How did the opportunity with Volkswagen come about?
“Sven [Smeets, Volkswagen Motorsport boss] knew I wanted to do one more rally. We’ve discussed it for a long time, but it had to be the right opportunity at the right time. We were looking at Sweden, but I had an illness [the lung disease sarcoidosis] recently, and that changed things a lot. When you go through something like that, it changes your approach a little bit.”
How hard is it to switch from a 600bhp rallycross car to an R5 rally car with just under 300bhp?
“The start line is the biggest difference! When you start an event in a rallycross car, your head is thrown back - 0-100kmh in 1.9 seconds. But for enjoyable driving, with the chassis and so on and how it handles, the rally car is really good fun. For sure, it’s more difficult to drive with less horsepower, especially when you’re used to it all the time.”
Did it take time to adjust?
“I switched the mentality very quickly, but most difficult was that I know where I lost a few seconds - it was on the very high speed bits that require commitment. I was not interested to go right to the limit in terms of risk. It’s quite a big difference having to trust in pacenotes again: if I have in the pacenotes ‘flat six right’, I hear it but I don’t do it. I’m 43 now, so the safeness is here [points to his head]. If you’d asked me before when I was younger, I didn’t have that safeness – it was flat out. It's life, and now you come and have fun with it and enjoy it.”
Is this a one-off, or could you do more rallies next year?
“I will definitely not compete in rallying next year. I’ve been doing motorsport since 1982, and I love it. But I want to look a little into the future, for younger drivers. You can see that in my rallycross team with Johan Kristoffersson [who won the world rallycross title in 2017 and 2018]. He’s really learned, and he’s taking tips and he’s not cocky. Drivers like him want to learn, and to take the best from everybody, like I did with Carlos [Sainz], Colin [McRae] and Tommi [Makinen]. That was what made me so good: I was asking them a lot of questions when I was their team-mate. It takes a lot of time to learn in rallying, and I want to help them. So I will not drive in rallying. The plan is to continue in rallycross and we have everything ready to do it. But the last few weeks have been a bit difficult [for the sport], and we will need to see the situation with that championship. There are a lot of things going on.”
The World Rallycross Championship has been looking at a switch to electric cars, but those plans have been delayed. What are your thoughts?
“We need to think for the future, and of course electric is very important for the future. Rallycross is the one motorsport that can tackle electric very easily – you can have cars with 700bhp and still have big action. I can understand some people are concerned about the noise - I understand that, it’s the same for me - but I think we need to look at this in a completely different way.”
Could rallycross miss the boat if it doesn’t embrace electric soon?
“That’s a good question. Electric is coming [to motorsport], definitely. One reason is that the manufacturers need to have a story behind something to support it, which electric has. For young drivers, it will be the biggest opportunity for them to get into the sport: the manufacturer teams will have four cars, and then there will be more chances to get the young guys in. I started my rally career as a third driver, with no pressure: I crashed a lot, but I came back again because I had time to build the package and the experience.”