The 24-year-old Belgian started with top-five stage times in Monte-Carlo, took a top-five finish in Sweden and most recently bagged a career best podium in Mexico after a tense duel with Mikko Hirvonen.
Suitably impressed, wrc.com sat him down to answer our all-new 2013 season personality test:
Q) What do you do in the last 30 seconds before you start a stage?
“With 30 seconds to go, I’ll check my glasses to make sure they are positioned correctly – and also that they look good for the onboard cameras [he’s joking…] Then I’ll check the seatbelts one last time. If I’m going for a big push, like when we were chasing Mikko on the last day in Mexico, then I’ll make sure they’re a lot tighter. With 15 seconds to go, I’ll put the car in first gear. As the clock ticks down to 10 seconds, I push the boost button. At seven seconds it’s the launch control, at six the throttle, and at zero we go.”
Q) Apart from your co-driver, who is the most important member of your team?
"Everybody is important – the technicians, our driver co-ordinator, the hospitality, the PR, Mick the chef… but during the rally we communicate mostly with our engineer. We’ll talk about car setup and other important things. My engineer, Tom Fowler, is very important on event. As well as being extremely clever, he’s also a really good guy and very funny – so a good person to have around!"
Q) Are you superstitious? If so, do you carry anything lucky in your car?
"Not at all, but it is true that we carried a toy Japanese cat in the car with us in 2011 and 2012. It was a gift from a friend in Japan, and it served us pretty well for the past two years."
Q) What is the most difficult stage in the WRC?
"There’s no question about that one, and I’m sure a lot of drivers will agree with me – Ouninpohja in Finland. That’s a stage that really gets your heart beating on the start line, but when you get it right, it’s an incredible feeling and you feel as though you’ve really achieved something."
Q) What has been the best moment of your WRC career so far?
"Well I hope that my best moments are still to come, but up until now, my first WRC podium in Mexico was a fantastic moment for me. It was my first gravel rally with the Fiesta, and I think we got the balance just right. We were clever, but we weren’t afraid to push when the time came for it. I felt really confident all weekend, and I think that showed."
Q) If you weren’t competing in the WRC, which WRC driver would you like to be?
"With nine World Championships to his name, I don’t think many drivers would pass on the opportunity to be in Sebastien Loeb’s shoes. Not only is he arguably the greatest driver rallying has ever seen, but he’s also a really nice guy who does a lot for the sport."
Q) What has been the most frightening moment of your career so far?
"My crash in Germany in 2012 – we nearly hit a tree and that is the last thing you want to hit in a rally car at full speed! I wasn’t expecting that we were going to go off on that corner. In my notes I had it down as ‘easy right, flat out’, but when we got there, I soon discovered that it definitely wasn’t flat out! I got very afraid very quickly, but luckily we were OK and we certainly won’t be taking that corner at that speed this year."
Q) What was the best birthday present you have received?
"In 2009 I was gifted my first drive in a S2000 car for my birthday at Ypres in Belgium. It was a very nice moment as I was chosen by the Belgian media to drive the car for BF Goodrich."
Q) What would you do if you weren’t a World Rally Championship driver?
"It would still have to be something to do with cars – maybe an instructor at a racing school or something like that. One thing is for sure though; my life certainly wouldn’t have the same sense that it has now."