Probability is a fickle thing. Sometimes you’re dealt a winning hand from the off, sometimes the cards don’t fall your way. Rallying is a series of fine margins, of what ifs, of good fortune and bad luck.
“That’s rally,” many a driver has said after a turn for the worse has befallen them. You win some, you lose some. Take it on the chin and move on; brighter days are ahead. Right?
This story is not about winning. It’s about losing. It’s not about succeeding through adversity. That’s the hard reality of an against-the-odds story: for every fairytale ending, there’s a dozen where the same amount of hard graft didn’t pay off. Not yet, at least.
Sindre Furuseth drives rally cars quite rapidly. He might also smash mirrors and walk under ladders in his spare time – I didn’t think to ask – but I feel it’s safe to assume he must have done at some point. You’ll soon understand why.
Furuseth, a 27-year-old rally driver from Norway, has been trying to break into the Rally2 scene for a little while now. When Sindre’s piggy bank has some cash reserves, you’ll see him in the European Rally Championship’s ERC3 Junior category.
That piggy bank was fairly empty last year. His one appearance in the series ended among some trees on the island of Gran Canaria, his rented Peugeot 208 Rally4 stuck in the mud. A pipe in an adjacent field had burst open, spilling water onto the downhill braking zone after a blind crest. Not a pleasant surprise for any driver.
His rival for victory that weekend, Pep Bassas, went off on the same corner for the same reason but instead clattered a barrier and continued, minus a door and a tire. Same drama, different outcome.
Two identical cars facing the same problem in the same place, a minute apart. Probability suggests it should have been about a 50/50 chance for either driver to end up getting the short straw. But between another driver and Furuseth, it always rains on him. Always.
On the face of it, Furuseth’s retirement on the Canary Islands Rally, last year’s ERC season finale, was a mere footnote in last year’s curtailed season of rallying. But in truth it was a question of what might have been. As was his 2019 campaign. And his 2018 campaign.
“The plan was to win Canarias, to beat everyone in the 2020 ERC campaign, just to show that my level in 2019 was higher,” explains Furuseth.
“But we didn’t manage to do that, and this is my disappointment really. I don’t really care about the off or the crash but I was disappointed not to be leading by day one.”
Furuseth had turned up in Spain to prove a point. It was about vengeance for 2019. The title that went away and cost him the chance of a Rally2 prize drive to move only a couple of steps away from the World Rally Championship.
There were hints pre-2019 that suggested Furuseth was going to be a driver to keep an eye on. He finished as runner-up in the British Rally Championship’s Junior category in 2016, piloting a Renault Twingo that wasn’t really a match for the top R2s like the Ford Fiesta, Peugeot 208 and Vauxhall Adam. And he did it as a self-run privateer, albeit with a helping hand from Matt Beebe and his workshop in Coventry.
That quite successful season in the little Twingo – and getting beaten to the title by an Adam – inspired Furuseth and his motley crew to grab an Adam of their own and run it themselves. Come 2018 they showed up mid-season in the ERC3 Junior category, taking on a dominant works Opel team that was in the midst of a four-in-a-row title run.
Furuseth immediately raised eyebrows on his series debut at Rally di Roma by going second fastest on the infamous Pico stage first thing on Saturday morning. And while he couldn’t resist the charge of works Opel driver Mārtiņš Sesks, he held the other one, 2020 Junior WRC Champion Tom Kristensson, at bay to run second.
But all was not well with the privateer Adam.
“We started out in Rome with a freshly built engine, we did everything by the book, and just when we arrived in Rome and we started to do some kilometers, we see there’s an oil leak. We don’t know where it’s coming from,” says Furuseth.
“We crossed our fingers we could get to the finish. We had full power in the engine and everything was OK but in the end, we used so much oil that it was impossible for us to get around one loop. In the end, we used more oil than we used petrol!”
With over half a minute in hand over Kristensson in third, Furuseth was forced to park up with one stage left in the second loop. But a marker had been laid down; he could run with the works cars with less resources, and despite the works cars having a secret ace up their sleeves.
“There has been some rumors, and I’ve had some confirmations, that the Opel factory team in the glory days ran a different engine mapping and had shorter intervals between their engine rebuilds than it was possible for a customer car to do. The result is that they produced more horsepower; maybe not a lot, but some.”
That disparity in resources came to the fore one round later on Barum Rally Zlin. A decent start left him 2.2s off the lead after the night-time superspecial in central Zlin, but that quickly became undone on the next stage, retiring with suspension failure first thing on Saturday morning after landing from a small jump.
The reason for that failure highlighted the pitfalls of being a self-run privateer instead of a works driver.
In our philosophy and how we work, there is no good luck and bad luck. You create your own luckSindre Furuseth
“We had a suspension part that broke in half during this bump. We didn’t have exact kilometers on this part, and this was the mistake. We thought it was a lot newer than it actually was when we analyzed what happened afterward. This of course should have been new before this rally and it wasn’t, and this was a mistake in the logging.
“This is maybe the downside of running a privately-owned team. With limited resources, it’s a huge amount of work on a few people.
“When you run privately and don’t have the budget to run the whole ERC, probably you run one more rally than you can afford and try to save something on parts and something like that. It was a calculated risk, but it didn’t work out.”
It somehow got worse from there. Furuseth returned the next day under SuperRally, after a full suspension rebuild, only to retire on the first stage of leg two. A driveshaft fell out after hitting a bump, an unlikely coincidence of steering angle, the percentage of throttle input and impact of the bump combining to bend the hub. It was, as Furuseth puts it, “a series of unlucky circumstances”.
“This Barum Rally in total was about 17 kilometers or something, including the Friday spectator stage in Zlin. It was a disaster.
“It was by far the most expensive 17km I’ve ever done and hopefully ever will do in my life!”
His season ended on Rally Liepaja much the same way his ERC campaign that year had begun, with an engine failure while running third. This time the oil leak was caused by a broken seal in the engine.
Season over: three times running in the podium places, three mechanical retirements. Something had to change.
“I said after a series of disappointments in 2018 that ‘OK, this year has been so expensive, we’ve only done two rallies, for this amount of money we could hire ourself into a bigger team and do more rallies’. So that’s why we tried to do that for the next year.
“We were not that many guys but we had a great package. It was me, my co-driver, and my coach, and some other mechanics came with us to the rallies, and we thought we could do this with our own team and save some money compared to renting ourselves into a bigger team. But in the end, with the faults, and looking back at it, it wasn’t that much cheaper now!”
Not running his own team unlocked the possibility of being a title contender. With less to worry about, he could focus on driving. And, hopefully, his car not breaking down on every rally.
“The biggest difference was the amount of planning ahead of a rally. Doing ERC rallies is a lot of logistics and planning just to get there and go through the rally.
“All this amount of energy I could now use on driving faster, looking at the stages and preparing for a better performance rather than ordering freight tickets, flight tickets and plan everything down to the minute with my own team. So this was the biggest difference in the beginning.”
It worked. A second place on Azores Rally was a strong start in a new car, having switched to a Peugeot 208 R2 prepared by crack squad Saintéloc Racing. It could have been better – running the same set-up in both the dry and the wet through lack of familiarity meant he lost out to eventual ERC3 Junior Champion that year and Saintéloc stablemate Efrén Llarena.
More second places followed in Latvia and Poland, though another second had looked on the cards in round two in the Canary Islands before his rear brakes jammed and forced him to retire.
So, lots of second places, but no wins. Not winning was becoming a trend. And it was starting to irk Furuseth. He couldn’t see a way to change that outcome, for a very specific reason.
“In Canarias, we were fighting for the lead with Jean-Baptiste Franceschi, and we were ahead of everyone else. This Ford Fiesta, the 2019 edition, was a different edition than the old R2T. It developed over 200bhp plus almost 300Nm torque,” explains Furuseth.
“The Canarias Rally was the first experience for me where we did an almost perfect stage, and we were 10 seconds behind Franceschi. That’s when I thought, I hope Franceschi will not do the whole championship, because then it will be very difficult for us.”
Instead of Franceschi, it was Ken Torn who emerged as a thorn in Furuseth’s side. Torn, who had been drafted into the Orsák Rally Sport line-up thanks to M-Sport backing on a rally-by-rally basis, kept on winning with the brand new car. The 208 R2 had been around since 2012 and simply couldn’t keep up.
It’s easy to dismiss Furuseth’s complaints about car advantage as covering up a driving deficiency. But on reflection, he has a point. These days the 208 R2 is getting beaten by brand new Rally5-spec cars like the Renault Clio RSR. And Peugeot swiftly launched the 208 Rally4 thereafter to counter M-Sport’s newest offering. It wasn’t an equal fight.
That doesn’t change the fact Llarena, in the same car, got the job done and Furuseth didn’t. Turbo or no turbo, he didn’t beat a driver in the same equipment as him. What’s to blame? Bad luck?
“I don’t want to say that,” retorts Furseth. “In that season I look at myself as a faster driver than him but he was better than me when it counted the most. He only beat me in two rallies, and both these rallies, he won. I beat him in all the other rallies but in those, a Ford was in front of me. If you look at the championship, he was faster than me in the most crucial rallies and he managed to win those and gain points.”
Any hope of moving up the ladder was ended by the COVID-19 pandemic enveloping Europe in March last year. It was time to get creative – how to get to Rally2 for the least amount of money?
He went to the last place you’d expect a Scandinavian to concentrate their rally efforts on – France.
Furuseth was back with Saintéloc, this time with a 208 Rally4, but in the one-make Peugeot 208 Cup. The prize for the champion was a lucrative one: a works-backed drive in a Citroën C3 Rally2 in the following year’s French national championship.
It had worked for the two Sébastiens – Loeb during the 106 era and Ogier in the 206 era – so why not Furuseth?
But by now you know where this is going.
Not very far.
Mont-Blanc Morzine Rally was the opener of what was supposed to be a four-round season. A couple of minutes into his season, hope of securing that Citroën gig had already vanished.
“Five kilometers into the first stage we had a driveshaft break under braking,” explains Furuseth.
“I spoke with my coach and we did nothing wrong. Just braking, a downshift, not a rough downshift, it should not be that hard on the driveshaft but it just snapped. So yes, it was a deja-vu from 2018, and it was a really bad start knowing that there was only four rallies and every rally counted in the championship.”
As another COVID-19 wave crashed over Europe, the remaining three rounds were canceled, leaving the championship a write-off for 2020 and the Citroën prize drive nullified. In the end that disaster in Mont-Blanc mattered little.
Running low on money, cars grinding to a halt when chasing a result, crashes at the wrong time; these are boilerplate tales of rallying. Is this one any different? Perhaps not, though it’s tempting to consider the idea that the universe is truly aligning against Furuseth. Can we really call him the unluckiest driver in the ERC?
“You’re not far off! For me it’s difficult to say this statement myself because in our philosophy and how we work, there is no good luck and bad luck. You create your own luck.
“But there was a series of circumstances during 2019, starting in Latvia with this puncture, where we were leading, and in Poland when we had this slow puncture when we were leading.
“I have a really critical driver coach and he says to me, every time I make a mistake, ‘it’s your fault’. But in these situations, he said, ‘it’s nothing you can do’, so I trust him on that.
“Most unlucky in ERC? I don’t know. But for sure unlucky.”
He’s unlucky, definitely. Should we care? After all, that’s rally.
At first glance, that phrase is a mere throwaway comment. But on reflection, it carries the meaning of a thousand words. Sindre Furuseth and his fellow mirror-smashers are the ones giving it meaning. Every what-if, every what-might-have-been, every if-only, has turned it into universal rally parlance.
Maybe 2021 will be Furuseth’s year. Maybe probability will finally balance out for him this year.
And if it doesn’t? That’s rally.