Well what a week -starting with a rally where it was uncertain if it would even start, after warm conditions left the normally snow covered roads looking very ‘Rally GB’ like. But to come away with 2nd is an amazing result – much more than we ever expected, which bodes well for the rest of the season once we make some further improvements.
Before the rally it seemed a lot of drivers attention was taken by the condition of the stages and lack of snow. Yes they were not ideal, but personally I was focused on the rally ahead regardless of the conditions. The Swedish stages are very similar to the character of roads which we find in Finland – so I was looking forward to them regardless. The rally was shortened by 30% in the end, but considering how desperate the conditions were prior to the rally and just how close they were to cancelling the rally – really speaks volumes of how much work the organisers put in to make the event to go ahead.
Our start on Friday morning was not the best – mainly due to road position but also getting used to the new car. Despite recent tests being successful and feeling comfortable in the car, I soon learnt that the feeling was different in rally conditions when you did not know the road. To begin with there was uncertainty to how the car would behave in different situations (over jumps, kicking off inside of corners etc) that I naturally adapted to, but also the feeling with the front of the car did not give me full confidence. We improved this a little for Saturday and gathered some important information, but its pleasing to know this is a big area, along with my driving that we can improve for the future rallies.
As we saw here road position played a big part and helped us a lot – but not always. Friday stages were more ice based, which meant as more cars travelled over the stage, the good hard ice base (which the studded tyres need to bite into) became more chewed up. However, on the 2nd pass with the surface already chewed up and additional snow on top meant the leaders were sweeping a little. On the morning loop we lost 45 seconds alone – however with favorable conditions in the afternoon we climbed from 7th to 2nd with 2 stage wins.
With a lot of fresh snow overnight Friday, we were expecting the same sort of advantage again – however it did not come to fruition as much as we thought. By the time we reached the stages most of the snow was gone, and on 3 of the 4 days stages there was no/little advantage in road position. However the one stage we did have an advantage on was Vargassen, and it was a good one! We took over 20 seconds from Sebastien Ogier’s lead and went to midday break only 8.8 seconds behind.
At the media zone all the talk was how much snow was on the following stage and how this was our rally to win. But to be honest the win was never in my thoughts, our objective for the day was to try and hold the 5 others who were close behind us. On speed alone we didn’t have an answer for Sebastien this weekend due to my confidence of driving on snow, and not being fully comfortable in the car. To push beyond the comfort levels is when mistakes happen and the result was too important for us and the team – especially after Thierry having problems and dropping down the order. For sure, in the future we will push for that win, but it needs to be when everything is right which we will work harder than ever to do.
Even with just 1 stage to finish the rally today it was far from plain sailing. In seemingly no mans land (with big gap in front and behind) it was one of the worst stages I have ever driven, as things did not seem to flow or come naturally. This was magnified when on the last down hill section I cut a corner too much and hit a post. I thought nothing of it and thought was fine to run over, however the impact put a small hole in the radiator which became apparent when we finished the stage with steam pouring from the bonnet. Naturally you first think of the worst, but after observation we found that it was only a small hole that we were able to patch up and safely get back to service.
People have asked me what rates higher – our 2nd here or Sardinia. To be honest it’s a bit of both. Sardinia was more satisfying as it was a better personal performance/driving, however the result here in Sweden is much more important as we were scoring manufacturer points for the team and did not loose too much ground to VW in the championship.
To be the first non-European on the podium here in Sweden is certainly something very special but is not something that was possible without the huge effort from our team. It is unbelievable the work they are putting in behind the scenes and being able to help them bring home a good result is satisfying for the team. 3rd in Monte, 2nd in Sweden…….. must mean 1st in Mexico?
A huge thanks to everyone that has supported us this weekend, our car technicians, my engineer Rui, Katie, John and everyone involved. We could not do it without you all.
Now we have a busy schedule ahead before Rally Mexico, including training at Formula Medicine in Italy, and our first gravel test of the year in Spain. We have a few things to work on and plenty of useful information from this weekend, so we look forward to making some more steps forward.