We’re at number seven of my top 10 personal highlights from my time in rallying, and this time it’s a driver who I’m focusing on: Robert Kubica.
Let me explain why.
Well, isn’t Facebook Memories a wonderful thing? I was already as good as back on the enchanting island of Sardinia following my colleague David Evans’ wonderful musings on DirtFish about Rally Italy glories from yesteryear this week when who should pop into my Facebook feed? None other than the mercurial Kubica.
Now, why I hear you ask, does Kubica take me back to Sardinia?
Well it’s very simple really. Sardinia 2013 is the one and only time I’ve ever been asked for a selfie with a bona fide Formula 1 race winner. And to this day, no one believes that it was Robert who asked me for the selfie.
But I know the story and I’m very happy to share it with you here. Oh, and in the process, take a fair share of credit for Kubica’s WRC2 championship win that year.
Before I delve into that particular story, indulge me and allow me to tell you a little of what I learned about Poland’s greatest ever motor racing star.
My first encounter with Kubica was at Rally Portugal in 2013 and to be honest I had no idea what to expect. I obviously knew that he’d had an enormously promising career in F1 seemingly cut short by that horrific accident on the Ronde di Andora two years previously but I knew precious little about the man himself.
And to be honest, my experiences with F1 and MotoGP stars in previous years had given me a somewhat tainted view on the Gods from ’roundy roundy racing’.
Kimi Räikkönen barely grunted responses to my questions at stage ends during his time in the World Rally Championship and once came perilously close to taking my fingers off on a freezing Sunday morning in Sweden.
And during Valentino Rossi’s WRC cameo he surrounded himself with PR men so high on their own oxygen that you’d have been forgiven for thinking that they’d been brought to Rally New Zealand to help fill the gaping hole in the ozone layer.
As it turned out, both our circuit champs were actually very decent blokes who, in my view, had developed a healthy dose of media cynicism borne out of many years of dealing with predatory tabloid journos. Or maybe they genuinely just didn’t like us media types – I don’t know!
So I really didn’t know what to expect at the official WRC2 test for Rally Portugal that year. Kubica was making his debut in the championship in a Citroën DS3 RRC – effectively a detuned World Rally Car.
And although he wasn’t officially part of the Citroën factory team we’d been warned by the Citroën PR machine that under no circumstances were we to approach Kubica for interviews. As you can imagine, this only added to my somewhat skeptical view about F1 stars crossing over to rallying.
What you have to remember is that we were testing on the Monday before the event had even started. Monday tests are generally very relaxed affairs with little or no media presence and maybe up to 20 cars taking part. It’s a great opportunity to talk to drivers in more relaxed, less frantic, environments.
Anyway I did as instructed and kept my distance from Kubica’s impressive service set-up. But curiosity got the better of me and at lunchtime my cameraman and I wandered over to have a closer look at Kubica’s shiny, what looked like tinfoil-covered, car .
And then an opportunity not to be ignored presented itself. As I was admiring the car, and my reflection in the mirror like livery, Kubica wandered across. Now, what do I do? I have a microphone, a cameraman and a thousand questions to ask. But in the back of my mind there’s a screaming angry French PR person yelling “NO questions!”
But that was only in the back of my mind, none of the PRs had bothered to turn up and this was a gilt-edged opportunity for a proper scoop. Still I’d been told not to and I’m normally very respectful of PR requests. “Oui, Non, Oui, Non.” I was having one hell of an internal battle with myself.
Then the decision was taken out of my hands. Kubica strolled over and said hello. I was a little taken aback and stuttered over an introduction: “I’m Colin from Rally Radio”.
“No need to introduce yourself, I know exactly who you are, I listen to Rally Radio all the time,” Kubica replied.
And with that, my inbuilt mistrust of all things F1 vanished. As it turned out, Robert spent many hours during his immediate convalescence from his accident following the WRC with our radio coverage.
So I got my interview and that was very much the start of a great relationship I had with Kubica.
And as I got to know him better I began to understand just how much of a very special person he was.
Here’s the thing. Kubica is a disabled driver, but you’ll never hear him say that or complain about it. His horrific injury to his right forearm would have been enough to end any thoughts of any kind of future motorsport career for the vast majority of drivers.
But not Kubica.
He looked it as a challenge. Never a disability, he only ever referred to it as a limitation. And limitations can be overcome. But only with the most determined, tenacious, single minded approach.
And that was Kubica.
Even in that first interview he talked about rallying being a stepping stone on his journey back to F1. I’ll admit that I wasn’t convinced that would ever happen. It seemed back in those early days of his comeback that the top level of world motorsport was sadly unattainable for the compromised Kubica.
But with Kubica you very quickly understood that he didn’t say or do anything just for show. When you listened to him talk you knew he firmly believed what he was saying. Being positive, we’re told, is a crucial part of recovery from adversity. And quite often the positivity we see is sadly just a crutch to help someone through the difficult process.
But that was never the case with Robert. His belief in his recovery, his talents, his skills and his destiny burned fiercely and was blindingly obvious to all who were privileged enough to spend time with him.
Kubica knew he would one day make it back to F1. But before that he had to prove himself to the watching world and win in the WRC.
But to do that, he need a wee bit of help from little old me!
So back to the selfie story. Robert didn’t win in Portugal, but he did take his first WRC2 victory a couple of rallies later in Greece.
Following the post event press conference I just had to get a selfie with my new favorite driver in the championship and being the very decent sort of chap that he his, Kubica happily obliged.
And so this story eventually gets back to Sardinia, the next round of that year’s WRC. Kubica wins again and I’m sitting at the back of the press room enjoying the post event press conference.
As Robert strolls by still clutching his magnum of champagne, he turns and asks me: “Hey Colin, how about a selfie?” Well absolutely, why not! So, grinning like a Cheshire cat and clutching the bottle of bubbly which I’ve now decided is mine, me and my new mate Bobby K pose triumphantly for the camera.
And it turns out there’s a reason for this little scenario that played out in the press room in Sardinia. Kubica is a bit of a creature of habit and has one or two interesting superstitions. Winning processes are to be repeated and I’d just become a very small part of that winning process.
A selfie with me after a victory press conference would obviously lead to another winning press conference at the following rally. Who knew that winning in rallying was really that simple?
Anyway, Kubica went on to win a further three events that year on his way to the WRC2 title and after each winning presser we continued the ritual with our cheesy selfies. So you can now see how I justifiably claim a smidgen of credit for his championship winning year.
And if Ott, or Seb or Thierry happen to be reading this and realize that I am in fact the missing element in their quest for glory this year, then I’m very happy to test my winning theory with any or all of you.
Anyway, I really could go on writing about Robert Kubica for hours but maybe I’ll save that for another day.
Kubica makes my list because it was a genuine joy and a pleasure to get to know the man. We overuse the words ‘hero’ and ‘inspiration’ in motorsport but there is no person competing today who deserves them more.