Na zdrowie!

This is for days like this this I do rallies. It feels so great! I wish I could describe you the feeling of driving at 190km/h on soaked dirt roads just to take a few seconds over our opponents.

It’s never easy to switch from the sinuous track of Sardinia for the super-fast roads of Poland: you need to get used to it quickly if you want to fight for the victory. Especially if, like this year, the weather decides to step in and make things even more complicated. Mud, ruts, rocks, rain and more rain: those are the words that would perfectly sum up this rally.

From the beginning, Thierry had brought out the heavy machinery and the fight with Seb, Jari-Matti and Ott was epic. We ended the day as leaders, but it wasn’t over. On the next day, the fight for victory quickly became a duel. One stage for Tänak, one for us; each of us going through his own misfortunes… A puncture and a heavy shower made us lose some valuable seconds, while the Estonian driver was slowed down after he lost his rear spoiler. On Saturday night, we were still in first position, only 3 seconds ahead of Tänak… which means practically nothing.

Throughout the rally, I felt that Thierry was totally relaxed, completely focused. With such a pilot and a—once again—top-notch team, I really was confident for the last day… All the more so as Tänak went off the road during the second stage, which gave us free rein for our third victory of the season.

The other good news is that we’re now trailing Ogier by only 11 points in the championship. We really are working hard: we did training session after training session, we drove in Ypres last weekend and this hard work is rewarding. We feel good, we’re confident and the results are great… we can’t wait to be in Finland!

Thanks to all of you for the support, this is really motivating us every day! 💪

Five in a row!

Hi, everybody! The more rallies, the more good results! We’ve just ended this race in third place and this is our fifth podium in a row! Sardinia’s roads really are characteristic: the ground is very hard and covered with a thick layer of sand, scattered with big rocks. In short, this is an especially tricky event, where you can crash easily… Many teams have experienced it this year again.

But let’s go back to our race. On Friday we were disadvantaged by our road position, since we were sweeping the road for the following drivers. Despite this, we managed to end the day in second position, thanks to a permanent fight. The car was perfect and Thierry had brought out the heavy machinery! It was the dream scenario to start the second leg with.

On Saturday morning, everything was going smooth. We set the fastest time in the 11th stage and were fighting for the victory. That’s when our breaks decided to let us down… and made us lose over a minute in Monte Lerno (and yet, we really limited the damage here!). 😐

After another incredible performance from our mechanics during the midday technical support, we were able to go back within the set time, with an i20 “as good as new”, for the second loop. But we weren’t able to catch up the leader the regular way and we ended up the day in third place.

No useless risk-taking and 2 bonus points in the Super Stage: so went our Sunday. In the end, there’s only positive: we scored good points for the championship and gleaned some from Seb Ogier.

Before I go, I’d really like to congratulate Ott Tänak, a driver we were already competing with in 2012, when we started off in WRC. He totally deserves this victory! 🙂

Next step: Poland. This is a super fast rally that Thierry and I really appreciate… and with the WRC 2017, we should be flying! 😜

In the meantime, we’ll be at the start of next Ypres Rally in our home country. Really looking forward to that.

The party goes on and on!

The rallies keep coming and so are the great results! It really is super motivating to see that our hard work (and Hyundai’s) is bearing fruits. Portugal… aaaah, Portugal! I’m not going to lie to you, this rally never really worked out well for us. It’s always super complicated to find the appropriate pace in here; the sandy roads require a sideways driving, which isn’t Thierry’s “natural” style. In order to go really fast, risks need to be taken and numerous cars went off this year again.

After the Super Stage on Thursday evening, we decided to follow the pace of the bests on Friday… trying not to make any mistake. Everything went great until the 7th stage. During this one, we got stuck in an opaque dust cloud; we couldn’t see a thing! We catching up with Jari-Matti, who got delayed after his car rolled over, and the Toyota’s dust was literally blinding us. In such cases, the key is to keep a cool head, calm your pilot and call the radio while keeping reading your notes… some might call that a party! 🙃

This unfortunate event cost us about 20 seconds, but the organiser looked at the images and corrected our time: we were then in fourth position.

On Saturday morning, the Fords were untouchable, and we should have taken inconsiderate risks in order to catch Ogier. Nevertheless, we got two fastest times and ended the day in second position, right behind the four-time world champion.

The 4 stages on Sunday were too short to fill the gap, but we kept driving at a great pace… and we took 4 more points in the mythical Fafe Power Stage. Thierry was pushing hard and I have to admit that when we touched the ground after the Jump, I wasn’t totally at ease 😜

In the end, this second place is a great result and we are definitely in the race for the title. We also want to dedicate our performance to our car chief and our 3 Portuguese mechanics… once again, the whole team did an amazing job!

I’ll see you in Sardinia, for a rally that Thierry and I particularly appreciate. More fun to come! 😉

Impossible is nothing!

Every victory is unique: there’s the first one, the most emotional; there are the crushing ones, the lucky ones, … and then there are the victories in suspense, the ones on which you refuse to give up, the ones you know you can get even though nobody else believes it. This is one of this victory we’ve just won.

I will remember Rally Argentina forever and so will every single rally fan. We fought with Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barrit for every second, the kind of battle that makes the WRC a legend… I have to admit it: this Sunday, I lived an old dream.

But let’s go back 2 days earlier, shall we? Our first objective on this rough and very treacherous tracks, was to make it until the end of the rally. With a regular pace (even though Thierry always drives at a great pace 😜 ) and without taking any inconsiderate risk… In Argentina, more than anywhere else, in order to finish in first position, you have to… well, finish!

We avoided every trap and on Friday night we were at the third place, trailing Evans by a minute. A gap that seemed quite impossible to fill the regular way… The two first stages on Saturday confirmed the ranking and then, in the twelfth stage, we took 6 seconds back. Three stages and two fastest times later, we were only trailing by 30 seconds. What if…? What if it was possible, after all? What if we could make it?

You know what happened next: thanks to a flawless Hyundai (the team did a perfect job once again), and super effective Michelin tires, we gleaned the seconds and pipped the Welshman at the post at the end of the Power Stage, winning by 7/10 seconds! 7/10!!! Can you believe this?

I really want to congratulate Elfyn on his incredible performance. He was first during the whole rally and he would have deserved the victory as much as we did. His time will soon come, I have no doubt!

This is for this kind of emotion that I do rally… I already feel sorry for my daughter Myrtie, when her old father will tell her for the thousand time how he won the Rally Argentina 2017 by less than a second. 😉

In the meantime, I hope to see you in Portugal. Thierry and I mean to keep things the way they are and make another great result.

10,000 corners… and a victory!

It. Is. Amazing!

There it is, we scored our first victory of the season, after a perfect race. Rally Corsica is one of a kind… Breathtaking landscapes, abrasive tarmac, bumpy roads, corners, corners, and corners again… a race made for the new WRC 2017. It also is a real challenge for the co-drivers: a weak stomach is not an option!😜

This is also the place Thierry and I scored our first international victory in 2011, in the IRC Championship. We love this rally… and so does it. From the shake-down on and during the first day, it was far from being easy, though. Our duo was working extremely well, the pace notes were coming one after the other, and Thierry was driving to perfection. But Kris Meeke and Sébastien Ogier were untouchable and by Friday evening, we were in third position, trailing them by 25 seconds.

I often tell you that the mechanics and engineers of Hyundai Motorsport are world’s best… well, they proved us right one more time. They decorticated the telemetry, perfected the settings and on Saturday morning, we went back on the road with a razor-sharp i20. The result was 2 fastest times in 2 stages, including the one of La Porta (48.7 km!). We were in the lead and we hold this position until the end. Kris’ retirement and Seb’s mechanical problems allowed us to take no risk while keeping a rapid pace, and to win our third success in WRC on Sunday.

Throughout the rally, Thierry was relaxed, chilled and super effective. We knew it was going to pay, we never doubted it, and this victory in Corsica made us hungry! We’re already thinking about Argentina, another land of passion for the rally fans… a round that never especially turned out well for us, but we’re determined to reverse the trend! The Hyundai proved us it was competitive on every surfaces and there’s no doubt it will help us make another great performance! 🙂

One more thing before I go. When I was 13, the performance of Bruno Thiry and Stéphane Prévot during the Corsica Rally 1995 made me dream. They dominated the whole race before a broken wheel bearing deprived them from the victory. This week, Bruno was our recce crew leader. This is an unheralded work which is nonetheless incredibly valuable, and today Thierry and I would like to dedicate him our victory.

First podium of the season!

Hi everyone! I am writing to you today with a bright smile and a sombrero on my head… the same sombrero that was offered by the organisers to the top three crews. Rally Mexico really is one of a kind. People here are incredibly enthusiastic!

Tens of thousands fans partying four days long, accosting us for a selfie, an autograph or simply to encourage us. And they all are in a really good mood. It really is awesome to see the enthusiasm this rally arouses throughout the country, including in the capital, Mexico City. I personally love it. It’s a genuine energy boost! But Mexico also means unique rally conditions related to the heat and the altitude… and these were impossible to recreate during our testing in Europe.

After an excellent start, these tough conditions caused our Hyundai some trouble. During the stage El Chocolate, the altitude, the ambient heat and the twisty roads combined caused the water temperature to overheat, and the car switched to safety mode. We then had some trouble with the fuel filter, which slowed us down during the last stages and made us lose some valuable seconds. At the end of the day, we were in third position, trailing Kris Meeke by almost a minute and Seb Ogier by 30 seconds. The gap was too significant to attempt to fill it without further incident.

Thanks to the — once again — outstanding work of our mechanics, our car hit the road on Saturday and finished the rally without any more problems. With our road position, we avoided any “track sweeping” issue on the incredibly dusty roads and Thierry, who was totally in control, set some excellent times, which allowed us to finish this rally at the third place. On top of that, we did the fastest time in the Power Stage, which means 5 bonus points.

This podium rewards the work of the whole team and gives us confidence for the next rally. About that, the conference after the rally was quite interesting since Kris, Sébastien and Thierry all said that they intended to win the Tour de Corse… This should be interesting! 😀

Thanks again for your support!

Hungrier than ever!

Just this once, I’ll start this road book with the conclusion: Thierry and I are hungry! Hungry for victory, for fun during the stages and for trophies to share with our team. I wanted to make that clear before I started the recap of this Rally Sweden … We’re hungry and our appetite is intact!

The feeling was great from the moment the wheels started spinning. Just like in Monte, we instantly knew that we would perform well: the car works on the snow as well as it does on tarmac, and the first split times immediately confirmed our first impression.

Day one was amazing. The Swedish snow and ice felt like velvet under our wheels… The high-speed stages were perfect for our i20 WRC and Thierry was more focused than ever. Result was: 5 fastest out of 7 stages, and a 28s lead over Jari-Matti! We went back to Torsby’s Service Park as undisputed leaders.

On the next day, we meant to manage the stages… we were determined not to make the same mistake as in Monte Carlo. Great tactic: we never were really threatened… quite the opposite actually, since our closest pursuer was over 43s away! There was only the Super Stage left, a show stage, no longer than 2km… Then it all went wrong!

While the route wasn’t especially difficult, we slightly hit a pile of truck tyres in a left curve… Two or three more centimeters and we would’ve been OK, but this small mistake (the only one of the rally) was fatal: the steering shaft was broken… and the competition was over.

I could try to find a thousand reasons to explain this: long liaison section, tiredness, less deep concentration, bad luck or whatever, but I won’t. This is our mistake, and we take full responsibility for it.

We’re deeply disappointed, obviously. Disappointed for ourselves, for our fans… but especially for the team, who did an amazing job. We owe you a revenge and we are determined to take it starting from the next rally! In the meantime, I think this is the right moment for me to open my quote book: “It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” I don’t know who said that but it seems quite appropriate* 😉

Since I’ve started with the conclusion, I won’t repeat it. But you’ve understood that our motivation remains strong and that we can’t wait to fight in Mexico!

Meanwhile, I hope to see you all at the rally of the Legend Boucles de Spa!

Thanks for your support!

A—almost—perfect start…

Hi everyone,  Monte Carlo… a mythical name for a legendary rally. Probably the most epic, challenging, treacherous and beautiful rally, but also the cruellest of all. And the vintage of 2017 did live up to its reputation.  For all the teams, this first stage is a way to assess themselves against the other competitors, since a new generation of cars, more powerful and more aggressive, was introduced this year. And the least we can say is that the Hyundai engineers have designed a really good car.

From the first hectometres, we knew that we could make it. A feeling that was confirmed by two fastes times during Thursday’s night stages … Stages for “big boys”  😉.  An i20 WRC that works and a confident crew, this is the mixture that enabled us to achieve great performances on the snow and ice-covered roads this Friday. At the end of the day, we were leading and we had a 45 seconds lead over Seb Ogier.

The next day, on a dry tarmac, we stayed ahead of our rivals and we took the start ot the last stage of the day as clear leaders… but Monte reminded us that it can sometimes be cruel. At the thirteenth kilometre of the thirteenth stage*, the back of our Hyundai slid off in a slow curve and clattered into a bank hidden in the grass. The result was a rim and a suspension arm both broken. Such serious consequences for our only small mistake of the rally…

A makeshift repair later—Thierry and I ‘played the mechanics’ for 29 minutes—, we reached Gap on time and our mechanics—world’s best!—fixed our car.  As a thank you, Thierry set another incredible time in the Power Stage, which means 5 more points for the championship. A nice consolation prize.

What should we remember of this first round? Only positive! The team did an amazing job—special mention to our recce crew Bruno Thiry and Renaud Herman—, the Hyundai is already incredibly efficient and the pace throughout the rally are boosting us to do an even better job in Sweden!

Finally, I cannot end up without reminding you one more time that even though rally is a wonderful sport, it is also dangerous… The tragic events that took place on Thursday evening remind us of this once more. If we want the WRC to keep amazing us, we must all follow the safety instructions.

Thanks to all of you for your support.

* I’m not superstitious, but I have to go: I’m going to get myself a horseshoe and a four-leaf clover.

World Vice-Champions!

It’s with a broad grin (and dark rings under the eyes) that I’m writing to you. The WRC 2016 season concluded on a highly positive note and we leave Australia with the title of World Vice-Champions under our belt.

The Rally Australia brought the championship to a close this year: a unique event, unbelievably full of fun, that Thierry and I particularly appreciated. The Australian rally is a flat out sliding course on unpaved routes through the jungle, a course made up of natural hyper fast toboggan type runs, not forgetting the heat and… the dust. Lots and lots of dust!

For the first two days we had to set off in 2nd position, and ‘sweep’ the route for the following competitors. A heavy handicap, especially for the morning special stages. During the second run in the afternoon, the course had become more abrasive, allowing us to restrict the damage and to remain in the immediate wake of the best.

In these gruelling conditions the Hyundai’s reliability worked wonders: throughout the season the engineers and the mechanics truly made headway with the car. She resisted the rugged terrain with its dust and extremely high Australian summer temperatures. In the cockpit of our i20 there is no thermometer but to give you an idea, during the lengthy Nambucca special stage, my smartphone automatically went into ‘safety’ mode due to the heat … 🙂   On Sunday morning we reclaimed third place from Hayden Paddon, who had made a slight mistake, never to relinquish it. This new podium allows us to end the championship in second place. An incredible result that has rewarded us for all our efforts.

And seeing good news never travels on its own, I have just been awarded the co-driver’s prize of the year during the WRC promoters gala evening This award means a great deal for me and it punctuates this season in the greatest possible manner!   And now, you might ask? Holidays, turquoise blue water and palm trees?   Not really …  As from next Sunday we will be in the region of Gap to test the 2017 car: first tests on asphalt with a view to the Monte Carlo. I can’t wait! The following week I will be on hand for the official presentation of the 2017 team at the Monza Rally Show, followed by the FIA prize-giving in Vienna and finally the Champion’s Day at Mettet, where Thierry and I are competing with great pleasure. I hope to see many of you at the event!

Last but not least I wish to take this opportunity to thank you for your messages and encouragements throughout the season. These small attentions have greatly touched me. Over and above all, don’t change anything next year 😉

Third place in Wales!

Once again, I’m writing to you after attending the press conference with Thierry, along with the top three drivers and co-pilots of this leg of the world rally championship. This bronze medal has a very particular significance for me as it was achieved at the Wales GB Rally, a proper “Old School” rally and one of my favourites. Our days there have been long and full filled, getting up before dawn (call it 4:00am) and working till late after dusk. Some transport stages were long, over 86 miles to reach the first special stage on Friday, where timed sections came one after another at a very steady pace. Between these sprints, crews barely have time to clean the windshield and check the tyre pressures before having to gear-up for what was next, not to mention the fact that no technical assistance was allowed at mid-day.

Our introduction to the race was not the easiest as we were certainly not comfortable in this drizzly, foggy and typically British weather. However, our confidence soon rose as we fine-tuned our settings and managed to step-up the tempo. Eventually, our Hyundai’s reliability and remarkable performances helped us win this long awaited bronze medal.

The three i20 WRC overcame all the pitfalls of this very hazardous and demanding race. Not all car manufacturers can boast that their cars see the finish line after so many miles of Welsh muddy tracks scattered with ruts and potholes…

This bronze medal allows us to secure our second place in the championship with 143 points, against 129 for Mikkelsen & Jaeger and 126 for our team mates Paddon and Kennard.
The next leg in Australia in three weeks will be as ever challenging as we’ll be second to depart, just behind the World Champions, which is always tricky on dusty tracks. I guess we’ll just have to get on with it and do our best…

Before setting off to Australia, I will enjoy a few well deserved days of rest. I will of course be in Huy on Friday to sign a few autographs ahead of the Condroz Rally 2016. I will make the most of this time to catch up with all the friends that I unfortunately don’t get to see as much as I would want to, before watching a few special stages with my family. This time, I’ll be watching from the side-lines… but not for long as a few hours later, I’ll be back in the seat for a new batch of test sessions with the Hyundai i20 WRC 2017.