10 Jun 09
The Acropolis will undoubtedly be the most homely for Thomas. But he's adamant that being able to order a good Moussaka or Stifado in his native tongue doesn't give him an advantage. "I don't know much about the rally at all," he says. "All I know is that it's quite a lot faster than the roads we have in Cyprus. My co-driver Stéphane [Prévot] has told me some things, like how rough the roads can get on the second pass and the size of rocks the World Rally Cars can pull out into the roads. These kinds of things, but everything else I know, I know from the television.
"Of course, it is nice when you go to a foreign place and people speak your language, it does make you feel more comfortable and for this it will be nice. I think it's quite similar in Greece as Cyprus too, the culture is similar and there's good seafood, like we have at home. For me though, Greece is about the rally and making more experience. Experience is what I need this year and that's another thing I've been told about this rally - it's not one for the speed; this is a rally for the tactics."
With only two full seasons behind him, Thomas is right about his lack of experience. And that lack of experience extends beyond the fact that he's never seen a snow stage in Sweden or how quickly the fog can drop down in the Welsh forests - it's also about the machinery he's competed in. Amazingly, Thomas has never rallied anything without a turbo-charger and four-wheel drive. He won first time out in a Mitsubishi and has been an Evo man ever since. "I would like to try a front-wheel drive car," he says. "I think it would be good for me. But right now, I'm just trying to get some more rallies in my own Mitsubishi this season."
Having tackled Portugal and Sardinia in pleasant, sunny conditions, he can expect more of the same in Greece - but it's the second half of the year that could come as a bit of a culture shock for Thomas. On Rally Finland he'll face faster roads than he'd ever thought possible, then he's on to Tarragona's race track turns on the all-asphalt Rally Catalunya. And then he'll finish the year on Rally GB in the woods where anything can happen in any weather. It's that kind of experience that's vital for any rally driver, but particularly one from Cyprus.
Thomas is the first to admit that while his homeland is a Mecca for sun-seekers, it's not the best place to start a World Rally Championship career from. Not only is it a reasonable trek to every round, but it's also bereft of the kind of support schemes available to young drivers from other countries. "We are a small island here in Cyprus, with a small market which doesn't have big sponsors to offer backing to get straight into the WRC." he says.
Thomas the rally driver could be about to buck that trend. While Thomas the businessman could be banking a few bucks along the way.