Molly, 2013 has been a special season, can You recall something from each rally?
It's been a very different type of season from anything I'd known previously. A great experience and an insight into what it takes to move forward, from rallying for fun to try to turn it into a career. The whole year has been an incredible learning curve for me.
-Azores was incredibly unfortunate, the situation which happened with another car, and definitely not the way we wanted to start our championship. It's an incredible location for a rally, until the accident it was a fantastic experience.
-Corsica was the highlight, my favourite event so far. Being second in 2WD and winning stages in our class was great as it was the first time we managed to do it.
-Ypres was probably the most heartbreaking rally in my life
-Romania was fantastic to be back on gravel but a really tough event, incredibly rough. It was about having to manage many factors, not just the speed, to preserve the car and get to the finish
-Barum was also fantastic, we were a bit unfortunate with the weather which made some stages not ideal. It was still good experience as we do not normally get many opportunities to drive on such roads and conditions. In this year's ERC it tended to rain pretty much everywhere so we're getting used to it. When conditions were dry, the stages were incredibly fun to drive.
-Poland was not at all like we expected it, coming into the rally we believed it to be very fast. Conditions on event were, like in Romania, a real test of survival
-Croatia was a nice rally, we enjoyed the stages and had some god fights and stage times with in between quite a lot of unforeseen issues. We've been lucky all year with the reliability of the car, there almost everything that could go wrong did so, but we fought very hard and are happy with the final result.
How important is it to build on experience rather than rewriting new pacenotes every time? Is your pacenote system still evolving?
After Ypres we changed our pacenote system quite dramatically. Seb and I started training on random roads previously unseen, as well as on events. It has been a challenge as we are only allowed two passes while developing a new system at the same time. For sure we notice an improvement in stage times when stages are repeated in the rally and know that we still have room to move in this area. This is what has been really good about this year, developing this system on new rallies; we have a better understanding of how pacenotes relate to the speed. There is also the fact that every round of the ERC is very specialized, it's not just a tarmac or gravel rally: Asphalt in Barum is different from the one in Corsica, just like the sandy surface in Poland is different from the rough in Romania. Each rally has its individual characteristics, for sure going back a second time would be a massive help.
Do you normally prefer gravel or tarmac, and do you have a favourite event based on what you've seen this year? Based on your experience this year, is it easier to make a difference on tarmac or on gravel?
I've always preferred gravel, since pretty much all of my rallying back home has been on this surface, that's where I learned how to rally and the feeling of pushing a car to its limits on gravel. We've had many tarmac events this season and it's been good to get some confidence on this surface, tarmac can be great fun if one has the right level of confidence especially on certain kinds of roads. It's a different sensation and feelings, trying to find the limit is not so progressive as on gravel. My favourite event this year was Corsica, which is on tarmac, I'm slightly contradicting myself there but for me, having less experience on tarmac, I think that it's on asphalt that it is possible to make more of a difference as it's often an “all or nothing” situation. Gravel is a lot more progressive and all about the feeling so one can play around with the limit, with a little give and take either way; one can slide a little bit more, turn the car in and have more room for adjustment through each corner if conditions change whereas tarmac is not so forgiving if you hit a slippery bit which you were not aware of. In this respect I find tarmac more specialized.
Molly, although you've praised your car's reliability there have been times when You have had to perform work on the car. You and Seb must have learned a lot as you had to carry out repairs roadside. You also spend time with the team and at the workshop, learning more about the car and what to do to take care of it.
We've been bush mechanics, as they say. It's important to know what it is possible to fix in between services with the tools and spares we have in the car; in Poland we were very lucky because due to the ruts and very rough surface we damaged and bent the rear beam in the car to the point where some bolts unwound loose: ultimately only one bolt was holding the rear beam into the chassis and we had to try to repair it. The socket that doesn't fit, the angle you can't quite get... we did our best to try and fix it and thankfully it only just got us through the last stage. Understanding of such things is vital, if whe hadn't tried to fix the car on the road section we wouldn't have got to the end of the rally. Knowing the car is crucial, both in terms of on-event repairs in between stages but also when You want to set up the car. It's important to know what you can change, what you are doing, what effect that will have on the car and why. I think that is really important so we do whatever we can and now that I have some time I plan to spend some more days in the workshop helping to prepare the car, for my own knowledge and benefit.
You said this season might possibly be the one where You learned the most in your career so far. You have come a long way since your debut, also going through the WRC academy. What are the differences between being in such a one-make series as opposed to having a team of your own, where you all work together but where you can also speak your mind and plan the work ahead. And what, if any, of this work do you do?
I guess the year in the Pirelli WRC Academy was an incredible learning experience; this year has been different as a whole group of different stakeholders have come together to make this season happen. Working with United Business and a whole lot of sponsors, supporters and stakeholders coming from different areas is demanding; you are working as a team trying to put everything together. There are so many other things to think about: the performance inside the car is one thing but also all the other things which need to happen to make sure everyone gets their value from the year can help to make a career progress. From that point of view it has meant working with all the factors involved in the sport, not just driving.
How important is it to have somebody helping you out, such as a good team and a professional management company? Again, what part of the job do you do and what do you entrust to others?
It has been critical for our progression to try being more professional in the sport, to have a proper management team. Thanks to United Business we've been able to get that step done, and we can now work towards the professional level. It's a commercial sport, not just one person going out there but rather putting a plan together. We have to learn our place in that wheel and how to make the best of it. From my side, I've worked very hard back in Australia to bring my supporters and sponsors together and through United Business we've made that a plan for the European Championship. I work with United Business to make plans for the events, it is then my responsibility to get out and do my job.
What does it feel like to have won the first edition of the FIA ERC Ladies' Trophy? How was your season, in terms of the relationship with your main opponents and what feedback are You getting from Australia? I imagine that an Australian girl becoming Europaen Rally Champion must attract attention?
Winning the championship was our goal coming into the season and we are really excited to have been able to achieve it. In some events we've had quite a lot of competition, which has been really good. With Ekaterina Stratieva we get on really well; many people were joking and trying to instigate some sort of girl catfight but it was really friendly and we very much enjoyed the competition. I'm quite surprised by the feedback from Australia, there's been a good reaction. We get quite a lot of support in every rally we do but particularly after Croatia when we sealed the championship I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of congratulations and the involvement of local media. Many people told me they'd heard me on news announcements of radio stations, it was much more than I'd expected.
Croatia was the first time you had a team mate, and a fellow countryman too. What was it like?
It was good to have some company and not being the only Aussie out there. They're great guys and we'd competed with them before this year. It was good to have them over and I think they really loved the experience. I remember when I first came over to Europe without knowing anybody, I was trying to start up, get a team organised, meet people.. it was nice to be in the position to help someone else to come along, hopefully they'll be back.
Last but not least, one more word on the support you can get from management companies. They can do a lot for you but ultimately you have to deliver with the driving. What can they take off your back and how can they help you to progress?
If you want to be viewed as a professional rally driver, I think you have to act in that way. Having a third party, a management company to take care of the organization, the direction, the strategic thinking about the future, deciding which rallies are going to be beneficial and why. All that side, the decision making process and looking ahead is where they really help. Also, acting as a representative on your behalf is useful when dealing with commercial partners, manufacturers, supporters. Everything has got to be dealt with at a professional level, and just as a driver it is not enough. You need to have the full package, and it is very hard for just one person. Ultimately our job is to get out and do the driving but we really see the help we get from a company like United Business.