Mads Østberg says winning Rally Hungary, the final round of this year’s European Rally Championship, was critical for his future involvement in rallying.
Had he not been competitive, the Norwegian would have considered stepping back from competition altogether.
Østberg has endured a difficult season in the ERC with various problems stunting his speed, so returning to the top step of the podium on the final round was deeply gratifying.
“It was really important, to be honest I think for everyone involved because we had a difficult year, we had so many troubles and it was not the intention we had of course at the beginning of the year,” Østberg told DirtFish.
“It’s always hard, even if you know you are retiring from a rally with a broken driveshaft or two rallies with a broken driveshaft, I know there is nothing I can do about it but it’s never a good feeling for a driver anyway – for the confidence, for the feeling, to have these type of rallies.
“It was very crucial for me and for the team and for my co-driver [Patrik Barth] as well to have this type of result to prove ourselves a little bit and see that we can still enjoy this game and we can still be competitive in the game.
“That’s finally why we do rallies – we want to have fun, and I don’t have fun when I’m not competing on the top.
“So I might as well not do it anymore if I’m not able to do that, but I think this result was important in many ways for that.”
Østberg, a one-time World Rally Championship event winner with 17 further podiums, is no longer chasing a factory drive in the WRC and instead only rallies on his own terms.
That’s why feeling competitive and ultimately enjoying himself in Hungary was so “critical” for his future.
If I see that I can't be where I want to be anymore, basically I won't do it anymore. It's as simple as that
“I have done rally for a long time now and I know that I’m not a young talent anymore, and I have achieved quite a lot in the game,” Østberg explained.
“Actually a lot of my dreams have come true, so I’m not stretching or reaching or fighting to get into a factory Rally1 car.
“I’m here to enjoy, to be competitive and to have fun and I would probably be the first one if I see that I can’t be where I want to be anymore, basically I won’t do it anymore. It’s as simple as that.
“But I still have great sponsors and I’m able to get good contracts and I’m able to stay in the game, and in the respect of them I need to be competitive and in respect of myself and my family it needs to be worth travelling to all these countries and play.
“Finally it’s what it is – we’re there to enjoy, to entertain, to have fun. And if I don’t have fun, there is no point.
“But I do have fun, I do enjoy it. I did do Rally Hungary with a big smile on my face all through the rally, so in that sense I think it was quite critical for, let’s say, our future.”
Østberg has therefore reached a nice place in his career, where he is at peace with everything he has already achieved. He still has the desire to do more in a rally car, but anything else that comes is a bonus.
“I think that’s a perfect reflection of it, because I’ve probably never been in a better place as a rally driver,” he said.
“I’m not saying I’m better now than I used to be, but mentally I am in a much better place because I’m not on that hunt, every day, every night. I can actually sleep at night now – I can go to bed without worrying.
“It’s hard to be there on the top all the time, it’s a big long fight and now I’m much more relaxed. I have agreed with myself that my motivation is to do what I love but to enjoy it, and if I don’t enjoy it my motivation and my… let’s say I have to enjoy basically.
“If I don’t, I don’t have to do it. I do enjoy – that’s what I learned, I would say, this weekend. I’ve learned through the year of course as well I do enjoy what I do and I do appreciate what I do because I’m in a very good position where I’m able to make good deals and I have a strong group of people around me who are there for the same reason.
“We want to have fun together, we want to have a good project, we want to come forward and present ourselves in a good way.
“That’s what we want to do and we’re all on that same level.”
Østberg’s tactics paid off in Hungary
For most of last weekend’s Rally Hungary, local driver Miklós Csomós looked to have victory in the bag.
Establishing a lead after SS2, the first proper stage of the rally, the Škoda driver was 14.5 seconds clear by the midday service halt and built on that throughout the afternoon.
That meant that even when he got a puncture on Sunday morning, Csomós was still able to hold the lead – albeit helped by the fact Østberg’s Citroën also collected a flat.
But on the very next stage, the penultimate test of the entire event, Csomós ran wide and crashed into a tree – paving Østberg’s path clear to victory.
It wasn’t an inherited win for Østberg though, who aced his tactics throughout the entire event after dropping time on the first loop.
“I damaged the car on the first stage of the rally,” he revealed. “I had a big impact with a rock and we actually bent the whole front subframe, so we were doing the first three stages with the wheel angles just completely out.
“We broke as well the rear roll bar, so the car was quite difficult to handle at the beginning of the rally, we lost quite a lot of time then. Let’s say a big part of the time loss was coming on Saturday morning, and as soon as we got things back together we were at least almost matching Mixi and beating him sometimes on some stages.
“We saw at that point that the only thing we can do is to keep the pressure [on him], and we knew that the second pass of the long stage on Saturday and the long stage on Sunday, things will happen.
“It could happen to us as well but it will happen to someone, and of course it did happen to us – we had a puncture but so did Mixi, he actually went off the road as well.
“So we knew that we had to keep the pressure, and I knew him – I know that he wants to win all the stages, and if we can interfere with that it will get into his mind.
“Let’s say we were keeping a high pressure, but at the same time we were trying to look after our third position in the championship.
“But I think we got to a point where we saw that, OK, we have at least a wheel change in the pot – even if we stop and change the wheel we will still get third position in the championship – so that’s when we maybe increased a bit more.
“The pressure was there for Mixi and you never want something like that to happen, but there is a reason why we are putting pressure – it’s to try and force a mistake because it’s the only way we could catch him.”
The win was Østberg’s second in the ERC, and his second successive success on Rally Hungary.