“Very happy with our rally” (Portugal)

And even though he lost a place in the drivers’ standings by being overtaken by Ott Tänak, the Frenchman was quite satisfied with his fourth place in Portugal.

As soon as the Portugal rally finished, you headed to the United States to continue your work in the simulator at Ford Performance. What is the program ?

“I start with three full days of simulator in Charlotte. We will be able to prepare for the fast rallies to come, and work on development, as always. Then, I will spend several days on the West Coast, finishing in Seattle. It’s nice to spend so much time in the USA, but the time difference will not be obvious, because I will return to France for two or three days, before leaving for Sardinia. I hope it’ll be OK.”

For this first benchmark gravel rally, you finished in fourth place, averaging around three tenths per kilometer of the best. What is your assessment of this rally?

“I am very happy with the rally we had. We know that sweeping is important in Portugal and we drove in third position on the road for the majority of the rally. On Friday evening, we were 30 seconds from the lead, and 10 seconds from Thierry who opened, I was really satisfied. Being two tenths per kilometer from Rovanperä who was starting far away was pretty great!

Even though we were quite close in time, we were 7th in the standings and that condemned us to starting third on Saturday. It was a great experience to have, it’s always useful to ride in these kinds of conditions, and I hope it happens often this year, it will be a good sign for Friday. Overall, I think we’re not doing too badly. There were still intermediates where we were worse than others, it was a bit strange sometimes. We must try to understand why.

In terms of sweep, it was less than expected in Portugal. I was able to discuss it with Thierry (Neuville), and he was also surprised. The humidity of the last few weeks probably played a role. The next day, it was especially in Amarante where the sweeping was penalizing.”

On Sunday, you are fourth on this “bonus” day and you set the 6th time in the Power Stage. How did you find your rhythm being 5th on the road this time?

“On Sunday, I find it very correct. Before the Power Stage, we are ten seconds behind Tänak, leader of the super-Sunday. In the last special, we didn’t want to play for points, because we hoped that Ogier would take one more point from us to gain a place on the road in Sardinia. The tactic would have been good by only a tenth (Rovanperä ahead of Ogier by a tenth). For a point difference, it was worth the try, because I knew I couldn’t perform as well as in Croatia (scratch in the Power Stage). If we could have put one more car between Tänak and us, it would have been nice.”

While you often rode between two and four tenths per kilometer, you had much more difficulty in the Felgueiras time trial where you lost 22 seconds in just 17 km on Saturday. How do you explain that?

“I don’t really understand, actually. In 2021, when I discovered this special, I immediately set very good times. But since then, I haven’t been very comfortable. Sometimes there are special stages where you have more difficulty without really understanding why. It’s a shame, because we only missed Dani (Sordo) by seven seconds on Saturday evening, and I lost big in the two passes of Felgueiras.

We had small problems, but nothing dramatic, without any major loss of time. We broke an anti-roll bar and a shock absorber throughout the weekend.”

What did you think of your tire choices over the whole weekend?

“Pretty good with interesting tactics to juggle between soft and hard. On Thursday evening, I was the only one to take a single spare tire. I think they were a little afraid of the super-special because they had to continue with the same tires the next day. I did a lot of driving based on M-Sport asphalt tests with the dirt setup and I know how to drive the car to preserve the tires in these conditions. It’s a small detail, but everything counts at this level.”

How are you approaching the next rally in Sardinia?

“As I will start in fourth position, and not in third like in Portugal, it will be easier on the first day. On Sunday in Portugal, I could see that starting fifth on the road was a big advantage compared to third position. When you start 3rd, you have two lines and often you use a little of both. 5th, you have a real track that you can follow and have a lot more grip.

We performed very well on this rally last year. It’s a tricky rally which is narrower than Portugal and with stones everywhere. With its short format, you will have to be in the direct shot and have the right setup.”

As Grégoire Munster is still learning in your team, for the moment you cannot really compare yourself to your teammate. Is this boring for you?

“I am directly in comparison with the leaders of the championship and that is already very interesting! But, I can also compare last year’s performances. And humbly, in terms of times, I think I’m pretty close to Ott’s performance with the Puma.

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