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 …