Mads Østberg has revealed he’s “very tempted” by desert-based rallies and off-road events in the future.
Østberg, the 2020 WRC2 champion and 2012 Rally Portugal winner in the World Rally Championship, is embarking on his first-ever European Rally Championship campaign this year, which begins this weekend on Rally Serras de Fafe.
But his 2023 began with the Qatar International Rally where he finished a close second to 18-time Middle East Rally champion Nasser Al-Attiyah.
Heading onto the final stage, Al-Attiyah led Østberg by just 3.1 seconds while the year before Østberg had led the event before slipping back with a puncture and then retiring with a broken radiator.
Asked if he was disappointed to have missed out on victory in 2023 or proud to have been so close to it, Østberg told DirtFish: “To be honest I’m proud to be that close and I think also it was nice for me to be measured up against Andreas [Mikkelsen] and Emil [Lindholm] as well because it’s been a while since I’ve competed on this type of international rallies with other top drivers from my category.
“I think Nasser is showing how good he actually is in the desert and to be able to keep up with him is… as far as I’m told anyway by the people there, no-one is ever close to Nasser and many different drivers have tried over the last 18 or so years and no-one has been able to fight with him.
“From last year and even this year, to be able to challenge him like that makes me proud but at the same time I want to win rallies, so I need to go back there next year and try again because I have extra knowledge now about the rally and what it takes to win it.
“I can use the small amount of experience I’m building up to probably challenge him again and hopefully win.
“But it was so much fun, I love that type of rally in the desert and I’m very tempted by the desert.
“I think it’s something I don’t know a lot about but I’m sort of looking a bit in that direction as well and to be able then to measure up against Nasser who is the number one in the world on this type of rally, it’s always positive.”
Østberg said he would be interested in both rallies as well as cross-country events in desert-style terrain.
“Of course, I want to go back there to compete in the rally car again which I will probably do next year but it would be interesting to try on other levels as well with maybe more of a cross-country car rather than the rally car.
“I’m for the moment focused on rally no doubt and I know that I have a full season ahead so I need to stay focused on that, but I still remain curious about the desert rallies.”
The driving technique is very different to stage rallying in Europe, and that’s what appeals to Østberg.
“You’re driving with a different approach I would say because you cannot know what you’re doing all the time, the pacenotes are not as accurate as you have in a normal rally where you’re driving on roads, so it’s much more navigation,” he explained.
“You have to make a lot of decisions during the stage which is not pre-planned or you don’t have information about, so you’re sort of driving and making the plan as you go which I find very, very interesting and I like these types of challenges.
“I like to start the stages not knowing exactly what’s going to happen – let the instinct and what feels natural to you happen when something happens, let’s say.
“I just love it. I feel comfortable and a bit scared at the same time which is a good combo I think.
“Doing this type of rally, the adrenalin is so big, I told Nasser and the other guys as well that my adrenaline is pumping so hard that I’m constantly just shaking through the whole stage.
“It’s an amazing feeling.”