The consistency of Richard Burns has seen the British driver emerge at the top of the provisional World Championship standings. Here he talks about his situation and looks ahead to Rally New Zealand, an event he is very much forward to ...
The consistency of Richard Burns has seen the British driver emerge at the top of the provisional World Championship standings. Here he talks about his situation and looks ahead to Rally New Zealand, an event he is very much forward to looking--
Q: You go to New Zealand as leader of the Drivers' championship. What is your analysis of the season so far?
"Given the high level of competition, that meant I wasn't able to fight for number one spot. As a result, and against my nature, I chose to go for points instead of running the risk of throwing everything away, and without necessarily having been in a position to challenge for victory in any case! In Turkey, I felt better with the car. It was a brand new event for everyone so it was important to get strategy right. You had to drive sufficiently quickly so as not to lose too much ground, yet at the same time spare the mechanicals through the many very rough portions, without losing sight of the fact that it wouldn't be possible to avoid all the rocks.
"When Marcus and then Harri lost time, it was only logical that we take a safe approach, even if that meant allowing Carlos Sainz to pull clear. The context meant it was primordial to secure manufacturers' points for Peugeot."
Q: Isn't it frustrating to be dominant without winning?
"Absolutely! Especially coming after a win-less 2002, I'm beginning to get champagne withdrawal symptoms! There's no point in feeling sorry for yourself though. Our mission is to help Peugeot win the manufacturers' title and, if possible, secure the Drivers' title.
"This year's new scoring system, which awards points to the top eight finishers, has placed the emphasis a bit more on consistency and, whether you like it or not, you've got to take that into account. It's quite possible someone could claim the title without winning a single rally but that's obviously not how I see the rest of the season. Indeed, changes within the team could well allow me to achieve that objective in the near future."
Q: You have effectively been working with a new engineer since the Rally of Turkey.
"The situation was getting somewhat frustrating and it was vital that a solution be found. For even though we were well placed in terms of points, we were still lacking in outright performance despite the fact that the team is technically at the top. Christian and I have decided to start from a known basic set-up to give me a chance of exploring various solutions in order to adapt the car to my style. After the very first tests, I immediately felt more confident."
Q: So far, the season seems to be dominated by the two French manufacturers. What conclusions do you draw from that?
"My first observation is that the battle isn't over yet. Peugeot has won the title for the past three years, while Citro?n has got off to a flying start, but they have spent a long time preparing their arrival in the championship and we were always expecting them to be very competitive.
"Other teams, like Ford and Subaru, are also proving to be very quick, but until now they have been a little less reliable. I am convinced the fight will get fiercer as the season progresses and that it will prove to be a particularly exciting championship. All the more credit will therefore go to whoever comes out on top. To beat not only the other French team but also all the other teams, we will have to continue working very hard.
"Nobody's going to make life easy for us. But Peugeot doesn't have a habit of resting on its laurels, and I intend making my own personal contribution to that --"
Q: The fact that you're leading the championship means you will be first on the road on the opening leg of Rally New Zealand.
"It is effectively not good to be leading the championship going into a rally like New Zealand since it means we will be running first on the grip-sapping, loose top-layer. But even if it means having this handicap, I would rather go to Auckland with eighteen points in my pocket than be in a position where I'm chasing for them.
"In addition to that, it's a rally I love, possibly even my favourite of the whole championship, so I certainly have no intention of considering myself beaten before we even get there."
Q: Why do you like this rally so much?
"Its stages are wide, fast and extremely smooth, and grip is excellent once the roads have been swept clean. They're sheer pleasure for the drivers because the mechanicals suffer very little and you one can drive absolutely flat."
Q: Is the change of date from July to April likely to have an influence on stage conditions?
"I don't think so. The seasons tend not to be all that clear-cut and, in any case, the weather is always very fickle. In the course of my nine previous visits to New Zealand, I have encountered all sorts of weather conditions, so I don't think it will make all that much difference.
"Personally, and I'm sorry for all the cameramen and photographers, I would like it to be very wet on the opening day in order to pack down the loose top surface--"