After a fine first day in the Monster World Rally Team yesterday, American driver Ken Block retired from Rally Mexico when he went off the road on the first stage on Saturday morning.
Q. What happened this morning?
Ken Block: Basically, it was a novice note-making error. I had a corner that was pretty quick into a much tighter hairpin. The transition between the two corners was a steep decline and the grip on that decline changed; there was really loose gravel. I was moving and things were going well, and I did all I could to get the car turned into that corner, but we couldn't make it and the car ran wide into a bank.
Q. What broke on the car?
KB: A front wheel and the control arm. It wasn't a really bad impact, but we just couldn't keep going.
Q. Could you actually move the car?
KB: Nah, believe me I tried! I burned out the clutch trying. The thing is that this car's so fast, it's taking me a little while to understand what I need to do with my notes. I have simplified the information which Alex [Gelsomino, co-driver] is delivering. Instead of saying: 'Stay in', we're just using 'in'. And before we had 'small cut', 'cut' and 'big cut' and now we just have 'cut.' Things come so much faster in this car and Alex has to make sure that he's getting everything out in time.
This just happened to be a corner that the exit speed from the corner before was higher than I had realized on the recce. It was just a really tricky situation. I should have cautioned it, but I didn't. For me, it's part of the process of learning this car. It's unfortunate, but I've got to come away from here taking it as a learning lesson and be smart about it. I've learned a lot this weekend and that's just one more thing.
It's really unfortunate that it happened on the first stage of the day, on the biggest day of the rally. I'm missing out on a lot of miles, but there's nothing I can do about it. When I went out, after 23 kilometers, I was only six seconds off Jari-Matti [Latvala], so I'm really happy with that and the speed I'm getting up to in the car. I have the rest of the season to work on that speed. But I'm more than happy with where I am in terms of speed right now.
Q. Are you surprised how quickly you've got to grips with the car?
KB: Yes I am. But the thing is, I love speed in rally. It's what I enjoy and that stage [SS10] had a lot of quicker stuff in it. I don't have any problem with a lot of commitment on most types of stages, that's what's really fun for me. I knew in general, with the faster car and the type of setup, I knew it would work for me, I just didn't know at what level. And so I was able to learn the car faster than I thought, but it's these little things – like driving on the loose on the hard tires – that I have to learn.
Q. Turkey is your next event: it's going to be much narrower and twistier. Given your commitment in the high-speed corners, how will you fare in the technical stuff?
KB: I think it will be tough. Obviously I don't know the roads, they've never been used before. But that's one of the areas where I am struggling most right now, is getting the braking right in the tighter stuff and getting the car to rotate exactly how I want on the tighter stuff.
I felt a lot better today than yesterday. I'm still coming from the Group N car with the active diffs, where you keep your foot flat on the gas and then modulate with the steering and the brake. Trying to do that with this car, it doesn't work. I've felt better today, adjusting my style, but I'm still not 100 percent comfortable.
The biggest problem for me is being patient exiting the corner. I want to carry speed into the corner and get on the throttle early, but this car has so much torque that it's spinning the wheels so fast. I've been timid learning that, but today is better.
Q. Do you have a test before Turkey?
KB: We're not sure. We're still trying to figure that out. I hope so, but if we don't I know we have several other tests through the year. We expected a good test before this event and then a good amount of time in the car here and that would help us flow into the year. We might have to re-evaluate that now.
Q. What's your next big test in the WRC?
KB: Getting ready for the tarmac.
Q. Have you ever competed on asphalt?
KB: Yeah, we have two rallies in America on tarmac. I've done one of them twice and won it both times. The competition on this event is lower than Rally America. I felt pretty comfortable on that event, but I know the margin for error is a lot smaller on tarmac, so I'm definitely going to be easing into my first tarmac rally.
Q. Are any of the other drivers helping you out?
KB: Jari-Matti [Latvala] has been probably the most helpful, Matthew [Wilson] as well. In fact, Matthew sat with me at my only test in the UK. Those guys have been really helpful, I think everybody has been very happy to see me here and helped me a lot.
Q. How did you sleep on Thursday night?
KB: I was nervous! My first time in a World Rally Car at this level, I was nervous. But, luckily, the way I had set this deal up, I knew my future did not depend on this event, so there wasn't so much pressure on me that I have to perform on this event. This is a development year and we're working into the speed.
Yesterday worked out pretty well and I had a pretty good day. I was sitting eighth for a while, but then we hit the rock in the middle of the road and the engine died. I was pushing every button I could think of and in the end I reset the master switch and it fired up, but we lost a minute. That was really disappointing because our times was one tenth of a second off Matthew on the stage before and that stage was going really well, so I was disappointed. But, you know what, hey this event has gone better than I expected – I thought I would be in last place!