27 Nov 08
The breakthrough came in 2006, when he joined British team Geoff Jones Motorsport. This was a pivotal season for Conrad. He hit the podium three times in Juniors and began working with one of Britain's finest co-drivers David Senior. In addition to his Junior programme he was also driving a Subaru in the British Rally Championship, where he won the British Junior title. He even found time to add the occasional trip back to Africa.
"The 2006 season was fantastic," says Conrad. "I moved to Wales to be close to the team. I was working on the car with the team and Geoff [Jones] was helping me as a driver. Everything was really starting to work. David [Senior] helped me a lot that year, he has so much experience. We spent a long time working on the notes. Coming from Africa, I wasn't really driving to the notes. I was reading the road rather than listening. I used to hate the recce and making notes, but now I really work at it. We didn't have any accidents that year and we had some good results - we found consistency that year."
And the speed and titles followed a season later. Having revisited his rallying roots in Africa a year before, Conrad was keen to put together a tilt at the title. With help from Subaru in Africa, the deal was done. He won the FIA African Rally Championship title comfortably. But an even bigger source of pride was his success on the legendary Safari Rally in March that year. And, given that the Safari was a round of the IRC that season, that meant taking on the might of Fiat and its host of factory cars and drivers. Kenya was close enough to Conrad's backyard. He wasn't going to be beaten. Adding his name to a roll call which included Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz as well as African legends Shekhar Mehta and Ian Duncan meant everything to him. And, don't forget, he'd achieved that aged just 21.
If Africa was the perfect place to demonstrate his consistency of finishing in the toughest of conditions, the J-WRC was the ideal arena to showcase his speed. In Finland, a string of quick stage times, caught the eye of a certain Frenchman, Mr Guy Frequelin.
"Patrik Sandell was leading [Finland] by about 10 seconds, but we were closing on him," says Conrad. "Until we got a puncture, which ripped out the brake lines. It was really tough at the time. I really wanted to win that event. In the Ouninpohja stage, we'd been going well and - on split times - had taken the lead of the event before the problem. It was after, Guy [Frequelin, then Citroen Sport team principal] and Yves Matton [then customer team manager] started to talk to us about this season. It was a great boost for me to have Guy coming to talk to me."
The deal was done. Just six years after crashing through that gate on his first ever stage, Conrad was about to realise his dream of becoming a WRC driver. Achieving that dream has been tough, but living the dream hasn't been plain sailing, either.