In an honest and revealing two-part interview with wrc.com, Robert Kubica analyses his tough start to life in the WRC and why it hurts to take a step back to move forwards.
Robert Kubica is in a hurry. Not for him a steady progression through the WRC’s support ranks. After just seven WRC 2 rallies in 2013, he opted for a full World Rally Car programme this year.
It has been a difficult five months. As one of the sport’s headline names given his background and recovery from serious hand and leg injuries, he has not enjoyed the luxury of quietly building his career away from the spotlight. His learning has been done in the glare of TV cameras and under the watchful eyes of journalists.
Such is the way for a man once tipped to be an F1 champion. And after crashing his Ford Fiesta RS eight times in the first four rallies, the 29-year-old Pole accepted something had to change. He put the metaphorical brakes on, sacrificed some of his undoubted speed, slowed his pace notes and concentrated on an error-free finish in Argentina this month.
Sixth place was the outcome, but there’s no doubting how difficult it was for Kubica to convince himself that to progress he needed to move backwards in his approach.
“I have to remember I came into rallying from the top of the circuit category,” he says. “I was competitive there and since I was young I have always been very competitive in every category, so for me driving rallies just to finish is no fun. I don’t enjoy it and it’s hard to do.
“The difficult thing is that not many people understand that it depends on what your goals are. If your goals are to cruise through rallies and to enjoy them, then OK, but this isn’t my goal. I want to achieve the best level I can, and coming to a rally and driving 2.5sec/km slower would not take me anywhere, because if I come next year I want to drive faster.”
Kubica is an intelligent man and acknowledges that experience is key to his WRC future. Not simply the experience gained by driving stages, but the way in which he prepares for a rally – and that means making pace notes.
“With the little experience I have, I try to move forward with my pace and the way I prepare pace notes. But maybe it’s too early so I will try to concentrate more on surviving and concentrate on my mistakes so I don’t repeat them.
“I have to possibly be a bit more clever and understand that, for now, it’s more important and more productive to drive slower and change the way I prepare my notes.
“Until now, only Portugal I knew from last year. The others were new rallies for me and with so many variations of character in the roads, with so many new things, I have to put more consideration into the way I prepare pace notes and remember there are so many new things that I might get caught out by.”
Kubica has noticed a big difference in the way things happen in a World Rally Car compared to the Citroen DS3 RRC he drove last year, but it is the contrast between asphalt and gravel that seems to have affected him most.
“I write pace notes using the radius of the corner. I developed my system on asphalt and it works well because I have good pace on every kind of asphalt, even when I’ve not driven the stage before,” he explained.
“The problem is gravel. There’s more variation in the width of the road and the grip compared to asphalt. On asphalt you have 10 per cent of the vibration that you get on gravel and I have to remember that on circuits you don’t have as much uphill or downhill.
“In a rally, especially on gravel, it has a huge effect if you drive uphill or downhill, especially on braking. When I’m doing recce, there are so many new things I tend to forget because I’m not used to concentrating on them.
“It sounds easy to remember these things, but to do a recce with more than 12 hours in the car and only a 20-minute stop, the concentration is hard. When you compare the guys driving WRC for a long time they have more experience and it’s normal. I’m not taking more risks, but the risk is higher because of experience and because I’m doing most rallies for the first time.”
Still to come in part 2: Kubica talks about why slow corners are where his problems arise.