Interview with Timo Rautiainen: An object lesson in courage-- Marcus Gronholm's co-driver experienced the exploits of his fabulous Finnish driver on home soil from the hot seat-- and in considerable pain. He talks about his memorable win before...
Interview with Timo Rautiainen: An object lesson in courage--
Marcus Gronholm's co-driver experienced the exploits of his fabulous Finnish driver on home soil from the hot seat-- and in considerable pain. He talks about his memorable win before looking ahead to the next round -- the ADAC Rally -- which takes place on the asphalt of Germany.
Of all the jumps in Finland, how do you explain that one particular landing in SS5 proved so tough on the crews?
"It was a new stage which we had never done before against the clock. Even for specialists like Marcus and myself, it's impossible after a slow speed pass in recce to gauge exactly how the car will react over a crest on the big day at speeds sometimes in excess of 170 kph! In this case, there was a dip on landing which proved very painful for my back and ribs. Daniel Elena suffered at the same spot, as did Sebastian Lindholm's co-driver Tomi Tuominen who was unfit to start Leg 2 on Saturday morning and the third 307 WRC was forced to retire."
It clearly seems that co-drivers are more exposed than the drivers in this sort of incident--
"Drivers see the countryside coming at them. Also, at the moment of impact, the steering wheel serves as a brace. Given the speeds we get up to, co-drivers barely have the chance to lift their eyes from their notes, but a sort of sixth sense tells you where you are in the stage. You can feel the car take off but you don't really know how high you are flying nor how long the leap is. It is very possible therefore to be caught by surprise by a particularly heavy landing."
You were quite shaken--
"After it happened, I was capable of reading the pacenotes but I had so had the wind taken out of me that I was unable to speak. I eventually forced myself to call out the most dangerous corners for Marcus. It's quite nerve racking to feel handicapped to the extent that you can't help your driver. After the stage, I didn't even recognise the road section. Marcus kept asking whether he should stop but despite everything I felt I had the strength to continue--"
It took a lot of courage--
"In the heat of the moment, the pain is something it is possible to live with. The worrying thing is that another bad jolt could force you to stop for good. Back at service, the doctor gave me pain-killers and anti-inflammatory medicine, while the physio gave me a going over and I was finally able to breath and walk normally again, which was reassuring. I didn't suffer too badly after that."
Did the idea that you could win also help relieve the pain?
"No doubt, but it doesn't make you lose sight of reality. When we reached service after SS6, Marcus and I had a good chat and it was very clear in our minds that we wouldn't have re-started if my health had been at risk. We were reassured by the medical team's precise diagnosis; my muscles and nerve ends had been badly compressed and that was what was giving me the pain, but my spine wasn't in any danger and there was nothing that could turn into a handicap afterwards. Like Marcus, Jean-Pierre Nicolas left me to decide whether I could continue and I had given it a great deal of thought when I chose to re-start. After that, the idea that we could possibly win and the encouragement of the spectators effectively gave me valuable moral support."
At what moment did you think victory was possible?
"On the Friday evening, after seeing that we were capable of matching Sebastien Loeb and Daniel Elena in the final stages of Leg 1 despite the fact that I hadn't totally recovered. The following day, Marcus drove sufficiently quickly to make sure of victory, while at the same time braking for the crests to keep the constraints to which I was exposed to a minimum. We are brothers in law, so I suppose he was thinking about me, but also he had every reason to keep me in good shape until the finish!"
You have won five of your last six attempts at Rally Finland. What is the secret?
"Markku Alen, Hannu Mikkola and Tommi Makinen all succeeded in winning a number of times on the trot too, which goes to show that a driver who feels fully confident can be difficult to beat in Finland for some time. For his sixth attempt, Sebastien's performance was proof of his talent but, with twelve previous participations in my case and sixteen or seventeen for Marcus, local knowledge again played in our favour. Finally, we mustn't forget to associate Peugeot with our run of success since 2000. The 307 WRC has perfectly succeeded from the 206 WRC in Finland."
Rally Deutschland is an asphalt event. What are the biggest differences for a co-driver competing on asphalt compared with gravel?
"Taking the pacenotes is just the same, but the pace of the rally is very different. Gravel rallies give you more time between corners, but they come at you extremely quickly on asphalt where the cars accelerate harder and the braking distances are shorter. You therefore need to read the music at a much faster tempo."
Marcus has often been very quick on asphalt. When will it be before he wins on this type of surface?
"To my mind, Marcus is as capable of going quickly on asphalt as he is on the loose. On pure asphalt, of the sort you get in Monte Carlo, Corsica and Catalonia, the experience I mentioned earlier in relation to Finland works the other way round-- against us. It would really take favourable circumstances for us to succeed in winning on asphalt this year. That said, the Deutschland Rally and its three very different types of terrain -- the Mosel Valley vineyards, the Baumholder military ranges and the twisty Saarland stages -- is very different, very specific. We have often been competitive there and a good result is possible, especially if the weather is poor since this would suit our Pirelli tyres better."