Antony, you have finished 7th overall on the Corona Rally Mexico which is your best result up to date in the WRC. In the process, you have been faster than official drivers on many occasions. How do you explain this sudden speed? I have been...
Antony, you have finished 7th overall on the Corona Rally Mexico which is your best result up to date in the WRC. In the process, you have been faster than official drivers on many occasions. How do you explain this sudden speed?
I have been working hard since 2003 to understand how a WRC car should be driven and set-up. We are now coming to a point where all this experience is paying off.
You have driven a Ford Focus RS WRC 02 for two years in the World Rally Championship, what conclusions do you draw from those 2 years?
It's important to understand that when I first drove the Focus, I had very little experience in competition, and especially not at the top level. I have no karting background as many others have. I have spent 2 years learning to drive competitively, doing it with notes and without knowing stages by heart. At the same time I have learned about setting up a WRC car which is extremely important and difficult.
Why is the set-up so critical?
The WRC car's transmission is controlled by active differentials, which are complicated to understand. First you need to know what you need, which is half the battle, then how to apply it.
The modern cars are also very sensitive to suspension adjustments. The balance between roll-bars, shock-absorbers and springs has to be right.
Is it easier for some drivers than for others?
Yes, off course. First a driver needs to understand how a car can go fast. Some have a better feel for that than others. A driver can do a stage and work very hard for 20 minutes, come to the finish and post a bad time without knowing why. While another will feel that his car does not work properly and loses time right from the start.
Some drivers find themselves in Top teams very early and benefit from all the team's knowledge; others have to discover it all by themselves.
Which category do you fall in?
In the "discover it all by yourself" category. But luckily I could count on my father's help. He was a very fast driver and has a profound understanding of car setup.
You lose a lot of time in rallies because you have to try so many things. But the good thing about this is as you go through this long and difficult process, you learn all the basics required to make the difference later when you fight for tenths of seconds.
So it took long to assimilate all this.
Yes, part of the problem was that we tested very little. The calendar now comprises of 16 events which are all unique, which means different conditions everywhere.
How important is it to drive on notes rather than knowledge of the stages?
Very important. There are 16 rallies with about 200km of stages, each run twice. These stages change from year to year so we don't always run the same ones. A single 20 km stage can have up to 200 different corners. You can quickly calculate the amount of time required to learn these roads. Normally, a driver would need years to learn all rallies.
So driving 100% on notes is a must?
Absolutely, if you've got a good system with which you can describe the road well, you can drive flat out on a stage right from the first time you run it. It also makes you more confident. In each country you find local specialists who are very fast, but only on "their" stages and nowhere else.
So if you want to be fast everywhere and stay on the road, you need notes.
What about the co-driver then?
You need to have a professional co-driver who has a perfect understanding of your note system and can deliver the notes on a very precise timing. Not too early, not too late. Nowadays he also needs to be good in mechanics as we have lots of stage kilometres between services, and sometimes quick repairs are necessary.
How does the previous year's experience count?
In rallying there is no substitute for experience. The rallies are sometimes so difficult that you need to have a certain thing happened to you in the past before you know how to deal with it. We are competing with drivers who have many years experience and it's very difficult when you are a newcomer.
How does the car's performance rate in all this?
It's Critical, off course. The guys who are winning now would not be able to without a proper car.
So all you need is the right car?
Yes, but you need to know how to set it up for your driving style. Every driver has a different way of attacking corners, so the car has to be tailored to his needs. The driver needs to feel what the car does, and be able to use its potential. Today's cars have to be driven very neatly. So a wild "sideways" drive will not result in a fast time anymore.
So it's about many aspects working just right?
Off course, we are talking about the top end of rallying, so everything has to be perfect.
Where do you find yourself in the Ford Focus RS WRC 04?
I am at a point where I have a proper note system, a professional co-driver and an understanding of car set-up. I have done the Championship twice now and have retired from rallies only 6 times in the last 31 starts. But I don't know my new car very well. I have driven the Focus 04 on gravel for the first time in Mexico. I need more time to learn to use its potential. It's easy to put your foot down on the gas pedal, but if you can't do it with confidence and if the power is not transferred well through the differentials and suspension to the ground, there is no chance to be fast.
Are you looking forward to the rest of the year?
Yes, I think it will get better and better. Every time I drive the Ford I am faster then before. I have yet to find the car's limits but I think it won't be long anymore.
What is your goal this season?
I am aiming at being able to get within the top 5 and staying a reliable driver. I want to be a good choice for a "second car drive"next year. Off course my primary hope would be to stay with Ford.