*Full-season programme is German’s second in rallying
*Finishing events the priority for 2017
*Wevers Sport ŠKODA awaits former GT racer
Germany’s Albert von Thurn und Taxis is the latest driver to chose the FIA European Rally Championship to build his knowledge and experience of the sport in 2017.
Previously a competitor in the FIA GT1 World Championship, the ERC newcomer and rallying novice is the 12th Prince of Thurn and Taxis, the family credited with the invention of the postal system in Europe.
He will drive a ŠKODA Fabia R5 for Wevers Sport and continue his partnership with experienced Belgian co-driver Bjorn Degandt, which began in 2016 when von Thurn und Taxis embarked on his first full season of competition.
Taking place over eight rounds from April to October with the best six scores counting, the ERC provides a clear path of progression from national level to the world stage. But in addition to being the ultimate training ground for young hopefuls aiming for the top, the oldest international rally series in existence is open to all-comers, meaning age and experience are no barriers to taking part.
Von Thurn and Taxis, a self-confessed rallying fan, intends to cover as many kilometres as possible in order to maximise his experience in 2017.
Where does your interest in motorsport come from?
“Well I’m an absolute petrol head! My first memories of motorsport are from images of Group B rally cars. They got into my head when I was a very little child so you can imagine what that does to a young boy! It’s gone on from there. I always dreamt of driving in rally but the possibilities at the time meant I ended up on the circuit, which I was very happy with and was there for quite a number of years. But now I have decided to switch to a tougher form of motorsport.”
How much experience do you have?
“Very little. Really it’s a bit nuts for me to take part in the European championship with the limited experience I have. I did my first rallies with Bjorn [Degandt] last year, a number of little national events to decide if it made sense to go forward and in what way and in what form. Because this is where I would hope to be in a couple of years, we thought it would actually be sensible to already start gaining experience on an international level in an international format, even if that means approaching it in the most humble way in terms of the result and not being afraid of the odd embarrassment. But to be exposed to those conditions will help me to understand what the level is and to gain experience on the vastly different surfaces, circumstances and territories.”
What has the transition been like from circuit racing to rallying?
“I found it super-difficult to be honest but that’s what makes it an incredible sport. The driving aspect really becomes one of many aspects. There is so much in the preparation, the human level and the communication and the senses involved are much more complex, the way you evaluate the circumstances, the way you decide on situations that occur. The sport is so much more complex than just driving fast that it’s quite overwhelming to be honest but it’s the fulfilment of a dream for me.”
Have you been able to carry over any of the knowledge you gained in circuit racing?
“I feel like I’m starting from scratch, really. For example, I found it much more difficult to drive on asphalt than on gravel [in a rally car] so you can see already the benefit of having driven on a circuit for years seems equal to zero. You have to be able to drive well, that’s a given, but you have to focus and concentrate on all the other things that are going on. The driving is more in the background in the sense it’s a given and the other things become important. Certainly my experience is valuable but it’s very limited in the way I can apply it to this particular sport.”
The very nature of rallying requires drivers to be able to make running repairs. How good are you at being a mechanic?
“That's going to be a weakness because we are both technically unskilled. I have done a couple of tyre changes but that’s all.”
What would represent an achievement this year and what would be considered a disappointment?
“I am quite mathematical about it to be honest. It will depend a little bit on whether the stages are well known to the drivers but I would hope to get under three seconds per kilometre compared to the top times, maybe 2.5s per kilometre. But I cannot have particular hopes for a result because it’s really about learning for me and Bjorn has made that very clear. He doesn’t want me to be pushing, he wants me to be learning. And that’s helpful from his side because it kind of takes the pressure out of the whole thing and we really want to learn as much as possible. The plan is to drive to the end, to take as many kilometres as possible and hopefully not be so slow that we embarrass ourselves.”
The 2017 ERC season opens on the Azores Airlines Rallye from 30 March-1 April.
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