If there’s an easy barometer for the newsworthiness of an interview with a driver these days, it’s the reaction of the omnipresent PR person.
Increasingly at DirtFish we’re heading out of the World Rally Championship service park and onto the stages to rediscover the freedom of speech. But every now and then needs must and the media zone beckons. Saturday afternoon on Rally México was one such moment.
Cast your mind back and you’ll recall Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville suffering what looked like a repeat of his day one electrical problem. Bonnet up after the weekend opener, the Belgian toiled for what looked like an eternity. Fiddling, pulling, pushing at things. There appeared no solution.
And, for nine minutes, there was no solution. Then? Bingo. Fixed it.
The i20 Coupe WRC fired into life and Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul can breath a sigh of relief. They’re back in it.
And would you look at that… it was fixed just in time to pop in behind Toyota rival Elfyn Evans and ahead of Hyundai team-mate Ott Tänak. Convenient?
You have to get up pretty early to catch Hyundai Motorsport director Andrea Adamo out.
“Yesterday’s technical problem was inconvenient,” he said, speaking on the Saturday evening.
“Today’s technical problem…” he paused. Now, which way would this go? Clam up and say nothing or offer a line between the lines. The latter, with a glint.
“… was convenient. I tell you, not all the s**t comes to damage you.”
With a flourish and a big, wide smile, he added: “He touched the [wiring] loom and it works!”
I offered the above as an explanation to Sébastien Ogier. It’s fair to say the names Ogier and Adamo aren’t installed at the top of each other’s Christmas card list.
The six-time champion, drawing heavily on his Red Bull bottle, stopped and looked, momentarily, like he might choke.
“He said he had a technical problem!” said the six-time champion, exasperated. “They can’t even say the truth, or what? I know what happened. I know the story.”
Justin Neumann, Ogier’s PR person, nearly dropped the umbrella he was holding high to shield the six-time champ from the scorching Mexican sun. In case I hadn’t noticed, this was news.
Neumann’s a complete professional. Not once has he ventured an opinion on whether it might be ‘sensible’ not to run something his man has said. And nor did he this time. As Ogier moved back towards his car, Neumann raised his eyebrows, folded his umbrella, smiled thinly and got on with his day.
What now? Well, the only person to ask was the man most affected by the morning.
Not looking to chuck Neuville beneath the bus, I explained that I’d spoken to his boss, who had talked of a ‘convenient’ technical problem.
Neuville grinned a slightly nervous grin.
“Yeah,” he said. “Electrical.”
Hoping that might be enough, he had a sip from his Red Bull bottle. We weren’t moving.
“Yeah, it was similar to yesterday, but we were able to solve it. We were lucky to be back [in service].
Pause. Game might be up here.
“But in the same time we were really happy to get the advantage of a better road position…”
Seeking a deeper explanation of the electrical problem, Neuville smiled: “Something with the loom.”
“It was the connectors.”
“Which ones?” he laughed. “The blue ones!”
It was around that time Rally Mexico was stopped in its tracks, and connectorgate stopped being important.