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.

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!