our sport.

it was the last rally of the season. We knew it would be complicated… and we were right. Our rhythm was good from the first stages but a puncture at the end of the day and a tyre off the rim relegated us to the 10th position! This meant we had to open the road on Saturday, making any progress in the classification almost impossible!

We had 6 stages left this Sunday morning to achieve the impossible on track made really slippery by rain falls. We decided to go for it and have no regrets. After three really good times, we took the start of the ‘Coramba’ stage going flat out. But more showers had turned it into a skating ring and we entered a long left at too high speed! No way to avoid an off: broken suspension, it was over.

Congratulations to Seb Ogier and Julien Ingrassia for their 6th title. It was an honor to battle against them.

See you all on the Monte Carlo stages. One thing is certain, I can’t wait for 2019 to start!

Till the end…

Once again, this WRC round was epic. Rally Catalunya is the only event of the season to be driven on mixed surfaces: the first day on gravel and the following two on tarmac.

With the thick layer of dust that covered the stages, we knew being first on the road would prove very difficult.

And that was the case. Despite a huge attack, no matter the risks we were taking, we couldn’t follow the pace of the quickest crews. All we could do was limit the damage and get ready to restart with the bit between our teeth on Saturday morning.

And then, stage after stage, avoiding all the traps on a really tricky wet surface, Thierry and I moved up the board to finish this second leg in fifth position.

Once again, the last day would be decisive.

After 3 pretty good times on Sunday, we were back on the podium behind Seg Ogier and an incredible Sébastien Loeb (who still has it)! Well decided to keep that third place and score extra points, we went flat out once again in the Power Stage. The first splits were good and things were going well… until a rear-right puncture decided otherwise, allowing Elfyn Evans to pass us for… 0.5 second!

Of course it is disappointing, but such rallies make us even stronger. And most of all, we are well decided to fight till the end to catch up these three points that now separate us from the M-Sport driver.

See you in Australia, it’s gonna fly!

Playing with the limits.

You can’t win a World Championship by keeping a safety margin. To reach that goal, you have to take risks all the time, go flat out, play with the limits. This edition of Wales Rally GB was no exception. We were driving 100% from the very first stage despite our road position.

Conditions were especially tricky: slippery stages, a really high rythm and difficult tyre choices. Everything was going fine and we were second overall after the tenth stage… But in Sweet Lamb Hafren –and for the first time in a long while– we went off.

In a long right curve, our Hyundai went wide to end up in a ditch. Consequence: 50 seconds lost (… thanks again to the spectators! 💛) and our hopes to fight for the podium gone. But we all know that’s also part of rallying.

From that moment, we had to stay focus on our main target and score as many points as possible to stay in lead of the championship. Together, we managed that rally end perfectly with 2 bonus points in the Power Stage and a fifth place overall.

We have 2 rounds left to keep our position in the Championship… and reach our final goal.
So the least we can say is that we can’t wait to be in Catalunya and that we will need your support for this season end more than ever!

We win together. We lose together.

Rally Turkey was an unknown territory for everyone. How will the car behave on that super rough surface? How much time will we lose because of our first position on the road?

Very quickly though, we knew that we would be playing in the big league. Stage after stage, we got closer and closer to the leaders… and we even finished the day in the first position. A dream scenario.

We started day 2 with the same commitment, well decided to make the difference in the first stage, the split times can confirm this.
That’s when the mechanics got involved… unfortunately a suspension broke, with no chance to fix it. Rally over. It is really hard to accept, especially since our pace was so good. But that’s part of the game.

This Sunday’s Power Stage was our only chance to limit the damage… mission accomplished as we were fastest through and grabbed 5 bonus points.

In the battle for the title, it’s a tie with the M-Sport driver who also had issues on Saturday, but the duel is now a three-way fight. With three wins in a row, Ott Tänak is up to second, thirteen points behind us.

The end of the season is going to be epic. Thierry and I can’t wait to start the next round.
Focus on Wales Rally GB, a surface that we like a lot!

Avoiding the traps

Before anything, let me start this roadbook with something really heartwarming. This week-end more than ever, it felt like we were ‘playing home’. The stages were literally covered in black, yellow and red.

Thank you for showing up in such high numbers. I’ll never tell you enough how much your support means to us!

But let’s get back to the rally. Three crews quickly broke a tie: a rather impressive Ott Tänak at the wheel of his Toyota, Seb Ogier and ourselves. However, stage after stage, we realized that it would prove really difficult to keep pace with them. Dani Sordo and Jari-Matti even managed to pass us on Saturday morning after a first run through the mythical Panzerplatte.

In such circumstances you need to stay focus, keep a cold head and continue to drive fast even if your stage times aren’t up to your expectations.

But every year Rally Germany reminds us why it is one of the trickiest and most demanding round of the championship. The smallest mistake can be fatal over here, and to finish on the podium, you must first… finish!

Without ever shifting down a gear, we managed to avoid all the traps and move from the fifth up to the second position on Sunday morning.

We still had the Power Stage to score a few extra points, but a tiny mistake (the only one of the whole rally!) in an undergrowth made us lose a few seconds.

Result: a fifth fastest time and a bonus point. In the end, we increase our lead in the World Championship, clearly a super positive result!

Next step: Turkey. A newcomer in the calendar that I can’t wait to discover!

A difficult rally

Hi everybody,

Sometimes you must hang on and clinch teeth… It was the case here in Finland. Of course we would have loved to battle for the victory; but to win a championship, you have to accept that you are not going to win every round and keep fighting when things get tougher. That’s precisely what we’ve done.

The drought that hits Europe hasn’t spared Finland… turning its gravel roads usually damp into dusty tracks! We knew that being first on the road on Friday wouldn’t be easy. But that’s part of the game. Impossible to play in the big league in those conditions. We just had to stay focus and ‘do the job’ (well… except for a little off with no major consequences in the morning loop 🙄).

Same scenario on Saturday… Stage after stage, we realized there wasn’t not much we could do. We remained stuck in the 10th position, way behind the really competitive Toyota’s and the Citroën’s showing great pace. But even in these tough conditions, Finland remains a fabulous playground. Driving here feels like being a kid in a toy shop. This is definitely THE home of rallying.

We had to stay focus this Sunday with four stages on the menu. Our main target: finish and concede as few points as  possible to Seb Ogier. In the end, we score two bonus points in the power stage and limit damages, losing 6 points to our French rival.

This rally felt a bit like a big practice session and it would have been really difficult to end it on a better result. The team  did a great job, we remain leaders of the championship and we are already focussing on rally Germany.

I hope to see you there in numbers, we will need your support!

Victory at home!

Hi everybody,

I discovered Ypres back in 1998, with its condensed, super technical and so specific route. I was opening the road for David Loix et Cédric Pirotte… and I still was an amateur regarding pace notes!
Two decades later, it’s a great honor for Thierry and I to add our names to the winners’ list of Belgium’s most prestigious rally.

When Hyundai Belgium offered us to drive here in Ypres, we didn’t hesitate a single second. Especially since the make wanted us to do this for de Rode Neuzen Dag, a charity helping teenagers facing psychological problems.

And then… what a reception from our Belgian fans. We never expected such a fever… this brought so much joy in our hearts and what a great moral booster!

Even if everyone considered us as frontrunners, Ypres rally is not exactly a leisurely drive. The stages are so demanding and technical, you really need to stay focus. It was also a good way to get out our comfort zone for a week-end, since we swapped our WRC for an i20R5 from the BRC team.

From the first meters, we found the good rythme. We pushed hard and avoided all the tricks – unlike many other crews – to quickly take the lead and keep it till the end. It’s such a great pleasure to drive on these unique roads, to dive in the cuts and anticipate the surface changes… a proper challenge for a co-driver too!

But what really makes Ypres unique is its Parc fermé, quite possibly the most beautiful and most crowded in the world. The atmosphere is unique…  the heart of the rally beats in this town.

Once again, thanks a million to our fans from Belgium and abroad for this amazing support, see you all in Finland!

Suspense up to the end!

Hi everybody,

It’s hard to think of a more incredible race than this edition of Rally Sardegna!
It’s without a doubt one of the best moments of my career, the kind of thing I was dreaming of when I was a child, watching Colin McRae on TV. 😀

We knew this would be a tough rally… especially the first day. Opening the road is always tricky on these super dusty tracks. But the weather was on our side, and the heavy rain falls made the Sardinian roads look a bit like Wales Rally GB.
In those conditions, we managed to stay in the top 3 before starting day two.

On Saturday, the battle for the win quickly turned into a ‘mano a mano’ with the five times World Champion Sébastien Ogier. After 2 stages, he had a 20 second lead, but there was no way we would give up the fight. Thierry, our Hyundai, the team and I were in total symbiosis (our mechanics even managed to change our fuel tank in less than 30 minutes!). Thierry was flying, I was reading my pace notes quicker and more precisely than ever and we were 14 seconds faster than the Frenchman in the following stage. From that moment, we knew it was game on.

There were 4 stages left on Sunday to make the difference.

10th per 10th, second per second, we managed to get some time back and ended the day just 3.9′ behind the M-Sport driver. Thierry and I pushed at every single moment, without a rest, at every single corner, every single junction, every single jump! The gap was down to 0.8′ before the Power Stage.

On the finish line, after giving it everything, we won the rally for 0.7′! Hard to describe how one feels on a moment like that! 😀

That result is also a great step in the race for the title as we now have a 27 points lead.

Last but not least, as today is Father’s Day in Belgium, we want to dedicate this victory to our dads and heroes, Alain and Carl!

Next step, rally Finland!