Chesterfield’s World Rally Championship driver Rhys Yates will swap his ŠKODA Fabia R5 for a Hyundai i20 R5 ahead of one of the biggest events of his season, next week’s Wales Rally GB.
Rhys has admitted the switch could compromise his performance on his home round of the world series, but in terms of longer-term career strategy, it’s a move that makes complete sense for the 27-year-old.
Rhys starts the Llandudno-based rally looking to capitalise on what’s already been a strong rookie season in the WRC – a season which started with a sensational fourth place in WRC2 at the Monte Carlo Rally.
“I always said this first year in WRC2 was about learning,” said Rhys. “And all through the year I’ve been looking forward to coming home for Rally GB. I have good experience of this event and I really wanted to capitalise, push-on and see what we could do.
“I’m also very aware that the decisions I take right now could have a big impact on my career. I need to make sure I’m in the right car at the right time. I’m absolutely not saying that’s not the ŠKODA, but there are other cars out there and I have to try them.
“All through this year, I’ve been going to new places for the first time: Monte, Sweden, Corsica and the like – they’re all really specific events which require a lot of experience. It was key for me to go there with a car I’m comfortable in, so I took the ŠKODA. When it comes to Wales, I’m more familiar with the terrain, so that makes it a good place to run a new car; better that way than two unknowns having a new car on a new rally.
“I need to broaden my experience of cars. That’s what I’m doing next week.”
Rhys has impressed mightily on his first season in WRC2, scoring points and finishing in the top 10 on four of the five events he has started. He missed points at Rally of Portugal when two punctures in one stage ruined his hopes of more points. The upside of Portugal was the exceptional pace Rhys ended that event with.
“I’m pleased with how the season’s gone so far,” said Rhys. “We’ve learned so much from the variety of rallies, but the pace in Portugal was really good. We were right there with the guys at the front, setting fastest split times on the final day. That’s what this year’s about, that improvement in performance.
“Portugal was the last time we competed on gravel and the end of May’s a long time ago now, but I really feel at home on that surface – especially in Wales.”
This week’s Wales Rally GB is Britain’s biggest motorsport event. Taking in four days of competition which start from Liverpool (on Thursday October 3) and tour around the middle and north of Wales before finishing in Llandudno on Sunday October 6. The rally is among Britain’s biggest spectator events of the year with hundreds of thousands of fans lining the competitive route and even the road sections linking the stages.
“I love Rally GB,” said Rhys. “There’s such a buzz, knowing the world’s come to your place.”
How well do you know the Hyundai?
RY: I did a test in Wales in the summer and straight away I felt comfortable with the car. There were no surprises and I was able to dial it into my driving style pretty quickly.
Obviously I did Gymkhana GRiD in the Hyundai in Poland as well, so that helped build my confidence and understanding of the i20 R5.
What’s possible for Wales?
RY: Like I said, the plan was to push and chase a result, but now it’s a different plan. Now I want the experience. I have to get to the end of the rally to get a real feel for the car. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve picked our stages and we’ll be pushing harder in some target areas just to see what we can do. But everything we’re doing now is working towards next year.
If I was to really go at it, like I would in the Fabia, it’s possible I’ll get caught out. The conditions in Wales can be some of the toughest of the season, with the grip level changing from corner to corner. If I get caught out in the ŠKODA, I’m so familiar with the car I’d know what was coming, but it’s in those on-the-edge moments where your lack of familiarity in a car can catch you out.
How well do you know the stages next week?
RY: Well. Or some of them well. The first stages on Friday, Elsi and Penmachno, I’m not so sure about them, but then into mid-Wales on Saturday and they’re the real beauties. For me it’s going to be a case of playing myself into the car on Friday, then stretching our legs a bit on Saturday on the stages where we’re a bit more familiar.