WRC: “Hybrid is a good solution for the rally”

Congratulations on winning the world championship as team boss! Until recently you were a rally driver yourself, driving for VW among others. As a driver, however, you never won the World Cup …
Thanks. That got on my nerves now compared to when I turned the steering wheel myself.

Because at the crucial moments I was condemned to watch, in front of the television in the Toyota command center in the service park. You can see on the images from the onboard camera that the driver has some problem, but you can’t do anything. It’s frustrating.

Is the pressure on the team boss greater than on the driver?
The pressure is different. As a driver you are a lone fighter. You have to win rallies, that is to say, you have to perform at your best at a certain moment. As the team boss, you have to make sure that all drivers find optimal conditions in the long term.

Was that the biggest challenge after switching to team management?
My advantage was that I knew most of the Toyota team members from my three years as a works driver. However, I suddenly had to gain their trust and respect as a superior. Fortunately, that happened very quickly.

A year ago, rally star Jari-Matti Latvala switched from the steering wheel to the desk.

World champion S├ębastien Ogier used to have you under control as a competitor, now he had to listen to you …
Admittedly, Seb and I weren’t the best friends during our time at Volkswagen (2013 to 2016; editor’s note). But in the meantime our relationship has improved a lot. But I don’t need to give him – or our other works drivers – any tips about driving. Of course, only if a driver asks me for advice will he get it.

What did you change in the team?
Just a few details. An example: We have improved the communication between engineers and drivers when they encounter technical problems. At least twice in the 2021 season it was possible to bring cars back to the mechanics despite damage and keep them in the race. Seb had a shock absorber failure at the Safari rally in Kenya. In the past he would have continued to drive at the same speed and probably failed. This time he saved his car for servicing and then even won the rally.

Would you have done some things differently as a driver with the knowledge you have today as a team boss?
I have to admit: I’m glad not to have a driver like me on the team. With today’s knowledge, I might also have become world champion as a driver. I now know what I could have done better earlier, how I could have avoided mistakes.

At the Monte Carlo Rally in January, the World Rally Cars will be using hybrid drives for the first time. What do you expect?
The drivers also have to get used to the fact that the center differential and gearshift paddles on the steering wheel are no longer necessary. So the 2022 cars are more difficult to drive. But of course the hybrid drive requires the greatest change. In the future, rallies will be won by whoever uses the additional electric power the most cleverly. A heavy foot on the accelerator is no longer enough. From next year, the head will again be in demand.
Isn’t the step to hybrid drive, which will then be retained in the World Cup for at least three years, not enough? Other racing series are currently switching to fully electric …
Hybrid vehicles have a large market share on the road all over the world. Toyota also sells a large number of cars with hybrid drives and has a high level of expertise in this area. So that fits. Regardless of this, fully electric rally cars would not yet work according to the current format, at least in the world championship. In addition to the hybrid, fossil-free petrol will be used in the World Cup next year. Both steps together are a good solution. I think most of the fans are also happy that the familiar engine sound has been retained.

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