Interview with M-Sport Team Principal, Richard Millener, Autosport International 2020, Part One

Rich Millener had a lot to say about the new season at Autosport International.

Here is part one of my interview with M-Sport’s Team Principle.

Warren

Your feelings after the win that got away?

Rich

It was a bit of a baptism of fire for me in some ways. Doing the job in the background for the last three or four years. I approached Malcolm at the end of 2018 when Seb Ogier left and asked if I could do the team principle role, to which he agreed- this was surprising- if you don’t ask, you don’t get. It was a nice opportunity to be given. I think last year was a bit of a learning curve in some ways. It wasn’t hugely different from what I’ve done before- there were elements we knew – More involved in areas that I’ve not been involved with before, and then we had the Corsica issue. It was a very easy job at the start. Three rallies in and three good results. Fourth rally in and on for a win. I think people thought M-Sport were going to be in the way and pretty competitive, but unfortunately it unravelled. Then we had a tough mid-season and then we came back stronger at the end of the season.

I think overall not bad but there are a few things I’d like to change this year. There was nothing I wanted to change this past year, because you’re still learning. You don’t come in and try to change everything as you don’t have the experience to do it. Overall, I think we were very happy – the whole team is aware of the structure and how it’s working. We’ve tried to improve communication with mechanics and engineers, every part of the team really, just to work together as best we can, and just try to continue to improve. The drivers are all capable of winning, so we just want to perform as best we can, to give them everything we can to do well.

Warren

What do you think Lappi has brought to the team so far in terms of his experience with the previous cars he has driven?

Rich

Ah, difficult to say at the moment, as he’s done so little. He’s done two and a half days in the car so far, but the experience he has as he’s been with two manufacturer teams already, and we’re the third, all the current generation cars, which is great. He’s got experience and knowledge of the two rivals. He has been through the highs and lows himself and has won a rally and then had a tough season last year, so the kind of pressure of being in the top level of WRC, he’s been there which is great.

To promote a younger person into leading a team, you run the risk of that being difficult for them to get their head around and be prepared, but he’s kind of ready and nothing seems to stress him out which is great and like Malcolm said, the team and environment is very good, we’re a younger team with all the same goals, we’re all hungry to improve and win and so is he. If we can make him feel comfortable, then we know he can perform well. That’s our main goal at the minute. He seems to understand British humour, which is helpful so he can see a joke and be serious at the same time, and I think if he feels comfortable, then he should be on the pace right away.

Warren

Are you looking at any events for victories?

Rich

I think Monte Carlo will be difficult. I’m not sure tarmac would be EP’s favourite subject, but on the other side, Teemu’s tarmac pace has been really good the last few rallies. We didn’t do any testing before Christmas, we didn’t have the budget to do that, so we did that this year instead, a really good test, but unfortunately no snow but, we know how much that rally can change, so Monte will be hard. Sweden, we expect to be strong, like last year with Teemu, again it will depend on the road conditions and how much snow there is. Now really the rest after that, we should be strong in all of them and there’s no reason we can’t challenge in all of them. So, we’re not focusing on anything in particular, just be the best for all the events.

Warren

Now, three new rounds and this is a question that I asked Esapekka and Teemu. How do you go about preparing for Rally Safari?

Rich

I think Safari realistically is going to be quite different from what people expect. I think a lot more of the European style event is likely. It won’t be horrendously rough, it won’t be huge great deep-water splashes, cars will look pretty much look as they are. If people are expecting snorkels and everything that goes with it, which is great but we have the reality of the costs of designing a one-off car and it’s not feasible for anybody. However, having said that all new stages, very different from what we’ve seen, it’s quite sandy in places which is a different skill, fast and actually narrow in some places and if you go offline, there’s big rocks and everything.

The temptation to cut will be there, but the reality of cutting might not be so ideal and there is the wildlife, you know that you can’t get away from wildlife, there’s still going to be that gone are the days of the star helicopters and everything that went along with that because going to that level again would be like doing two rallies for the price of one. We can’t really afford. It will be very interesting, we sent some people out to the candidate rally to try and understand what it’s about, the same with Japan, New Zealand we know a little bit more, but all these new rallies are good for the drivers, because everyone’s in the same boat, new stages and new pace notes. I don’t think any of the drivers this year have been to any of these places, so that will be interesting. We’ll just prepare in the normal way, testing is most difficult because we don’t know the exact conditions you’re going to get in Safari, so you don’t know where you’re going to test. We’ve got a few options in mind, and I think that will be a key part of doing well.

Warren

Do you know if Rally Chile is going ahead?

Rich

It looks like it will be cancelled, and I don’t think there will be a replacement to be honest, I think it’s too late in the day to be able to find a solution to the logistics, to change everything around. We’re all planned around the thirteen rallies. Fourteen was always a push to be honest. It’s hard on the guys, yes less rallies than say Formula One, but you’re away for a longer time, over a week and last year with Argentina and Chile we were away for over three weeks and it was hard to keep morale up in the team because a lot of people have families and kids and it’s a long time for fifty people that you work with day in and day out. Thirteen is not a big drama for me. I appreciate that we need to go to new places, and it’s a shame that we’ve lost them, but we can still have a good championship.

Warren

I’m of the opinion that Formula One has too many races.

Rich

Yes, you become a casual fan, because you switch it on and it’s always there, which is great because it’s in your mind at the time, you don’t build up to the weekend, ah F1’s on at the weekend, I’ll watch that, but then it’s on every other weekend and WRC isn’t strong enough to warrant that many events, so got to be careful. I think thirteen or fourteen is acceptable.

 

The 2020 M-Sport lineup. Photo credit, Warren Nel

Look out for Part Two soon!

Interview with Teemu Suninen, Autosport International 2020

Teemu Suninen starts his second full season with M-Sport Ford. Photo credit, M-Sport

Warren Nel

Let’s talk about your stats from last season. It was really interesting to note that you took more stage wins last year than Esapekka last year. Anyway, give us an idea of your hopes for this new season.

Teemu Suninen

It would be the same before the new season, because we are having new rallies that we haven’t seen so I don’t have any expectations for the new rallies, as we have seen the pace can change quite a lot between rallies, which we saw last year like Sweden, and Germany I was able to set top three times all the time, Citroen were struggling in Germany, yet the rally after they improved and took the top two spots and then Toyota took the top three positions in Germany, and then in Turkey they were nowhere, so it’s difficult to say what the expectations are for the new events.

Warren

What are your hopes though?

Teemu

My hopes are to have more podiums and it would be great to finish the season in the top five or six and try to be close with the second group of drivers.

M-Sport Ford’s new livery. Photo credit Warren Nel

Warren

Are you hoping to be closer to the top three drivers?

Teemu

Yes, basically to be more consistent, everyone can challenge them on some rallies but not in all rallies.

Warren

There’s three new rounds, Safari, New Zealand and Japan finishing the season. In terms of those events you can’t test outside Europe, so how are you going to prepare for those events?

Teemu

That’s a good question, because it’s not easy to find the same kind of roads, they are quite different to the roads in Africa, so I think we need to be quite open minded about with the roads and testing places for Kenya, yeah and we doing the recce in Japan and we saw what kind of roads there is and everyone is wondering where can we find these kinds of roads, because it’s so different. They are in a deep forest, there is no sunshine in the daytime, as they’re so deep in the forest, and a lot of leaves on the tarmac, so it’s never clean and it is also quite slow. It going to be quite challenging with the daylight lights and not losing too much power from the alternator.

Warren

You scored one podium last year. Are there any events that you’re looking to get a podium this year apart from Italy? Score a few more and perhaps your first win?

Teemu

Proper rallies like Portugal and Sardinia, also Turkey. In those rallies I try to get a good pace and set good times.

Thanks to Teemu for his time.

Autosport International WRC Launch Day-Part Two

Continuing my recap of WRC Super Saturday, I then spoke to Toyota WRC driver Ott Tanak and team boss Tommi Makinen.

I asked Ott Tanak to rate his first year at Toyota.

We had a strong year, but at the start of the year it wasn’t easy, I didn’t know what to expect and there was a bit unknown, I believe everything went well, went better than expected, but in the we lost the championship, but still we can say it was a strong year and definitely got a good relationship in the team and we improved and developed over the season pretty well. For the future it’s definitely looking good and I believe this year, going into the season already for the second time with the same car same team same people it feels more relaxed.

I then spoke to Tommi Makinen

I asked him for his thoughts on the 2018 season and in particular how satisfying it was for the team to win the manufacturers title in the second season back.

Well, it was not looking so good in the middle of the season, but then the absolutely constant R & D brought improvements and then Ott Tanak at the same time learned the car and he was clearly fast. Now it is looking good, with reliability looking good, but there are some areas we need to improve the backup ideas, but then how it fits in with the regulations, how you do something with software, but we’ll keep working and developing.

I asked him what is it that makes the Finnish and Japanese work so well together?

I don’t know what it is, they are different cultures, but also the closest distance to the European, but I don’t know from my own career was just going with them. There was Mitsubishi and some others at the beginning of my career, there was Ford and Citroen as well. There was no target to go with the Japanese and I remember in 2001 I wanted to go somewhere and there were two possibilities, either Citroen or Subaru and I made a very careful analyst of which one would be better and followed that which is when I went to Subaru and continued with Japanese and that was the moment when it turns because when it decided the direction and I just did two years with Subaru and they wanted to continue somehow, and the co-operation and we started our racing team in 2004, started building and learning from that time.

Just thinking to this season, how was it that you came to be in touch with Kris, how did that come together?

Kris and I spoke together in 2016 and at the time he decided to continue with Citroen, which I totally understood, as we were completely new and now. Now Esapekka decided he wanted to change to Citroen and wanted something new, so after that we had to start with the different possibilities. I could see Kris there.

I asked if it was Kris that came to him, or was it an ongoing chat all the way through?

We have known each other for a long time and it was easy to go for him.

 

Now then, here’s a reminder of the full calendar.

Monte Carlo Rally January 24-27

Rally Sweden February 14-17

Rally Mexico March 7-10

Tour de Corse March 28-31

Rally Argentina April 25-28

Rally Chile May 9-12

Rally Portugal May 30-June 2

Rally Italy June 13-16

Rally Finland August 1-4

Rally Germany August 22-25

Rally Turkey September 12-15

Rally GB October 3-6

Rally Spain October 24-27

Rally Australia November 14-17

The calendar has grown, with the addition of Chile, which will be run after Argentina as a double header. The summer break follows Rally Italy, with Rally Finland six weeks afterwards at the start of August.

WRC launch day, Autosport International Show 2019. Photo credit, Warren Nel

We are set then for a very interesting season! Can Seb Ogier win the title again this year, or will Thierry and Ott come through to dethrone the Frenchman? Can Andreas Mikkelsen show improved form, given his terrible season, or might we see Hayden get a recall to the team to replace the Norwegian?

How will the new driver, co-driver partnerships go with Teemu, Marko, Elfyn, Scott and Kris, Seb? It all starts this week!

Look out for my Rallye Monte-Carlo preview coming this week! It’s time to get this championship going!

Autosport International Show 2019 WRC Launch Day- Part one

For the second year in a row, the World Rally Championship came to The NEC Birmingham. The only difference was that instead of just the Thursday media day, it was held on the first public day, Saturday the 12th of January.

There was massive interest around the display of full-blooded cars from M-Sport, Toyota WRC Team, Hyundai Motorsport and Citroen Racing ahead of the launch, with the cars all covered up. Then the teams arrived and the cars were unveiled. First the Fiesta WRC, followed by the Yaris WRC, i20 WRC and finally the C3 WRC.

Afterwards, I got to speak to the new co-drivers for Kris Meeke, Teemu Suninen and Elfyn Evans. They are, Seb Marshall, Marko Salminen and Scott Martin.

First up, Scott. I asked him how he came to join Elfyn in the car?

He said, well Dan and Elfyn weren’t going to continue in 2019, so the opportunity came about. Unfortunately, Craig didn’t have anything organised, no programme to offer, so yeah it wasn’t easy a difficult situation to be in, ultimately an opportunity to have a full season in the WRC and Craig didn’t have something solid, so that’s how it came all about. Since then we’ve been working hard to work together and look forward to the year, to try and put as much preparation in as we can going into Monte-Carlo.

In terms of preparing for the season and in particular Monte-Carlo, you’ve been testing?

Well, that was great to get in the car that we’ll be rallying, and I’ve never competed with Elfyn before, never sat in the car with him before. We’d done some pace note work, around my home in the UK, you know just to understand the notes a bit, we watched on board videos, I watched a lot of Dan and Elfyn from last year, just to try and understand a little bit, but until you actually sit in the car with him and actually go through the motions and get the feelings of how he drives to the notes, that’s when you really get to learn, you get areas I need to get more familiar with and then you go from there. Now there are loads of things we can be doing now and now we’ve actually done the test a lot of things work well and there’s some areas we need to work on to understand each other, so it’s a work in progress and we’ll keep working hard at it and try and be in the best possible way when we start Monte Carlo Rally.

What are your hopes for Monte?

I hope we have a clean rally, I hope we work well together and hope we have a good result.

In terms of preparation for Monte, how many kilometres have you done?

We were sharing the car both days with Teemu, but we probably got about 300km over the two days as a crew, and as a team maybe six to seven hundred. We had all the conditions you’d probably expect to get at Rallye Monte-Carlo, so this was really good. I feel like we had a good test on that point. It was always changing, we were able to do a lot of tyre work and just make sure the car felt comfortable in these tricky conditions, so I think that’s key to have a good result in Monte-Carlo. Yeah, we had a good two days. Now we’ve got to work with the gravel crew, that’s the unique thing about Monte-Carlo, that’s a relationship that Elfyn already has, need to build that up, so that when it comes to Thursday night, we know what we’re all doing.

Is Phil Mills still in the gravel car with Elfyn’s dad?

Actually, there’s been a bit of a change there. Phil Mills is a bit tied up with work, so Elfyn’s got a friend of his that’s co-drove for him before, (it’s not Dan Barritt, Scott said whilst laughing), so I’m working with him and we’re all working together and will continue that right up to the rally. Looking forward to it!

Next up was Seb Marshall.

I asked him testing and preparations have gone for Rallye Monte-Carlo?

Yes, it’s gone well. We’ve had two days before Christmas, and it was the first time that myself and Kris had been in the car together at speed and the first time with the team as well. The first day was on a road that we know quite well, absolutely bone-dry conditions perfect for feeling your way into the car in a very consistent environment. The second day, we were on a new road that in the morning had five kilometres of sheet black ice, that melted throughout the day to get the slush and mud, so it was difficult but, in some ways, it was perfect Monte testing. The feeling as good, it’s one of those events so much is down to tyre choice, that’s it’s not all down to set up, but feeling comfortable in the car.

Do you know how many kilometres you covered over the couple of days?

Something like 350km’s I would have thought. About par for a testing day.

How did the switch from Hayden come about?

Well, towards the last year Kris was in talks with Toyota, managed to sign his deal and felt he wanted to have a change of things in the car. So, he approached me, and asked what I was up to this year, if it something I’d be interested in, so kept talking across the weeks and went from there. So, its wasn’t that I was looking to leave or jump ship, it was just case that an opportunity presented itself. For me, despite I’d been around the championship for a while, I’d never done a full season. Now it’s great to compete at this level, doing anything but of course the chance to do the full championship is quite a big thing, so that was quite a big draw, you know a driver of his calibre, it’s a good opportunity!

Marko Salminen was next.

I asked how good it was that it would be that he would be doing a full season in his debut year?

Ah, well that has been my dream for many years, and now it’s coming true and I’m really looking forward to it and working with Teemu, it’s so good too. He’s a good guy and easy to work with, and I’m just enjoying it and waiting for the season to start.

Now, you were testing this week and sharing the car with Elfyn and Scott?

Yeah, we did two day’s with Teemu and luckily there were some snowy conditions and ice, that kind of stuff, so it really helped to prepare and understand ahead of the rally.

Okay, give us your first impressions of the car.

Of course, the first time, it was amazing but after a few runs you get used to the speed, but I can say that they really go fast!

Now, speaking to Teemu I asked him how his relationship with Marko, his new co-driver was?

Yes, it’s been good at the moment. I know him from 2014 when I was driving against him in the Finnish Championship, and the last two years he’s been driving with Takamoto, who has been driving in WRC2, he has good experience from WRC cars. After the season, I just had a phone call to him, would you be interested to come and co-drive me, as I felt that he had something to give me in the car.

Now, you’ve also got a new suspension partner, in the team. How has that integration gone so far?

The challenge is to change one part of the car because to see how it works with the other parts, so it’s not so easy to find a good balance in the car immediately, but I see it holds good possibilities to improve the car, but we just need the time.

Elfyn next up!

How are things going with Scott?

So far, it’s been really good, we have a lot of preparation now to do before we head to Monte Carlo, it’s probably one of the most complex events to start a new partnership just because there’s the integration of the gravel notes, the way you process the weather information, means everything is much more complex. There’s a lot to get through before Monte Carlo and we’ve only had two half days testing, so it’s a relatively short time to prepare. We’re doing a lot of recce outside of rally, just on normal roads to try and get used to one-another and so far, so good. I’m confident it will turn out okay.

I asked him about the return of Kris to the championship.

Yes, it’s great, I think Kris’ speed is unquestioned, and for the UK it’s a massive thing to have another Brit back full time. Really pleased for Kris and Seb to be there.

Hyundai Motorsport

I asked Andreas Mikkelsen about if he felt any pressure heading into his second full season, after just one podium in 2018.

Ah, no not chilled. We know we need to deliver, we cannot have another year like 2018, it was a difficult year, the luck was definitely not on our side on many occasions as well but we feel like we’ve taken some steps and we feel confident that we will be back to where we belong, where we normally are. But we know what an important season this is.

I asked Thierry Neuville about his lack of pace in Rally Finland and what he could do to improve it?

We have tried everything in the last five years and in particular the last three years to improve. We come back from testing with the feeling we are fast and then obviously we are not. It’s difficult to say now because now Toyota has clearly a big advantage with their test area in the Finnish woods and knowing that the testing, they benefit from it. The speed is extremely high, but even compared to Citroen which doesn’t test so much over there, they were faster than us there, which was a bit of a surprise.

Part two of my interviews will be up soon, so do pop back and check in.

 

Autosport International Show WRC interviews 2018

I got the opportunity to speak to the stars of the WRC during the launch day of the Championship.

2018 WRC Launch, Autosports International Show, NEC – Birmingham, UK, 11/01/2018

Here’s what they had to say.

 

First of all, I asked Citroen driver Craig Breen to sum up his 2017 season. This is what he said.

“It was a good first season in the world championship, close to a full season. The car wasn’t as good as we’d hoped, and we had to work hard on development in the middle of the year. Even still, it was a good year I’m quite happy, we showed some good speed and some rallies we were quite consistent finishing six times in fifth, so I was happy with that.”

I then asked him about his stellar drive to fifth in Monte Carlo in a 2016 DS3, and of course driving a C3 WRC there this year.

“Yes, Monte was a surprise with the old car, it was nice to do it, to get familiar with the event. Yes, I’m really looking forward to it, first time out with the big car there, and really excited!”

I then asked him which events he was most looking forward to this season.

“Finland, we’ve done well in Finland in the past, bagging a podium with third place in 2016. Portugal as well, Germany too.”

I then asked him if the team had got a good handle with the cars technical aspects.

“Yes, its definitely getting better and better with every test session and it’s going in the right direction and the team have already tested for Monte Carlo and have another two-day test next week.”

 

I spoke to Paul Nagle next, co-driver with Kris Meeke.

I started by asking him which events he was most looking forward to.

“Corsica was the first that he mentioned, saying we should have won that last year and the car gave up. Looking forward to going back to places that we won (Mexico and Portugal). It would be good to get a result in Monte and Sweden, solid results would be good, then Argentina as well (where they took their maiden victory).

I then asked him if he thought they had the pace in the car to challenge as last year was a mix, with a car that was hard to handle.

“We had the pace on tarmac, but the car was a handful. We improved as the year went on, getting more consistent results.”

Finally, I asked him about Sebastian Loeb joining the team for three events.

Autosport International Show, January 2018, Photo credit, Warren Nel

“It’s a good thing, he’s nine times world champion, brings a lot of experience, plus a lot of profile and support to the team and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

Kris Meeke was next up. I said to him that Paul was really positive for the season.

He said, “Its nice to start with a clean slate, and 2017 wasn’t the year we’d hoped for, yet we were able to take two victories. It could have been more with Corsica and Portugal. We certainly struggled in certain areas, I made a few mistakes, probably through my usual trait of trying too hard, when things aren’t right. We identified things that where we were inconsistent and needed to improve, even looking to improve myself as well. We’ll take each event as it comes and hopefully we can try to be in the mix for the title, and give it their best shot.”

I then asked if they’d got a handle on the car.

“Yes, it turned around quite a bit, for sure the car was strong on tarmac, bar Monte Carlo, on gravel we certainly improved after we changed our suspension supplier to Ohlins, and that improved everything. However, there are still areas we have to work on, so we’ll wait and see.”

We then got the surprising news that Mads Ostberg had signed to drive in Rally Sweden for the team!

He said, “Well, for now its just for Rally Sweden, and that he’s working with Yves Matton to drive more events. I’m motivated to work with Citroen, it was some of the best years of my career, it’s a good mix and I’m happy to be back.”  He continued, “I had eight or nine podiums whilst there.

He’s yet to drive the car, but the amount of test time is already agreed.

Mads continued, “I’m happy with the programme that is ahead of me for Rally Sweden.”

He had a real up and down Rally Sweden in the One Bet Fiesta WRC. I asked him for his memories of it.

“We were doing well and in the podium position, then we lost the wing, then we had the gearbox problem and then also had a puncture! I got the longest jump on Colins Crest as well!”

 

Now it was time to talk to the Hyundai team, and I started with Thierry Neuville’s co-driver, Nicolas Gilsoul.

2018 FIA World Rally Championship
2018 Birmingham Team Launch
10-11 January 2018
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Helena El Mokni
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

I asked him what his hopes were for the new season.

“I think it’s quite clear. We missed the title last year, it’s our main target this year. He said less focus on the wins and more on the title itself and look to get the optimum result each time.”

Asking him if he was disappointed at all with the results, he said,

“No, not at all. A few had said that, and there is a little frustration, but that’s completely gone now and actually its been a fantastic season. If you check the numbers, you can see we have a lot of stage wins, more than Ogier and Tanak together, and except mid-season on a few rallies we struggled, for example we had a mechanical problem in Sardinia, in Finland the car was not competitive, we lost a wheel in Germany, three rallies in a row where we were not competitive or suffered mechanical problems, so except for that it was a very good season. Thinking of the problem at the start of the season, for sure, it should not happen, but I never count the corners through the year but we need some jokers, it’s close to impossible to drive at full speed to not do a mistake and sometimes its only a little mistake and its okay, and sometimes its not and you lose a wheel, or you break something and it’s over.”

I suggested that this is what he and Thierry wanted to do, to conquer these moments and overcome them.

“Yes, it’s a combination of things, to be really strong together, we are winning together and losing together and it’s the same for the team, for example three years ago when it was looking like we were not wanted by the teams we started to complain about the procedures, but it’s not the right way. The most important is to analyse what’s happened, to define what’s happened, to try and win through and solve the problem.”

Speaking about last season, he continued;

“I think last season, we didn’t start with the right mindset, because we didn’t expect it to be so competitive, and when we realised it, it was already too far through the season. Now this season we will start thinking of the championship. Now last year we mostly focused on rally wins.”

I asked them how long they’ve driven together and he said;

“Since 2011” he said. “We are very strong together, we know each other very well, we like working together and it’s easy and not boring at all, it’s still exciting, it’s good because now we are experienced and you are more confidant, because at the beginning you checking and double checking everything, and you are sometimes tired, and now it’s not being lazy, you trust yourself and you its been done and you don’t have to keep checking.”

 

Next, I had a chat with Seb Marshall, who is Hayden Paddon’s co-driver. He’s been working with the Kiwi for a couple of years now, but this will mark a first time they start a season together.

Seb Marshall, Hyundai Motorsport, Autosport International Show, January 2018, Photo credit, Warren Nel

He said “Yes, it’s nice to start a season together, and its confirmed that we have seven events this year, starting with Sweden, and gravel the rest of the year. Now the key objective is results wise with the drivers’ title not a consideration for us one of the key objectives is helping the team win the manufacturers championship, so that means that we need to score well. Last year we scored a couple of podiums and the target is that we can repeat that, and also take advantage of our road position on some events and string things together and target a win. We’ll take things as they come, take opportunities and see where we are at the end of the year.”

I spoke next to Thierry. I said to him, that it got away from him, but that it was a positive year on the whole despite the odd slip up.

He said, “It was a very positive year, the speed was there, the car was very good, the best performance of the team, we can’t complain. We just missed out on the objective, the most important, probably its not all about being world champion, but also enjoyable to do, I really enjoyed what we did we had a huge satisfaction, and I think a great preparation for the up-coming year as well, running in this position, we were one of the contenders for the title and at one point we were leading the championship, these are all things to experience and we have experienced it now we have to be constantly in this position. It won’t be easy. Looking forward to it!”

 

Next up, I spoke to Jari-Matti and his co-driver Miikka from Toyota. The second year with the team run by Finnish legend, Tommi Makinen. I started by saying, its your second year at Toyota.

2018 WRC Launch, Autosports International Show, NEC – Birmingham, UK, 11/01/2018

Jari-Matti said “Yes, it’s going to be exciting, Easier to start the second year than the first year, but there is a little more pressure of course, but you know on the other hand that the car is competitive!”

Of course, we did see Jari-Matti lead the championship after Rally Sweden last year.

Jari-Matti continued, “The first half of the season was very well and the first two races were special, it was an amazing feeling to be leading after Sweden, I knew that it would be more demanding in the high altitude races coming up, Mexico, Argentina, yes we were suffering in those, then it was getting better and I thought that wouldn’t face problems but we did mid-season, and of course it was disappointing to get them at the time when we could almost fight for the championship, but on the other hand it was the learning year and you know that they were coming, but still I prefer this way, that we had a good start to the season, it was really a bit great.”

I asked him next what his hopes were for the new season and what they had worked on over the winter.

“We have the new front bumper, the new front aero, which will give help to the turnings, work done on the engine, gears and suspension and I feel the car is better than last year. The target is to try to fight for podiums in every race.”

I then suggested that we saw a rebirth of him last year after leaving Volkswagen and asked him if that was fair to say.

He replied, “That yes that was fair to say, at Ford I was young and fast but made a lot of mistakes, then I went to Volkswagen and I was close and two times I finished second in the championship, but Ogier was always a step ahead with the consistency but then coming to the Toyota I thought start a new era just focus really for the consistency and it was going well and the target is to keep that this year as well.”

I asked him next on his feelings about Rally Finland where he retired with a problem on the Saturday afternoon.

He said, “Ah, that was very, very, disappointing, I mean my best single day performance in the morning before the technical problems, but these things can happen.”

I then asked him about the relationship between the drivers.

His reply was typically honest as you’d expect.

“In our team we are close and even with the little change with Ott Tanak coming in and Juho being test driver, to try and keep that spirit. All in all, in the rally world basically I would say all the drivers have a very good relationship, it’s not like in the racing world.”

Finally, I asked him which events he was most looking forward to this year, well, other than Rally Finland of course!

He said “For sure Sweden is important, I like Sardinia, Catalunya which I have really wanted to win for a long time.”

 

Then I spent some time talking to Miikka Anttila. I asked him how many years he’d been in the car with Jari-Matti and also how he found the transition from Volkswagen to Toyota.

2018 WRC Launch, Autosports International Show, NEC – Birmingham, UK, 11/01/2018

“Since 2003, I think it’s the fifteenth year already, a long time. We have a very good working relationship. The biggest part is that the team is from Finland, working so much with the Finnish people, for sure makes it a much, much easier, I mean let’s say if we went to Citroen, it wouldn’t have been so easy, and then of course already in the team there were people we knew from the past, I mean not Finnish guys, but from M-Sport times, so all in all its been really easy. When we went there, we found it was a good boost for all the people in the team, that we came from Volkswagen who’d just scored the fourth title.”

Asking him their goals for the year, I said that Jari-Matti had said lots of podiums were what they were hoping for.

“Yes, to fight for the championship, you don’t have to win everything, but you do have to be in the points constantly, when you think the 2017 season there were so many different winners, it means the car needs to be on a good level. The other thing is that it’s the second year of the team, now in this sport you cannot happen that go and win at the top level straight away. Okay, in a way, Volkswagen did that, they did enter the car 18 months before the first rally with the world rally car, they went there with the smaller car, and they faced all the conditions, whereas we faced all the conditions with the new car. If we’d joined with the old regulations, then probably the gap would have been a lot bigger, but now it was new for everybody.”

I asked him next about the development of the Polo WRC and how it compared to the Yaris when they first drove it.

Autosport International Show 2018, Toyota Yaris WRC, Photo credit, Warren Nel

“We didn’t drive the latest of the 2017 Polo, as it was October the last time we drove it, and there would have been improvements to come, but they didn’t come and the car wasn’t finalised when we did our final test. That’s why it’s a bit difficult to compare. For sure, our car was changed a lot between the first test and before Monte Carlo and there were new parts coming all the time which were decided before we joined the team, because it was already December when we joined the team.”

Finally, I asked him about Seb, former teammate at Volkswagen and what he was like to work with.

“Let’s say he was a proper competitor, in the way he is always thinking for the competition what he can improve, not always telling to others, a bit not giving all the secrets of what he has in his pocket.”

 

Finally, I spoke to Elfyn and asked him what his hopes were for this new season

Elfyn Evans, M-Sport driver, Autosport International Show, January 2018, Photo credit Mitch Oakley

He said, “Yep, massively looking forward to it, there’s a lot to do, a lot of expectations to live up to thanks to the success of the team last year, expectations are high but so are my own expectations, to be honest, I would really like to be consistently on the podium as often as we can, we’re anticipating that its going to be even more competitive year, this year so we could find that a big challenge, looking forward to it!”

I then asked him about that win that got away in Argentina.

He said “After the rally it was a second-place finish, after a tough start in the first three or four rallies, although we were starting to show good speed, we’d not been able to bag a good result for different reasons so on reflection of the rally it wasn’t such a bad result, finishing second. At the time, it was hurting pretty badly, I have to be honest after showing such good speed through the first day and fighting through problems on the second, to lose by such a fine margin was tough to accept, but like I say looking back now with everything that happened it is was it is and second at the time was a positive result”

I also asked him about #ElfynsCorner.

“Well, yes it was a surprise to be honest when it came up, I had no involvement in it what-so-ever, I still don’t, its purely a fan base thing, we enjoyed massive support on the rally, both through ElfynsCorner and otherwise, just throughout the weekend, the amount of people supporting both on and off the stages was incredible, something I’d never experienced before, okay I’d always enjoyed great support in Wales before, but never to this extent.”

I then explained that I’d been in touch with the individuals, before it all it all spiraled into what had happened. The reason they did it was because they wanted to raise your profile, they felt you weren’t valued and wanted to show their support. I gave him the names of all the individuals who made it happen and he recognized them.

Autosport International Show 2018, M-Sport Fiesta WRC, Photo credit Warren Nel

His response was interesting, “It especially hard in the UK, because we have so many successful, high level sports, it’s very difficult to build a profile, especially through motorsport, so many high-profile tennis players, football players, football is massive, whereas let’s say Ott, he’s in the top three sportsmen in Estonia!”

 

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the thoughts of the teams. We are getting really close to the start of the season, with just twelve days to go!

Pop back soon, as I’ll have my preview for round one very soon.