Rally de Espana blog two - Saturday:
So, we're not having the easiest weekend here in Spain. We were really excited after our great test here last week and it's not going to plan. This is a classic example of how your good mood before an event can be taken away from you very quickly. And for very small reasons - two small red cars in front of us - you know who I mean?
You've probably read everything about the rally on wrc.com already so you know how we're doing and what's been happening, so this is something you haven't read... We saw a suicidal dog on stage 3 but Mikko ruined his day by his quick reflexes. He was standing in the middle of the road, Mikko avoided him and he's still alive today - lucky dog!
Then on stage 4 I looked up from my notes and actually saw my friend Timo Rautiainen [co-driver to Marcus Gronholm] spectating with some friends - that was a good feeling. People always say 'did you see us out there today?' and I never do, but I actually saw Timo! Then we called him at lunchtime today to ask him what our driving style looks like on the stages and he gave us some tips - and then guess what? we were fastest on the following stage! He needs to spectate for us on every rally. I might call him and ask him what he thinks about that.
The Spanish fans are incredible. They are everywhere out there - the banks are covered in people and flags and it feels good to drive through those areas. Even if they're all here for Dani Sordo! People tell me there's writing on the roads from the fans, but because I sit so low in the car I can't see them. As you know, traditionally we're the 'Flying Finns', but I've heard one guy here has changed that into flying Loeb - can you believe it!
Mikko and I spend so much time together we've become like an old married couple now. On the road section after Stage 9 today we had a quick debrief for about 10kms and then complete silence for 60kms - not a word. We never even told an old joke because they don't make us laugh anymore. How bad is that? We're boring each other! So I'll tell you what I was thinking about for 60kms: I told you on Thursday I was going to PortAventura and I have to say I was really impressed about the 'Furius Baco' ride. It's absolutely incredible. The average speed around the ride is 130kph and on that ride you can assume you're getting to the end of it - that's a certainty. But on this rally we haven't even got close to 120kph and you never know if you're going to finish the stage or not. So my conclusion is that rallying is more exciting and more fun than rollercoasters! I'm spending my days in the world's most exciting amusement park and I get paid for that too. How lucky am I?
But yes you're right; I have too much time to think. But I do it in my favourite spot in the world - in the co-driver's seat of Mikko's car.
I've had my dinner at Mick's restaurant again tonight - a rare steak with some salad and gherkins. I didn't really need it but I had apple crumble and custard too. So I'd like to tell you I'm going to run off my supper but in fact I'm going back to the hotel to watch my recce tapes of tomorrow's stages with Mikko.
Rally de Espana blog one - Thursday:
Since New Zealand I've planted 156 trees in my garden! That's good physical training. I dug out the hole for every single one. Now you know what I do when I go home to Finland. I had two weeks at home and I even went to the grocery store twice - yes, twice! It was fantastic.
Then it was back to work and as many people will tell you, I like to be punctual and so spent exactly one week away. We had to go tarmac testing. So I left on Saturday at 1500hrs and I got home a week later at 1530hrs and between those Saturdays we did more than 700kms of testing in Spain and Corsica. I spent Sunday planting more bushes in my garden and then I left again Monday morning to fly back to Spain. Yes, I went home for 24 hours to restock my suitcase otherwise we were going to be away for four weeks and I don't have that much underwear!
So it took us seven hours from the house to the hotel, via the shops with my wife to buy a bookshelf. I was just the driver really, I hate shopping and I hope that bookshelf wasn't for our house!
We landed in Barcelona and as usual Willy our 'rally father' was there with the Ford flag to collect us in a minibus and with Willy's driving it only took us an hour to the very lovely Salauris Palace Hotel here in Salou. The noisiest package holiday hotel in the world. This is not the town I'd come to for a holiday because it's too crowded. I have been eating in a British pub, trying to eat normal food since I got here. I don't really fancy paella - might get a dodgy prawn like Mark Wilford our PR man did the first night he was here!
So, we've done the recce, lots of lefts and rights and videos to watch, which is not interesting really. And then we got up at 0630hrs this morning, dodged the package holiday breakfast on our way out of the hotel and came up to the service park for breakfast. A box of cereal, some fruit and yoghurt later and we're on our way to the shakedown stage. It was still dark!
After three runs on the stage we were back in service for my second breakfast, this time a full English breakfast cooked by our brilliant chef Mick - great! Did some interviews, debriefed with my engineers, went back to the hotel to watch our recce tapes with Mikko, went for a run and even to PortAventura to go on the new rollercoaster. Hopefully the only rolls we'll do this week!
We're off to the ceremonial start in a minute via a fundraising event for the Richard Burns Foundation which should be good. Don't tell our trainer, but it's traditional for us to have a McDonalds before the start ramp here. Well, they did put it right opposite the ramp - what do they expect?
Next time I speak to you, hopefully we'll be beating the Frenchman!
Rally New Zealand blog four - Sunday:
I have discovered today that the Tasman Sea is 1,250 miles wide between Whaanga Coast and Queensland. And did you know it was named after a Dutchman Abel Janszoon Tasman? I think he was the fella who first sailed it. But that was ages ago.
The reason I know all of this is because I had time to look into as David [Senior, co-driver] and I wound our way along the headland on Sunday afternoon. We should have been powering along the stage in top gear, spitting stones everywhere and generally having a ball. We weren't. Instead we were nursing our Citroen C4 WRC through it slowly. Very slowly.
The view was awesome, though. Mr Tasman did some good work when he found this sea. I was hoping to be able to give you another wildlife report today, I was hoping to be able to tell you I'd seen some dolphins. I didn't. Sorry.
I know I've been a bit cheeky with this blog at times in the last few days, but don't get me wrong. I'm massively determined to succeed in the World Rally Championship, but I'm not sure you want to read about disappointment. Okay, the throttle body broke on our car and cost us a ninth and a possible eighth place, but it's not the end of the world.
This has been one of the toughest rallies I've ever known. I thought you came here, pulled a big gear and chucked the car from corner to corner, popping it into the cambers and slinging it through the bends. Believe me, there's more to it than that. The cambers are wicked, but they command huge respect. Get them wrong and you're in the boonies. They can work with you and be your best mate or they can work against you and be your biggest enemy. I've learned a massive amount from this rally, and I really thought this was going to be the one where it all came together. It wasn't to be. And what makes it worse was that I arrived in service five minutes too late for the Rally Chicks parade! Sorry, there's me getting back to the wildlife again!
Anyway, that's been my week. Now I'm off to see some old schoolmates in Brisbane for a week. I'm sure they'll help me get over this disappointment!
Rally New Zealand blog three - Saturday:
Now, I don't want you to think this is becoming a dead animal blog, after yesterday's dead cow chat. But, I don't know how many dead possums I've seen on the road today.
It's mad. I don't know what gets into them. I mean, if you saw so many of your mates being squashed by logging trucks or Holden Commodores, you'd probably think twice about crossing the road. Not possums. Clearly, they're not the sharpest marsupials on the block.
Then again, there are supposed to be 60 million possums running around New Zealand, so we're not going to miss a few. Actually, after what I saw today, that figure's down to 59,999, 988.
Now, the rally. Hmm, a tough morning for David [Senior, co-driver] and I. I thought about changing the dampers last night, they probably should have been changed, but I had a good feeling with them so I thought I'd leave them. Bad move. By the third stage this morning, the car felt terrible. The dampers were shot and the car was not handling well at all. We spun a few times, it was really hard going.
That was really frustrating. I've loved some of these roads, but just not had the confidence to let it all hang out. I'm still surprised at how technical this event is. It's easily as tough as Finland to do for the first time.
Take the Possum stage (I'm not obsessed with them, honest), but that was so twisty and technical. If you got into a rhythm, it was great. If you didn't, it was a nightmare. The afternoon stages in Te Akau were better, much faster and more flowing. I enjoy the quick stuff more. That was cool.
As I said, this is my first time here, so for me it's about learning the roads and making a solid set of notes. I've done both. And, if you ever get a little bit down with things, you can always find an excuse to run into the Rally Chicks...
Rally New Zealand blog two - Friday:
A dead cow is never the best way to start your day. But that's how David [Senior, co-driver] and I started ours. We pulled over before the start of the first stage to do our tyre pressures and there it was in the field. David reckoned it might have been sleeping. It wasn't. Or if it was, it was going to be sleeping for a long time.
Compared with the cow, our morning was good - but it could have been better. We had a spin in the first stage and I just couldn't seem to find any confidence with the car. The roads are so technical at times. In the first stage the car was so hard, it was crazy.
On top of all that, David's not feeling so well. He's got a bad throat, he was coughing a bit which meant I couldn't hear all the notes.
The afternoon was much better - loads better, actually. The team had made some changes to the car, on the anti-roll bars, which really helped. They seemed to have worked on David as well - I could hear him all afternoon.
I felt I was getting into the groove on some of the stages, we were beating some of Urmo's [Aava, team-mate] split times, which I was really pleased about. But then we'd run a bit wide in a corner and the time was gone again.
The confidence was coming and coming this afternoon. I was going along thinking: "Okay, this is great. I'm in a groove, the confidence is here, let's push!" But it's such a fine line between pushing and keeping the car on and then just slightly over-driving. I know why people love these stages, though. When you get it right, it's like waheey! I was giving it the big chuck into some bends, you know, really sliding it, but that's not the way here. You have to tuck it into the cambers and ride the corners through.
So, a dead cow morning, but a cool afternoon. Talk to you tomorrow.
Rally New Zealand blog one - Thursday:
Coming from Zimbabwe and living in London, I thought I had a pretty good idea what long-haul flying was about. Going from London to Auckland takes that to another dimension. You know that saying, "It's a small world?" I've got news for the people who say that: it's not.
Knowing I was in for a fairly long time sitting down, I'd been out for a longer run than usual on the day I was leaving. I'm staying with some mates in Wandsworth, London at the moment. The flat I usually stay in is being renovated and living without a bathroom is not the easiest!
I left on Wednesday last week. I got up really early and, as I said, ran around Wandsworth Common a few times, enjoying the sights of a London summer. When I got to the airport, I went into my usual routine for the a long-haul flight: something to eat, a movie and then some sleep. I've collected quite a few air miles recently, so I used those to upgrade to business class on the flight.
Do you know you get pyjamas in business class? Unfortunately, the ones they gave me were about five times too big. I don't think I'd have worn them anyway - I'm not much into pyjamas.
The flight was okay, we stopped in Bangkok so I was able to stretch my legs. Walking around that airport is fairly strange, there was a place offering a Thai massage. A massage would have been quite nice, but I wasn't sure what the Thai side of things meant, so I left it alone.
I'd never been to new Zealand before, so I was really looking forward to seeing the countryside and stuff. It didn't disappoint, what an awesome country - and so many sheep! The thing which I wasn't expecting was the weather. Jeez, it was cold - and it knows how to rain here, eh?
I stayed up in Auckland for the first few days and had a really good time - particularly going up the Sky Tower. I'm not sure if it's a southern hemisphere thing, but I feel quite at home around here. The people are all really chilled and friendly, it's like Zim in that respect.
And the roads, wow, they're awesome. It's quite technical in places and, given that I'm the only World Rally Car driver competing this year, who has never been here before, it could be a tricky one. Getting into the Citroen this morning brought a smile straight back to my face again, like it always does.
Talk to you later in the week.
Rallye Deutschland blog three - Sunday:
Seriously, today I just got up, hopped in the car and drove to service, and had two eggs. The guys checked the car, then I jumped back in it again to drive the stages.
We got to the first stage and had about five minutes hanging around before we started. We lost some time in the stage with damaged suspension, but nothing we could do about it so we carried on driving, got to the next stage okay, chilled out for a couple of minutes before the start and had a drink, then finished no problems. Yeah, we lost a little time, but no disaster as we stayed sixth.
I got some good traffic lights on the way back, all greens, so made good time back to service. We just listened to some music on the road, tried to chill out a bit. I had a coffee, grabbed some food, then the same stages again this afternoon.
I'm on a flight out of here at 1840hrs this afternoon, so as soon as we finish I'll ditch the overalls, change and be on my way. Hopefully no problems straight into Nice, and then get loose... I'm home for a few days, have some training planned and an interview with Channel 10 from Australia, then I'm out to Australia on Thursday. I'll be there for a day, have one night at home and get some good sleep, and then onto New Zealand for the next rally.
It'll actually be nice to sit on a long haul flight and just chill out, sleep and watch a movie. We just don't get much time to do stuff like that. I never got bored, put it like that. There's always something to do and I have to look for time to sit still, but that's good. It means you're always active. We're always busy either training, racing or testing so it'll be nice to sit there, phone off, probably check some emails I haven't replied to for the last year. I mean they're all still there, and they'll come in time. It's not like I've forgotten. They're still in the inbox, it's not like they've been discarded yet...
Hopefully there'll be some decent movies on the plane, but I don't know what's out. I'm out of touch with everything, just in my own little world. There's actually an outdoor cinema in Monaco with just some lounge chairs, and that was the last place I went to, but I can't remember what I saw. It wasn't very good. So a little bit of downtime, then back into it all in New Zealand in just over a week, and I'm definitely taking my golf clubs for the ride.
Catch you then, Chris