In the lead up to the third round of the FIA WRC Academy at Neste Oil Rally Finland, we caught up with Timo Van Der Marel to get the low-down on his preparations for the ‘Gravel Grand Prix’, his career to date and found out some things you might not have known about the KNAF supported driver.
Q: How long have you been rallying?
A: Since 2007.
Q: What was your first rally car?
A: It was a Mitsubishi Colt.
Q: Which rally would you most like to win and why?
A: This is going to sound like such a cliché, but it has got to be Rally Finland. If you can win there then you’ve proved yourself. It is so difficult to win and everything has to be just right. You can drive flat-out and it comes down to more than just luck – you need to be confident in your driving, your pacenotes and the partnership in the car.
Q: Which driver, past or present, would you most like to compete against and why?
A: When I was younger my favourite driver was Tommi Mäkinen – he made a really big impression on me. I loved his crazy driving style and his Finnish personality. He was great and it would be so much fun to compete against him. Also he is a little older now so I might just have a chance!
Q: What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
A: The best piece of advice I’ve had was given not so long ago actually. It was from Robert Reid and Alex Wurz during one of this year’s FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy sessions. They told us that the most important thing is to have confidence in yourself, in your car and in your co-driver, especially in yourself.
There are so many people around who will tell you that you can always be better, but you just need to stop worrying about all that and have faith in your own ability. I actually used that advice in a rally a few weeks ago [Exotic Green Rally, Holland] – I was full of confidence on the start line and led the class until we were forced to retire on SS11 [the penultimate stage].
Q: What is your most memorable rally moment?
A: Our first World Rally Championship [WRC] event back in 2008. We were driving a Renault Clio in the same class as the Ford Fiesta SportTrophy crews and won on our debut in the WRC. It was a great experience. Our third place in Finland last year was also very special.
Q: What would you do if you weren’t rallying?
A: I play a lot of football and I really enjoy that. But it doesn’t give me the same adrenaline I get from rallying, so it would have to be some other form of motorsport. Maybe not circuit racing, but rallycross or motocross, something like that.
Q: Your father, Jan Van Der Marel, is also a rally driver. How has he helped mould your career?
A: Yes, my father is one of the most famous rally drivers in Holland – he won the Dutch Championship eight times! He, together with my mum, inspired me a lot as they rallied together in the eighties – I didn’t really have an option to do anything else!
I started off as a co-driver and my mum gave me lots of great tips and advice, then when I starting driving, my dad did the same. So I have experience of being a driver and a co-driver which definitely helps – I think every driver should understand how a co-driver works and how much time and effort they put into their job.
Q: What is the most important thing you hope to get out of the FIA WRC Academy this year?
A: Notoriety. The [FIA] WRC Academy is a great platform for the media and potential sponsors to see that we are doing a good job amongst such a competitive field. We’re trying to get a programme together for next year and our goal will be to reach the top-three by the end of the year.
Q: How has your participation in the FIA WRC Academy been received in Holland?
A: Really well. We have support from our national ASN (KNAF) and also from the government’s NSCNSF programme which subsidises Dutch sport all over the world – the Olympics, everything. I am actually the only driver in Holland to have support from the government which is amazing and very rare!
The publicity we have received in Holland could not be better. We will even have a journalist from one of the national newspapers in Germany which will be very good – and the first time a national newspaper has ever run a story like this on such a big scale.
Q: You are leading the Milestone Award league after Greece. Does your knowledge of the WRC 2 Playstation 3 game help you when you come to contest the stages for real?
A: Not so much to learn the stages, but for sure it always helps. I actually have a PlaySeat which helps maintain the movement in the car. I am always working on my fitness, but the gaming certainly helps with improving my reaction time which is so important in rallying. Plus it is really good fun – especially when you can compete against others online.
Q: You are currently 17 points ahead of your position at this stage of the season last year. How has the experience of last year helped you in 2012?
A: We have had the same strategy this year that we had last year – to take no risks through the first few events and make sure we get some good points on the board. Maciej [Woda, FIA WRC Academy Director] has done a fantastic job with the Fiestas this year and they are stronger than ever – especially on the last two events in Portugal and Greece which are two of the roughest on the calendar. We are in a much better position this year than we were last year, and now we can push a little harder to achieve the results we want.
Q: Can we expect to see you on the podium this year?
A: I can’t promise anything, but I hope so! That is certainly our goal and we will be doing everything we can to make it onto the podium again – hopefully in Finland, we’ll try our best!
Q: Have you found the FIA WRC Academy training useful?
A: It has been good – it is always good to learn from others, especially those who are so well known for what they do. Eighty per cent of what we learn, we should already know, but then that extra twenty per cent has been a really big help. Nowhere else would we have the opportunity to get that.
Q: How will you be preparing for the next round in Finland?
A: We competed on the Exotic Green Rally in Holland a few weeks ago. We were back in the Fiesta R2 and worked on improving our set-up with the car. We won’t have the chance to do any extensive [private] testing before the event, but I’ll be watching the onboards from last year and trying to learn the roads and surface as best I can.
We will also have our own recce car in Finland. It is always an advantage to use your own car – you have your trip meter and everything you need and just feel more comfortable. Then, once the recce is complete, we can work on achieving the perfect set-up during the [WRC] Academy test.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS…
Q: Gravel or asphalt?
A: Both, but if I have to chose, gravel.
Q: Twitter or Facebook?
Q: Book or film?
Q: Tea or Coffee?
A: Neither, iced tea.
Q: Where do you live?
A: Leusden in Holland.
Q: What is your favourite food?
Q: What’s your favourite music?
A: Some dance and house music.
Q: What are you scared of?
Q: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
A: I would be a bird because I like to fly everywhere.
Q: Tell us something about your co-driver.
A: He’s tall, intelligent, a great map reader and loves his cat called Focus.
Q: Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
A: The first time my dad put me in the car to drive, I cried because I didn’t want to!
Q: If you were stuck on a desert island, which three items would you take with you?
A: Gravel tyres, fuel and an Escort WRC.
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