One more podium in Catalunya!

Prior to bringing up the Rally of Catalonia where, together with Thierry, we found ourselves once again on the podium, I would like to come back on a recent bit of information: we will be defending the colours of Hyundai Motorsport during another two seasons! I’m absolutely delighted seeing the lengthening of the contract will allow us to progress even more with a team that we have learned to know and to appreciate all its members. In three years we have managed to grow together right through to such a point that we are now the second striking force behind VW Motorsport. I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia, the leading lights of the German formation: they fully deserved this fourth title … however they should be aware that our objective is quite clearly to succeed them at the top of the hierarchy within twelve months!

To achieve this we will have the latest Hyundai i20 WRC at our disposal, meeting the 2017 regulations. We will have the opportunity of getting to grips with it during two test sessions being organised in a few days, and I can’t wait to be there; based on the three-door model, this car is in fact more powerful and boasts a far more aggressive look than our present mount.

Even though the 2017 horizon promises to be exciting, no way do my driver and I wish to neglect the end of this present campaign. In fact, quite the opposite. By clinching 3rd place in Catalonia we put in a perfect performance seeing we have now slotted into 2nd place in the championship, on a par with Andreas Mikkelsen and Anders Jaeger who were forced to retire following an off-road. There are still two rounds to go, the Wales GB Rally and the Australian. As with Thierry and the entire Hyundai Motorsport team, I’m motivated like never before. I truly want this silver medal and I have set my mind to giving 110% to claim it.

Talking about Wales, which takes place at the end of the month and is often held in wet conditions, we did have a fore taste … in Catalonia. It’s worth noting that the Spanish round has the particularity of holding a stage on unpaved roads prior to two days on asphalt. As it happens it poured with rain both on Thursday evening for the Superspecial in Barcelona, as also the following day when we had to tackle the unpaved inland sections. Deep puddles and mud, ruts, pot holes, a pure panoply of traps. A spin made us lose contact with the leaders, but in the end it was inconsequential as our nearest rivals also committed a few errors. The weather improved once we were back on asphalted sections, which were wide and similar to a circuit. We solidly held our own here and claimed 3rd place, rewarding us and Hyundai with 15 precious points, where the make has for the fourth time this year registered more points than VW in the Constructors’ ranking.

I’m now off to meet up with the team members and the mechanics, whose efforts are often left unmentioned. It is worth noting that on Friday evening they only had 75 minutes to reconfigure our car from its unpaved set-up into an asphalt version. On top of that we had also rather ‘modified’ the bodywork’s front section, which demanded some repairs. And yet they managed to complete the job in time, without getting worked up, pure professionals. I take off my hat to them.   More news shortly about the Welsh round.

Great result in Corsica!

Happy, in fact extremely happy: there is no other way I can summarise my state of mind after the finish of the Tour of Corsica, where once again together with Thierry Neuville, I enjoyed the pleasure of being on the podium.

Not having kept any good feelings of our 2015 participation, we set-off with a clean sheet when it came to the pace notes, especially seeing that 70% of the course was previously unseen. Even though it required a supplementary amount of work, this approach paid off. In fact, we put in a ‘solid’ rally and had the feeling – pleasant – that everything was under control: perfect fine-tuning worked out together with our new engineer Gérard Zyzik, a great job put in by the openers and the Hyundai team, confidence in the cockpit, the joy of playing a leading role; all the conditions were reunited to put in a choice performance; and to evolve in such a context is both motivating and stimulating.

During the first two days we maintained a high pace prior to putting in a hard blow in the final special stage on the Saturday where the rain put in an appearance: by clocking up a scratch on a rain soaked course we clearly built up a gap on the VW Mikkelsen-Jaeger duo who were setting their sights on our 2 nd place. As such we were able to assure that we clinched a silver medal on Sunday, all the more convincing as it was secured at the end of a true Tour of Corsica.

The island’s organisers accomplished a super job to draw up a course that was both selective and demanding in its diversity: both wide and narrow sections, pitted portions followed by perfectly smooth tarmacked sections, ever varying changes of grip, thousands of… curves and bends each one different, a drop of rain to spice up the battle, this 2016 edition offered up a spectrum of everything that makes a rally beautiful! On top of that each day offered up a special stage of more than 50 kilometres – to be covered twice on Friday and Saturday– which demanded a specific management of the tyres. Bringing all these elements together makes you realise to what an extent this tenth World round did not allow for the slightest slackening. The pleasure experienced when climbing up on to the second tread of the podium just behind the World Champions was more than awesome!

As I mentioned during our pervious contact, the month of October promises to be pretty heavy. Scarcely back from Corsica, I will be off again for two days of testing, after which as from the following Monday I will be heading off for Catalonia to make a start on the recce for the unique mixed round – unpaved and asphalt – of the World calendar.   More news to tell you all about it shortly.

Rally Germany: for a 10th of a second!

Hello one and all,

After two rallies where, with Thierry, we just missed out on a podium, we once again experienced joy at Rally Deutschland, after three very intense days of competition! Additional satisfaction: we recorded this performance in front of an impressive horde of Belgian fans who had travelled down to the Trier region.  Battled out at a fierce pace, the German event immediately saw four teams quickly break away from the rest of the pack … and we were part of the quartet, with our teammates Dani Sordo and Marc Marti. We were battling with the triple world champions, Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia and their team mates Andreas Mikkelsen and Anders Jaeger. I can assure you that the battle was ‘all out’ from the first through to the last metre as not one crew would ‘back off’!

The result confirms that with Thierry and the Hyundai team, we are definitely on a positive upward spiral. I would just like to repeat the fact that throughout the entire rally we played up front with the leaders and if on the one hand we committed the odd minor error, we also lost some ten seconds due to a power steering problem in the renowned Baumholder section.

I especially recall the Sunday, which we tackled with the firm intention of getting the better of Dani and Marc to finish in the wake of the world champions. The battle for second between us both was fierce!

Most likely we would have achieved this objective without the cancellation of a special stage; but we just missed out by a tenth of a second …  Having said that we added to our achievements on the powerstage that was televised live and claimed 3 points in the championship, great for the morale!

Rally Deutschland proved to be difficult due namely to the ever changing weather that presided over the region. Once again we were able to count on the excellent work put in by our safety crew, Bruno Thiry and Julien Vial, who were able to provide us with perfect details allowing us to go into full attack.

However, the challenge remained difficult because the road conditions were continually changing: a special stage could well be damp when Bruno and Julien had driven it … and perfectly dry at the time that we competed on it. Various competitors learned the hard way, among others Stéphane Lefebvre and Gabin Moreau. The photographs published after their off-road crash gave me shivers down my spine because I know both of them very well.

It is worth noting that if on the one hand competitors at the highest level of the WRC are fierce opponents once the stopwatch has been set off, they also form a true family where there is mutual respect and appreciation.  The cancellation of the Rally China will allow me to breathe somewhat in September and share some sweet moments with my partner Cindy and our young Myrtie, prior to taking on a pretty intense period seeing three WRC events– France, Catalonia and Wales – which are all within the month of October!

In the country of lakes and jumps…

Did you know that I have just competed in … a Grand Prix? Taking into account the high speeds achieved in the  Rally Finland the event is known to be a true Grand Prix held on gravel roads. The top players regularly exceed  speeds of 180-190 km/h on wide gravel roads lined with trees and with blind crests and raised areas where the cars  take off with their four-wheels producing some highly impressive jumps.

The recces are of crucial importance as these allow one to assess the speed – extremely high – at which these  jumps and ultra-fast curves can be taken. At that pace the interaction between the driver and his teammate needs  to be at a peak, as one pays dearly for the slightest mistake or hesitation. Satisfaction is all the greater at the finish.  And I can assure you that at the end of these three days of sprint, all the competitors have stories to tell!

Other characteristic in this classic on the world calendar: the special stages are held on hardened unpaved roads,  and contrary to for example in Portugal or Sardinia, the surface is so hard that no ruts appear, making it impossible  to ‘plant’ the car in order to negotiate the bends and curves. On top of that the Hyundai that I share with Thierry  Neuville lacked stability in the fastest sections, and God knows there were loads of them there … We tried to solve  this problem by working on the various set-ups but were unable to find a solution allowing us to keep to the pace  of the leaders.

Having said that, we finished this eighth round of the season strongly, seeing we twice recorded the best time  during the final day of the race. And as cherry on the cake in the last timed stage, namely the televised powerstage,  we claimed an additional three points in the World Championship. These were added to the twelve units we had  scored thanks to our 4 th place overall, slotting us back up into the top-5 overall. Even though this rally was not an  easy one, the outcome is amply positive. Right through to the finish we put in an extremely hard fought battle with  our teammates Hayden Paddon and John Kennard, and we ended with a mere three seconds between us, which  goes to show the intensity of this duel!

Now back in Belgium I can confirm that the Rally Finland remains the Mecca of rally! Apart from its exceptional  course offering sensations like no other, on the organizational front the event deserves praise, with its overall  atmosphere, its lay-out; and the massive number of spectators in the Finnish forests never for a single moment  regretting having traveled there.

From this point forward I will be fully concentrating on the four upcoming meetings that have one point in  common: they are all held on asphalt. The Deutschland, a stone’s throw from Belgium in the Trier region, where I  retain a wonderful souvenir seeing I claimed my first World Championship victory there with Thierry. No need to  say that I would love to repeat that performance in front of a public where the Belgians are traditionally numerous.

Prior to concluding, I would like to recount a small story that shows how friendly and positive the atmosphere is  within the Hyundai team. Upon arrival in Finland I had the pleasant surprise of discovering that next to my name,  on the rear side window of the i20 WRC n°3, the mechanics had added Myrtie, my daughter’s name who was born  on the day after the Rally Poland. This small attention went straight to my heart and something I am not about to  forget …

Rally Poland

I’m delighted to be back among you once again and give you some more good news.

Together with  Thierry Neuville we completed the Rally Poland in 4th place, finishing a mere 8 tenths of a second  behind our teammates Hayden Paddon and John Kennard… and 3 seconds down on the team  classified in 2 nd place. It goes to show how close the battle was!

An extremely positive result, especially since it allows Hyundai to score some substantial points in  the Constructors World Championship.

Taking in some rather sandy tracks the course of the Rally Poland is very fast and the numerous  curves are negotiated in either 5 th or 6 th gear. During the first two days of the race it was terribly hot,  more than 30 degrees, which for the competitors made it even more complicated. Then on Sunday  the rain put in an appearance, which somewhat reshuffled the cards: the course became extremely  muddy, creating large puddles of water with numerous stones appearing, resulting in punctures and  suspension problems. Luckily we managed to avoid these pitfalls to reach the finish in 4 th place,  confirming our place among this small circle of candidates for overall victory in the World  Championship.

Apart from misting up during the last stage, we only experienced one worry but it is worth  mentioning. On the Hyundai i20 WRC, the driver changes gears via paddle shifters, however a  traditional gear shift is fitted to overcome an eventual system failure: don’t ask me why, but this  lever broke right in the middle of the stage … and lodged itself along Thierry’s leg, hindering him  during several braking points. Although in theory this may have been a small problem, the incident  cost us a few seconds … and, who knows, perhaps a place on the podium.

But that is not the most important: as I said, this result in Poland came just at the right moment to  further bolster our morale on the eve of a short break that will allows us to recharge our batteries  prior to tackling the second half of the season in Finland, on another course for the ‘big boys’.

Before that I will have negotiated a major turning point in my life … I think I can tell you: I’m writing  this just prior to jumping on a plane that will bring me straight back to Belgium where my partner  Cindy is about to give birth to a little girl; and for nothing in the world would I want to miss this  unforgettable moment!

Victory in Sardegna

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]There is no exception to the rule for the World Rally Championship: as with most sporting disciplines traditions exist that no one can depart from. And so, with the podium ceremony hardly over the winners of the Rally d’Italia Sardegna ‘must’ dive fully dressed into the water of the Alghero harbour, the nerve centre of the WRC’s Italian round.

As such I treated myself to respect this tradition with my driver Thierry Neuville but also our engineer, the chief mechanic and other members of the Hyundai team in order to celebrate in dignity our victory of this fifth round of the season. And believe me I will not readily forget that bath in the Mediterranean in so far that it crowned a race that was perfect in every way!

At the time of our previous contact I had set a rendezvous in Portugal. In fact I was convinced that the event was to be a major moment in the team’s 2016 campaign that I form together with Thierry. I merely committed a small timing error … An incident independent of our will in fact ruined our chances of a top performance on Portuguese soil, but we knew that it would only be a matter of time. In fact Sardinia left us with some excellent memories seeing we had finished on the podium there in 2013 and 2015; in other words we ‘felt’ a close tie with this Italian round of the calendar.

Right from the start confirmation was there that we could play a leading role. As from the shakedown, the short special- test stage scheduled a few hours before the start, Thierry and I knew we had the confidence in us to put in some good performances. And as the kilometres progressed this feeling confirmed itself: we were in perfect harmony with our Hyundai i20 ideally prepared to take on a highly demanding course, our pace was adequate as it allowed us to evolve up front without taking any senseless risks on punishing gravel roads for both man and machine, our pace notes perfectly reflecting the difficulties of the special stages, in short it was on the books. And it was!

Throughout the entire race, we crossed swords with the Finns Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikka Anttila who were just ahead of us in the special stages, and subjected to identical road conditions. It was soon apparent that the gold medal would be down to one of us.

It was a fair fight and we prevailed with some twenty seconds advantage over our rivals, claiming our second world victory following that of Deutschland 2014. But specifically, the success in Sardinia takes on a particular lustre seeing it was achieved following an excellent battle that lasted through to the final kilometres, whereas in Germany we partly won as the result of problems experienced by our nearest rivals.

For a sportsperson, to triumph and allow one’s partners to excel in that context is particularly gratifying.  Recognising it to have been a tiring race – 16 hours in the cockpit during the Saturday –, this result tuned up just at the right moment before several major meetings. At the beginning of July, the WRC will be in Poland prior to heading off for Finland, some four weeks later, followed by Germany during the third weekend of August. I would be delighted to count you among the supporters who will be making the short trip in the region of Trier – or Trèves, if you prefer– where the German round is to be held; not really far from Belgium…  To conclude, I can assure you that the victory clinched in Sardinia boosted my morale no end and that I will do my utmost to continue my 2016 season in this same light.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

New season, new hopes!

Four rounds of the 2016 World Rally Championship that I am competing in with Thierry Neuville in an  official Hyundai i20 WRC have handed down a verdict. The moment seems appropriate for me to  draw up an initial assessment, positive and above all encouraging for the future.

As in previous years, the season kicked off with the Monte-Carlo, a tricky rally on account of the  weather variations that enormously complicate the choice of tyres. We had not always enjoyed  success in this major rendezvous in the past.

But this time around everything went smoothly: we managed to avoid the countless traps of the  sixteen special stages held in the Alps and the Nice hinterland, and we reached the Principality in 3 rd  place notwithstanding a rather stressful ending to the course due to a transmission worry.

We held a comfortable lead on our closest rivals, and we easily managed those final tense moments  to start our 2016 campaign with a podium, and not just any! In fact the “Monte” enjoys a specific  aura with both the general public and the specialists, and to register a choice performance there  allowed me to fully measure my role of Ambassador for Wallonia.

The day after this successful springboard the troops morale was at a peak as we headed off for  Sweden for a stage where Thierry and I have kept an excellent souvenir following a brilliant 2 nd place  in 2015. Unfortunately matters turned out less well. In the first instance the far too mild weather for  the season distorted the event that was far from “wintery”.

But it was a technical problem that ruined our chances at the outset: a transmission component had  given up the ghost after only several kilometres, with our car no longer being a 4X4 but a simple 2  wheel-drive; no assistance was allowed during this first day, so we had no other option but to  continue our route in that fashion until the end of the day, when we were able to hand over the i20  WRC to our mechanics.

This incident was even more frustrating as on the following morning, with our mount back in top  form, we proved that we could aim for a podium! In hindsight we realised the importance of the  annulment of the shakedown, the special test stage held on the eve of the start, but exceptionally  cancelled in Sweden: in lieu of it happening in the race, the incident that ruined our chances would  have occurred during that shakedown and the repairs would have been carried out before the start.  If only…

And with a great thirst for revenge Thierry and I took on the third round of the Championship,  Mexico. Were we too motivated? Were we out to make too much of it? The fact remains that  following an excellent start, we committed two minor mistakes…with heavy consequences, and we  take full responsibility for these. It is worth noting that the Mexican special stages are held on  unpaved roads made extremely slippery by a layer of dust covering a hardened surface. This  “cocktail” is delicate to handle and the margin for error is extremely slight …

The last meeting I would like talk about was in the region of Cordoba in Argentina where, similar to  Mexico, the spectators have an exuberant passion for rally. It is brilliant to compete in such an  atmosphere filled with enthusiasm, eagerness and geniality.