For any driver or co-driver, winning a round of the World Rally Championship in your home country is a feeling bettered only by winning the WRC title itself. But for Martijn Wydaeghe, the feeling of satisfaction is amplified.
His victory alongside Thierry Neuville on the Ypres Rally is his very first at world level, having only joined the cockpit of Neville’s Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC at the start of 2021, and Ypres truly is his home.
But just how is the WRC’s newest rally winner feeling? David Evans and Colin Clark had a chat with him to find out exactly that.
If anyone right now is living the dream it’s you, many congratulations. Tell us about the emotions you’re feeling just now?
“It’s so hard to describe what is going on at the moment. To be honest it’s hard to realize what we have done this weekend, it will take some time I think before I start to realize what we have done.
“It has been a roller-coaster since Monte Carlo until now, and we knew that we were able to do it as we proved already in the previous rallies that we were on it. So coming here in Ypres with all the support of the Belgian fans just gives an extra boost to do well, and I’m so happy that we could give some good show to them and I’m sure a lot of fans will have a big fan this evening.”
Tell us about your early memories of this rally.
“I came here first when I was eight years old, so it was still the time of the Corolla WRC cars and Pieter Tsjoen for example as a Belgian top driver. Later on, the Super 1600s were something that were quite impressive because you had a lot of noise in the car and it was nice to see, and then I first competed here in 2013 with a gentleman driver.
“So it was good for the first experience, and later on I came back with Chewon Lim and Hyundai Motorsport, and then with [Guillame] de Mevius in 2018 was the last time that I competed here. But this is something else. This is a different step, a different world, a different car. It’s much better.”
Are there any roads up in Ypres that you would have driven on for normal road use?
“No, I was living with my parents 15 minutes away from Ypres, but I was always there with my bicycle because I did some competition before in cycling. And it was always my favorite training over there, with the Kemmelberg on the cobblestones.
“I know it in all the race, and I must say that with the rally car it’s a little bit more easy than the bicycle, but also much faster. Being on that road is so fast with the WRC cars, it’s incredible to still do it with this 2017-spec car because I think it’s quite spectacular to see us on the stages.”
How much of a dream is it for you to be in this position? You could never have expected to win a round of the WRC in your home town?
“I must say since Monte Carlo my life changed quite a lot, and I’m quite lucky that Ypres is in the WRC this year so everything comes together in one year. It’s just amazing.
We pushed ourselves a lot to be at the level together and it's thanks to Thierry and his calmness that we are here nowMartijn Wydaeghe
“I see a lot of people that I know even behind you now and it’s a special feeling and being here with Thierry it’s something I dreamed about for many years, and I’m happy that I achieved this.”
It’s been such a baptism of fire for you and Thierry, issues in the first rally or two but it’s been a remarkable partnership. Quite unexpected the way it’s gelled together?
“Yeah I think it’s just the approach of Thierry since the beginning of the season that has made it possible to make it work so quickly. He knew that he was in a very difficult situation at Monte Carlo Rally, changing [co-driver] so last minute without even testing was difficult but he was open for it, he was there to support me all the time, the team was there to support us, we gave it a go.
“Immediately [we were on] the podium so I think that was already quite important to set the start of our cooperation and we kept working every day, every single day, we were working a lot. We pushed ourselves a lot to be at the level together and it’s thanks to Thierry and his calmness that we are here now.”
He says the same about you, he says he’s happy in the car with you. It’s a relationship that works together isn’t it?
“Yeah of course. I think we have the same approach, we have a bit the same personality, only the best is good enough and we are quite easy people to handle. And if you have the same goal it doesn’t matter, you just go for it, you let it work even when it was very hard in the beginning.
“But look, our first victory back in the game for the championship, yeah it could not have been better I think.”
You lost your first win on the Safari, it hurt a lot, but is this the next best to win here?
“Yeah, for sure. For me, personally the losing in Kenya was very hard to accept. Thierry had much more experience with this kind of thing, for me being that close for the first victory, it was really hard and it took me two or three days to turn the page.
“But then we turn it, we started to prepare for Estonia where we got the fifth podium of the season, and then it was immediately on Sunday, even on the Sunday evening from Estonia I started to prepare already my schedule for Ypres on the flight home.
“From then on, it was full focus on this because we knew it would be a tough one, really tricky conditions, a lot of pressure. And yeah, we made it. It’s a good one to forget Kenya, for sure.”
Did you ever imagine your dog would accompany your first WRC win?
“My dog is a little bit the topic of the weekend. We have had it for only three weeks, it’s nice to take care of Ordiel [the dog’s name] and also for my girlfriend.
“It’s really nice because I’m not that often at home and now we have a new family member to take care of. It gives an extra joy in life, and for sure we will celebrate together, also with Ordiel.”
You’ll have a little celebration this evening we’re sure. You are from Ypres, tell us what it’s going to be like to go back to Ypres as winner of the rally?
“First of all I need to get back to the hotel. We had a bet with Thierry since actually after Monte Carlo when we get the first victory, I should drink some alcohol because in six years I haven’t drunk alcohol because I wanted to sacrifice everything to be at this level and to achieve and make a career in rally.
“So now we deserve it, and for sure we have a drink together this evening. Going back home I’m sure a lot of people will be proud of this and I can’t wait to give my special helmet a good place, it will be very wonderful in our house. I’m looking forward to that.”