Thursday, September 29, 2011

Interview translated to English !

Hello !

I have had some requests to post a translation of my 27/09/11 post into English.  Here it is:

In November it will be 6 years from your last start in the World Rally Championship. Why has your career at Ford come to end after Rally Australia 2005?
Our deal with Malcolm Wilson came to an end after Rally Australia 2005.  After that, I spoke to Malcolm Wilson and wrote to Jost Capito about continuing with Ford, but not as a customer.  I was thinking that since I was German and my country is an important market, perhaps they could try to find funding from dealers to let me continue with them and progress more.  
Unfortunately, they both made it clear that the choice was to go with Finnish drivers for the next years. Mr Capito wrote me that Malcolm Wilson was in charge of choosing drivers.  I got the impression at that time, that Ford Europe did not have any plan to develop drivers who would have a strong marketing value in relevance to important markets, as for example Peugeot and Citroën have done in the past by hiring drivers who came from countries where the markets were important (ie. France, Spain, Great Britain)  For me it was clear that the doors at Ford were closed, unless I paid for a drive in a customer car.  

Was it the most difficult moment in your career?
It was unpleasant feeling but nothing too dramatic. I had other hopes elsewhere. 

How much money did Ford want for a customer car?
As far as I know the prices started around 150.000Euros per event but the final costs depended on many things.

In 2006 you spoke with Red Bull Skoda about WRC. Why did it not succeed?
At the time I received information that Raimund Baumschlager was in charge of that project so I called him.  We talked many times and it was very positive.  He made it clear to me, over the phone, that he was seriously considering me to drive the car.  I found out later that Raimund Baumschlager was also dependent of Armin Schwarz and Thomas Uberall (Red Bull sponsoring boss).  I spoke to all of them on the phone, to see how things were.  At the time, I had just been voted best German rally driver of the year by the German press. Considering my results at the top level of Rallying and my experience in a private car, I felt that I was in a rather strong position.  I had also been invited to test the Skoda Fabia WRC of First Motorsport, so I also had an idea of what the car was capable of.  
When I spoke to Raimund Baumschager again, he said to me that I was too old (28).  It turned out that, later, among drivers like Ekström and Aigner, they hired Panizzi and Rovanperä, two of the oldest WRC drivers around.  Today I still don't understand what happened really. 

You drove th Mini WRC in UK. What do you think about this car?
The Mini WRC has an impressive chassis.  Prodrive have developed a car which has good balance between suspension, differentials and weight distribution. I was immediately thinking that the car gives confidence.  For me, confidence is among the top things to worry about when you develop a car.  I don't see the sense in developing a car which is perfect on paper if the drivers are not able to push it to the limit with safety.  In WRC, drivers have to push so hard with only 2 recce passes that the confidence you get from the car is absolutely crucial

How do you compare the Mini with "old WRC"?
It is difficult to compare the cars because I drove the Mini in special conditions, on tarmac with gravel tires.  Perhaps if I could drive it on a gravel road I could tell you much more! 

You saw the Mini in Finland. Have you noticed anything interesting?
From my point of view the car looks like it has very good balance when it is driving on the stages.  With that in mind and considering how early the car is in its phase of development I think there is big potential to come.

Do you want to come-back to WRC?
Obviously I would like to come back as I have a strong passion for the sport.  I don't know if I will come back but I know for sure that it would be only with people who believe in me and who are doing the sport because they love it.

VW is planning starts in WRC. Do you think there will be room in the team for drivers from Germany? Have you any chances?
I have read from their press releases that they are looking for the next young Walter Röhrl.  I think that they are serious about putting a German in a car.  From their press releases, it looks like VW is focused on an established superstar driver, and up and coming young drivers of around 20 years of age. As I am neither an established superstar, nor a 20 year old driver, I do not see how I could fit in VW's vision of the future. 

You come from Germany, but for a time lived in Belgium. Why?
My dad was the team manager of MAZDA RALLY TEAM EUROPE and the Japanese firm wanted the team to be based in Brussels.   

Did you decide exactly in Brussels that you would be a rally driver?
Yes I did.  In those days Timo Salonen was my rally hero because he took me on a test road in Finland.  I was maybe 10 yrs old and the belts were too big…So I was floating when the car jumped and holding myself in the bucket seat!  I will never forget that.  It was really awesome.

In 1973 year your father won Rally of Poland. In 2000 year you were his co-driver in Network Q Rally. How do you remeber your debut in WRC?  
It was very exciting to co-drive with my dad on the Network Q Rally.  I remember that the stages were impressive and we worked well together.  At the time I was learning everything and reading the notes on time was taking all my attention.  I did not see much of the outside because I was looking down at my note pad a lot! It was fantastic to read notes and feel the road under you as the car accelerates, turns.  It takes real trust for a co-driver to keep his eyes down and read.  On this rally I learned the high importance of having a good co-driver and good notes. 

Is a father-son crew a good idea?
I don't see any problem with a father-son crew if they are able to work well together.   

What do you do now?
I am now managing a construction project in France.  The project has been ongoing for almost 10 years and I am hoping it will come to end very soon.

Why did you decide to write a blog "WRC behind the stages"?
After I stopped driving the Ford, it took a while to grasp the big picture of what exactly happened over 3 years of driving with them.  At that time, my mentality was: if things happen to you, you just keep it for yourself and deal with it.  Over the years my attitude changed. With my work of dealing with the construction business, lawyers and notaries everyday, my view of how things work in the world evolved.  I realized one day that, what happened with Ford was something special and I felt that I had to share it with others.  
One day, I decided to write a blog.  My intention was to put my story out there.  This was my way to do it.  I did not want to have any regret later in my life and think "why did you keep quiet ?".  
I had absolutely no idea that people would be so interested in what I had to say.  I was really surprised to see all the views and touched by all the support I was getting.  I was also surprised when I started receiving emails from others who had lived similar stories

Do you think that for example M. Wilson or R. Baumschlager are reading your blog?
I think it is possible that they read it. I got emails and blog comments from various people who are involved in rallysport, but no actual WRC drivers.

One of the posts on your blog begins "I love Poland". Why do you like Poland? You started in Poland only in 2002 year, when were very difficult conditions (heavy rain etc).
The Polish people are very nice and welcoming.  The country is beautiful.  I also love the fact that Rally sport is so popular over there.  Oh, and the food was good!  

Which polish food do you like the most?
I don’t remember food names from 9 years ago but there was a dish which I think was a gulasz and I liked it very much.

You fought with Polish drivers not only in Poland. What do you think about their skills?
They are very, very fast on tarmac.  At the time Kuzaj and Kulig were the main drivers that I was dealing with on the stages.  I was a beginner and I learned a lot from that time.   

In 2003 year Tomasz Kuchar drove in WRC with Focus WRC.
I remember the name Kuchar, yes. I checked his times when he did the same rallies as I did.

What would you change in your career, if you could turn back time?
I think I wrote about that in the blog.  I would have done the same but asked Peugeot for a car instead of Ford. I would have fit much better in Peugeot.   As a German driver showing potential, I am confident they would have seen me as an asset for their marketing.  At the time, Jean-Pierre Nicolas told me in person that I was interesting for the Peugeot brand.  It was just very unfortunate that they pulled out of rally in the end of 2005.

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