Jan Kopecky won the SATA Rally Açores, but once again, many eyes were watching the progress and performance of former Formula 1 ace, Robert Kubica. For a good reason – he was once again quick, and looked in a very good shape to challenge for the victory. Kubica already experienced this, being fast from the start, only to end up in a bitter disappointment because of a small mistake. So he was a bit more cautious this time around – when fog and rain came down in special stage 8, Kubica lifted, losing over a minute, but keeping himself out of trouble.
For a true racer, however, lifting is not an option. As the weather improved ever so slightly, Robert looked set for a chase. However, on special stage 11, mistake in judgement of car’s behaviour led to a slide and a roll. Luckily for Kubica and his fans, Citroën is THE car to roll and crash in, if you’re thinking of moving on.
Up until now, few people probably had doubts in Kubica’s ability to push the more experienced rally drivers to their limits. Such doubts should be long dead by now. But, there is a fine line separating those who are able to push, and those who are also able to reach the finish ramp in top positions and score points. For Robert Kubica, things are somewhere in the middle, I believe. Sure, mistakes he is making might be small, but eventually end up being costly – there aren’t many cheap escapes at stage winning speeds.
The fact that Robert decided to compete in, basically, top class means he is also supposed to command some serious experience on stages. Because there are countless possible scenarios and conditions out on the stages, if you commit to entire season of ERC & WRC. And some conditions will combine with specific surface or stage configuration, creating an environment Kubica never experienced before. To take your RRC car to such stages and drive flat out, means you will, sooner or later, run into a situation which will force you wide in a corner or push you into big understeer, basically, car will bite back.
Only way to learn the difference between pushing hard and pushing too hard is to push too hard and make a mistake – there is no other way! It’s what you do with the knowledge you acquire – some learn and build their skills further, some keep crashing. I still firmly believe that rally drivers need to learn and evolve and grow – they are not born champions, they are not blessed by unimaginable amount of good (or bad) luck, and their cars are not trying to kill them. It’s about taming your inner beast and using all the tricks you have in order to channel that beast’s energy into speed. Let beast off the leash, and you have a driver that is fast, spectacular, and in the ditch more often than not.
Kubica impressed everyone so far this year – pretty sure about that. We will see what he makes out of it – there is plenty of work ahead of him. He opted for fastest car, and the learning curve is going to be steep at times.
But what’s the best thing about Robert’s approach to rally? He’s aware of all this and more – he knows, all he needs is a bit more time.
Oh, by the way, do you think rally drivers are learning valuable lessons from this newbie? I bet!