WRC ORLEN 80th Rally Poland
Poland
Starts: Thursday, June 27, 2024 at 8:00:00 AM
ERC Delfi Rally Estonia
Estonia
Starts: Friday, July 5, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM
Ferratum World RX of Sweden 1
Sweden
Starts: Saturday, July 6, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM

Fri 03 May 2024

Co-Driver’s Corner with Martijn Wydaeghe: Portugal

It feels like just yesterday we were standing on the podium in Croatia, but here we are now, a few days away from Vodafone Rally de Portugal and gearing up for seven consecutive gravel events.

Croatia was tough – it always is. It’s a demanding rally for everyone, especially the driver and co-driver. The high-speed Tarmac roads really take a toll on your body with all the hard braking and sharp turns. It took us a couple of days to recover from that before diving straight into testing for Portugal, and even a week after the event, we were still feeling quite tired.

What happened on Sunday in Croatia is easily explained. The stage was particularly challenging, with high speeds and lots of corners compounded by pollution on the road, which meant our pace notes were full of information.

There was a bump in the road that momentarily broke my concentration as I searched for the next pace note. That split-second of hesitation meant that the following note was too late for us make the next corner.

Mistakes happen, there’s not much more to say about it. Everyone, be it the driver, the team, or the co-driver, can slip up. The key is to learn from these experiences, move forward, and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

However, there were lots of positives to take away from Croatia. We proved we had the pace to win, and the Hyundai i20 N Rally1 was competitive from start to finish. Thierry and I even had a little bet before the rally – if we won both passes of Pećurkovo Brdo - Mrežnički Novaki, a 9.11km stage, I’d buy myself a Porsche 911.

Well, we were fastest both times... but I haven’t ordered that 911 yet. It’s definitely on the wishlist, and now there’s even more pressure because of this bet. Let’s hope we can achieve our goals by the end of the season, and then it’ll be the right time to make the purchase. I’ve already made some configurations, so it’s 'ready to go', so to speak.

I thought I’d offer some insight into our pace note-making process because it varies from rally to rally. If we have the same stages as previous years, we reuse those notes, which I prepare two or three weeks before the event.

I upload them to the cloud so Thierry also has access, and then Thierry fine-tunes them based on his experience of the stages. Before the recce I ensure I have added all of his amendments, and during the recce we optimise or create new notes for any new stages.

During the first pass, Thierry provides input on factors like distance, speed and corner directions. On the second pass, we refine the notes further. We always film with two cameras – one primary and one back-up.

In the evening, I tidy up or rewrite the notes, ensuring they're clear, correct, and easy to read. I cross-reference them with the video to make sure all the information is correct, then Thierry watches the video with our assistant Florian (Haut-Labourdette) while I work on other stages to save time.

Florian and Thierry make adjustments as needed, and the day before the rally, we review all the videos again to ensure that everything's in order and to familiarise ourselves with the stages again.

Now we’re looking forward to Portugal, the first of seven gravel rallies in a row. Leading the championship heading into it is a great boost but we know it won’t be easy, especially with opening the road on the first day.

Thierry and I had a good feeling in the car during our pre-event test, and we experimented with some different set-ups. Any technical decisions regarding the car are typically made collaboratively between Thierry and the engineer. I always try to provide input based on what I can feel during tests or on-event, but ultimately, Thierry makes the final decision.

I do, of course, get my hands dirty during rallies – changing things like ride height or anti-roll bar setting between the stages. It's a joint effort to try and extract maximum performance from the car throughout the event.

I received quite a few comments last time about my packing list. Regarding safety equipment, the team takes care of that. Sandrine, our colleague, looks after our helmets and overalls. She ensures we have everything we need in the car, brought from our headquarters in Alzenau, Germany.

Each evening we receive a fresh set of clothes for the next day, and sometimes we even change during the midday service if the weather is particularly hot. We're actually very spoilt to have top-quality materials at our disposal, something which makes our lives easier during the rally.

Even if the weather can be changeable in Portugal, the itinerary is similar to the past two years so we know what to expect from the stages. We are very much prepared and ready to give it a good go – even if it will be a big challenge!

See you in Portugal!

Martijn