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Mon 15 Apr 2024

Co-Driver’s Corner with Martijn Wydaeghe: Croatia Rally

In WRC.com’s exclusive new series, Martijn Wydaeghe, co-driver to Thierry Neuville, will provide unique insights into life at the WRC’s sharp end - sharing his experiences, thoughts, and preparations ahead of each rally on the calendar.

As the dust settles from Safari Rally Kenya, our focus shifts to the next challenge on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar: Croatia Rally.

Croatia presents a stark contrast to the rugged terrains of Kenya. It's a Tarmac rally, of course, which means that meticulous preparation alongside our gravel crews is needed to ensure every detail is fine-tuned. But it's a challenge we relish, particularly this year, as it marks the anniversary of our dear friend and team-mate Craig's passing.

Last year, we strove to honour Craig's memory, but a small mistake cost us the win. This time we're determined to make amends for that, and hopefully pay homage to Craig in the best way possible.

Leading the championship coming into a Tarmac event brings its own set of opportunities and challenges. The prospect of cleaner surface conditions as the first car onto the stage is enticing, but it also adds pressure for us to perform at our best. If it rains, which is definitely a possibility, we need to be ready to maximise our road position.

The turnaround from Kenya has been short, leaving us little time to catch our breath. The Safari’s punishing conditions, plus the long journey there and back, definitely takes its toll on your body. For me, recovery is just as important as training. I’ve been to see the physio and have spent some time outside hiking and skiing, just to try and get my muscles a little bit relaxed again – and then it was straight into our pre-event test for Croatia last week.

Testing is really important. For Thierry, it’s a chance to try out new settings with the car and get dialled in with the conditions, and for me it allows me to get into the groove of reading pace notes on Tarmac again. From a co-driver's perspective, the sensations on Tarmac are completely different to gravel. The grip levels, G-forces and average speeds are generally much higher, but the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 takes everything in its stride and feels super responsive.

I know it's early days, but I think we can be really proud of what we’ve managed to achieve so far this year. Winning Rallye Monte-Carlo with Thierry and Hyundai definitely fulfilled a childhood dream for me, and that trophy now holds a place of honour in my home—a constant reminder of what we can achieve through dedication and teamwork.

The flipside of that, obviously, is that we had to open the road in Sweden – which was not an easy task given the wintry conditions. We lost a lot of time because of that and some technical issues, but still managed to go home with 18 points.

It was a similar story in Kenya but, despite that, the new points system has been really kind to us. We've learned to adapt our strategy to get the most out of it, aiming to optimise our Saturday evening position and then giving it an extra push on Super Sunday. Even if you face troubles during the rally, all is not lost.

Everybody was disappointed with the end result in Kenya, but we also know that it’s a very specialist event. It doesn't mean that, as a team, you're weak for the upcoming events, and the mood in the camp is actually really good. I think that, as a team, we can do a really good performance in Croatia because our car on Tarmac is working quite well. The results of Monte-Carlo and also Central European Rally last year show this, so we are very confident and I think the whole team is very motivated.

Once Croatia is done and dusted, we face a hectic summer period with lots of back-to-back rallies and testing in between.

Packing for each trip has become second nature to me – I have several small bags that actually stay in my luggage, and I only need to take out the dirty clothing and put the freshly washed clothing back into it. There are obviously some small changes due to weather conditions, so I will not take my shorts from Kenya to Sweden for example, or my winter gear from Sweden to Kenya because that makes no sense.

Below is my checklist for Croatia. After the finish in Zagreb, we’ll host a PR event and then we’re straight into our pre-event test for Rally de Portugal. In total, I’ll be away from home for 12 days this time.

Martijn's Checklist: Croatia Rally

Underwear/Socks:
• Normal underwear (13)
• FIA underwear (6)
• Normal socks (6)
• Sport socks (7)

Recce Clothing:
• Recce T-Shirts/Polo (2)
• Recce Shorts + Trousers (1+1)
• Recce Hoodie (1)
• Recce Shoes

PR Clothing:
• Polo Shirts (1)
• T-Shirts (2)
• Sweatshirt
• Soft Shell/Bodywarmer

Casual Clothing:
• T-Shirts (6)
• Shirt (1)
• Hoodie (2)
• Jeans/Trousers/Shorts (3)
• Sports Shirts/Shorts (2+2)
• Sports Shoes/Casual Shoes

Others:
• Vanity Case
• Co-Driver Watches (4)
• Co-Driver Kit (Pencils, Erasers, Tape etc.)
• Pace Notes WRC Croatia
• Pace Note Book – Portugal Test and PR Day
• Recce iPad
• iPad Pro + MacBook Pro
• Electronics (Chargers etc.)
• Sunglasses (2)
• MW/Hyundai Hats (2)

Now we’re all set for the Croatia Rally recce. If you’re following the event, stay safe, enjoy the rally and I look forward to seeing you on the stages!

Martijn.