Interview with Michael Park : Autumnal aspirations As the 2005 season moves on to his home round, Markko Martin's British co-driver talks about the event that first sparked off his passion for rallying and about his chances of victory in ...
Interview with Michael Park : Autumnal aspirations
As the 2005 season moves on to his home round, Markko Martin's British co-driver talks about the event that first sparked off his passion for rallying and about his chances of victory in Peugeot colours sitting alongside his Estonian driver.
You and Wales Rally GB go back quite a long way...
"Absolutely. As a kid, I went to watch it when it was still known as the RAC Rally. At the time, it lasted five days and went from Wales all the way up to Scotland. We slept in the car in the middle of freezing forests, but it was an unforgettable experience and the virus bit. I took part in it for the first time in 1994 sitting alongside David Higgins and I have competed regularly ever since, including the last few years with Markko Martin."
The current format is much more compact. Isn't that frustrating for someone who knew the RAC Rally of before?
"It was different back then. I used to work as coordinator for a number of teams and my job included recceing the route to find the best service locations and marking up hundreds of maps. It was fun, but also very tiring. The same work is difficult to conceive nowadays, but it's true that moving to a different service park every day would help make the route more diversified. Happily, there are still some very nice, very fast stages which are never rough. On top of that, today's format makes it much easier for co-drivers to prepare for the event. And since I live near the Forest of Dean, which is close to the Welsh border, Cardiff isn't very far away at all."
Last year saw the event change to a new September slot. What has that changed?
"Given last year's poor weather, you could be forgiven for thinking that the date switch didn't change much at all. That said, this summer's weather has been very warm and pretty dry. If it stays that way, it will be great for spectators, and perhaps this year's event will spring a surprise with dust turning out to be a problem! But everything can change so quickly in this part of the world and we could just as easily find ourselves with the same old mud by the time the rally actually starts. Another benefit for everyone is the fact that there is more daylight in September than in November when it gets dark by 4 o'clock in the afternoon!"
What type of car does it take to be competitive in Great Britain?
"If it's wet and muddy, you need good traction and engine flexibility. If it's dry, a smooth gravel set-up similar to what we run in New Zealand or Finland will also work in the Welsh forests. So dry conditions would suit us just as well."
Will running amongst the first cars on the road be a handicap if it turns out to be dry on the opening day?
"Probably, but at this point in the season all the big names figure at the top of the championship standings so we will all face practically identical conditions. On the other hand, it could be delicate for some drivers if the weather proves changeable. Although changing the set-up is a relatively straightforward job on a modern WRC car, choosing tyres is still a big problem. Before the start of recce, you have to register the list of tyres you have selected for the event with the FIA. If the forecasters predict unsettled weather for the weekend of the rally, that can be a huge dilemma."
You are British, but your driver is Estonian. How do you make sure that everything passes off well in the car?
"Markko masters the subtleties of the English language perfectly. He even gets my jokes! The pacenote system we use today is based on the British system with the odd word of Estonian every now and again. Another feature of the way we work is that Markko asks me not to talk too quickly when calling out the notes, and that can come across as being a bit of a drone. Whenever I watch onboard TV footage, I don't like the impression I get that my voice is slow or that I call out the notes at the last moment. But it works for my driver and that's the main thing!"
Markko seems to be very nonchalant--
"He is so laid back in day to day life that you wonder how he ever became interested in rallying. Even when he's driving flat out you never get the impression he's pushing. He drives with very little body movement and he is easy on his tyres. If it wasn't for his times or the fact that you see the countryside flashing past so quickly, you could be forgiven for thinking that you weren't actually competing on a rally!"
In addition to sitting alongside an Estonian driver, you've also had to acclimatise to working with a French team this year--
"That doesn't make much difference for Markko because for him all the teams are foreign. I personally found it a little difficult to begin with. For the first time in my career I was in a team that didn't speak my mother tongue and the way the team works is also different. But the passion for rallying has no frontiers and it didn't take long for everything to click into place."
Given the lack of a top British driver in this year's championship, you are currently one of your country's leading representatives in the sport--
"That may be true, but I am probably more famous in Estonia as Markko's co-driver than In Great Britain where nobody recognises me in the street. I was talking about that recently with Phil Mills, Petter Solberg's co-driver. We both feel a bit forgotten sometimes, but that's often the way it is with co-drivers. Even, so, we are more in demand from the media than usual during the build up to Rally GB--"
Markko and you have been on an upward curve recently in terms of results. What sort of performance do you think you can achieve in your 'home' event?
"Since the summer, Markko has been happier at the wheel of the 307 WRC and the engineers at Peugeot Sport have a clearer understanding of the sort of set-up that suits him. Everything's moving in the right direction and that's the main thing, both with a view to defending Peugeot's chances in its bid to win the Manufacturers' title as well as to maintaining our own, very real chance of finishing in the top-three in the Drivers' championship. We haven't given up!