Thu 27 Jun 2024

Co-Driver’s Corner with Martijn Wydaeghe: Poland

It’s rally week! We’re switching from the rocky tracks of Sardinia to the rapid gravel roads of Poland. Thierry and I can’t wait to get going and, hopefully, defend our championship lead.

Reflecting on Sardinia, the compact format was definitely something interesting. The days were very full and, although there are definitely some things that can be tweaked and improved on, a couple of sprint formats like this in the calendar can be nice. Change is always good, I would say.

We were showing really good speed despite the tricky conditions we faced while opening the road on Friday and managing things very well, especially on the long stages. In the shorter stages we were also able to set very good times, a little bit surprisingly, but we gave it our all and, in the end, Friday was a very good day for us.

On the first stage on Saturday morning we managed to overtake the two crews in front of us already, but after that we had a really disappointing moment when we slid off the road. It was the first time I have seen Thierry lose his concentration, and maybe it was partly due to the long days, the late nights and the early mornings. But anyway, it shows that the drivers, the co-drivers and the team members are all human and these things can happen, it’s just unfortunate that we paid a high price for this mistake.

We were disappointed, of course, but with the new points system we had a great opportunity to catch back some points on Super Sunday, and we put our full focus into that immediately after the accident. We knew that it would be challenging to open the road and go for the full 12 points, but we had a very good rhythm and, honestly, it was quite crazy to be in the car.

We used every single centimetre of the road on the Power Stage. Thierry was using the ruts to throw the car into all the corners and carry the speed, and it paid off. Seeing the victory going to Ott and Hyundai in the final moments was a nice boost for the manufacturers’ championship so, while it wasn’t result Thierry and I had hoped for personally, it was not a bad outcome for the team. We need to learn from it but we can still be happy with the points that we scored and we are still leading the championship, so that’s really good.

I managed to take one week off after the rally, just at home. I spent the whole time up in the mountains, recharging my batteries at high altitude and making sure my energy levels were back on point.

After that we did some testing in Estonia. Hopefully we have found a good base for both Rally Poland and Latvia. The roads in the northern countries, especially Estonia, are very similar to Poland and Latvia, but they are a bit less comparable to Finland. At least, for these next two events, we had a good test stage.

It’s interesting when you’re coming from a rally that’s quite slow and going into these flat-out stages, but we had a good test and we’ll try to fine-tune the set-up a little bit during the shakedown this week.

It’s been a long time since we have been to Poland – the last time a WRC round was held here was in 2017. For me, I’ve only done the rally once previously in 2015, but that was in a much slower Rally4 car. It’s not really comparable for me, but we know at least the layout of the stages and what to expect.

In terms of the work that has gone into preparing for this week’s rally, it’s actually been a little bit less intense this time. Since Thierry last drove here in 2017, the roads have changed a lot, so it made no sense to start with the existing pace notes from 2017. Instead, we are making new set from scratch during the recce. I don’t need to rewrite any notes in advance, which has saved me a lot of work and means that I can spend more time watching the onboards from the organisers to analyse the stages a little bit more.

Generally, it’s been quite a relaxing time. One nice thing is that we were able to attend the Ypres Rally, my home rally, in Belgium during the weekend. We did some meet and greets and also got to drive three passes of the qualifying stage in the i20 N Rally2 car. It was really nice to be back in the place where I scored my first WRC win and to give something back to our Belgian fans. Not all the fans are able to travel to support us on the WRC rounds and it was nice to be able to offer them a show and make some time for them.

Now our full focus is on maximising our performance in Poland, and hopefully strengthening our championship lead. These high-speed events can be challenging for a co-driver because the rhythm is quite different, and if you have really open roads then sometimes you have less reference points compared to slower rallies.

When you are driving slower, you know exactly that you are at this corner or you are at that corner. You know that 300 metres takes a little bit of time, but on the fast rallies 300 metres is over in a couple of seconds. You need to make sure that you are calling the pace notes a little bit, but not too much, in advance so that Thierry can adapt and prepare for the next corner or the next braking zone.

I like it when it is a little bit technical but if it is fast, it’s definitely a special buzz. The speed and the sideways action at high speed is really an amazing feeling from inside the car. It takes a lot of dedication for Thierry to keep his right foot planted on the throttle but this is what we will try to do in the next events to make sure that we can adapt as soon as possible from the first stage onwards.

If you’re out on the stages this week, I hope you enjoy the action and passion of WRC – but please be safe and always follow the marshals’ instructions.

See you out there!
Martijn

Latvia
Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Italy
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Hungary
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM