Team O’Neil’s Director of Operations, Chuck Long, took some time to chat with instructor and WRC Academy competitor Chris Duplessis before Chris left for Finland last weekend. Here they discuss Chris receiving the Spirit Award in Greece, the differences between competing in the States and oversees, and how the Ford Fiesta R2s hold up on tough stages. Below is Part 1 of the interview – we’ll release the remaining 3 parts over the next couple of days.
TON – It’s been a real busy year for Team O’Neil instructor Chris Duplessis. Chris, you’ve done 2 WRC events, and done all of Rally America events. Did you capture the Rally America 2WD championship after the last event [New England Forest Rally]?
CD – We need to basically finish in Washington, we have the points where no one can catch us. It’s a quick turn-around – basically two weeks from when we get back from Finland
TON – You’ve done Portugal and Greece, and congratulations on getting the Spirit Award in Greece. What does that award signify?
CD – It actually started from the full top-level WRC drivers – I think Ken Block won it once. It was actually the Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally Award and I think it was just to note someone that did something cool. We got it from doing our test in Greece. It was basically a loop and the loop finished and you’d have to drive through town to get back in the service park, and there were two schools there and all these little kids were just pressing against the fence yelling, “Rally! Rally! Rally!” and so one of the times I went by and I gave them all high fives. The next time I went by they had drawings of my car, and the Academy went over and took some pictures, and they decided it was cool that I stopped and acknowledged them and so they decided that that was “good rally spirit”
TON – Is that one of the differences you see between Rally America, or rallying here in the states? The fan base?
CD – Yeah, the fans are insane, and then as far as the other drivers not wanting to stop, I mean it’s big time there, whereas I’m still a young farm kid who goes over and is like, “oh, cool, there are kids at a school!”
TON – So what are some of the biggest differences you see between WRC Academy and rallying here in the states?
CD – Probably the biggest thing is the competition – the drivers are the best in the world. That caught me off guard right away – I thought I was pushing the Fiesta as hard as it would go, and I get over there and they’re taking minutes away from me on 10K stages, which is good at making me push myself. And then there’s just the whole presentation. The WRC is the top level of it. Rallying is still fairly new for us, whereas everywhere else in the world the WRC has been around forever. They definitely have their stuff together and the fans, and just the amount of people that go out and love it…
TON – About the scope and size of the events and the competitors… How are you guys running? Do they run the full fledged WRC cars and then you guys at the back of the pack?
CD – Yeah, they run the full WRC cars and then they run the S2000 cars kind of mixed in with them, and then they’ve got the PWRC cars, and then us. And then at every rally so far, and I think every rally will have this, there’s been a regional or national rally, so Greece had their national rally running along with [the WRC rally]. They usually run with some different roads or the schedule’s a little bit different, but a lot of times we’ll get mixed in with them too. Just the amount of cars that compete too is huge.
TON – How does that affect the R2 – the front wheel drive going on the stages after, how many cars would you say, 80 to 100 cars have already gone through the stage?
CD – Yeah, and you know, the cars that we have here in America are pretty cool rigs, but we’ve got maybe 2 or 3 rigs that are very powerful, very mean cars, where there they’ve got 40 of them, and the roads just get so chewed up, even the hardest pack road has big ruts in it. And yeah, the Academy guys start toward the back so we get a road that’s fairly chewed up.
TON – You get what you get. And Greece is historically known as a really rough event anyway, so then you’re bombing through even rougher stuff.
CD – There were probably 2 or 3 stages that were incredibly rough, and the rest were just rough, and I just couldn’t believe we were actually trying to drive fast over some of this stuff. Just huge, sharp rocks, and I was actually surprised that I didn’t see more cars off, like just stopped with broken bits. I mean, everyone’s just that good that they can drive flat out, even on the worst roads in the world.
TON – And how about the Fiesta, R2 is it holding up? It’s a tough car if it’s doing that kind of stuff.
CD – Yeah, I mean I didn’t have any damage after Greece, and you know they say it’s the toughest rally in the world, and I got my bill back for the damage and there was zero, so it was pretty neat. It would have been cool to get that with a little faster times, because I was definitely driving a little bit smart in some places. But yeah, they’re awesome little cars and definitely hold up to some of the toughest stuff in the world.
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Part 2 coming soon!