Part 3: Director of Operations Chuck Long and Team O’Neil instructor Chris Duplessis continue their conversation, talking about camaraderie amongst competitors within the WRC Academy and Chris’ biggest challenges and struggles in being a part of the WRC Academy. Click on these links to check out Part 1 of this interview and Part 2.
TON – Are ralliers the same throughout the world, be it drivers, co-drivers, mechanics? You see the folks here and it’s really kind of grassroots. You hear stories about one guy handing a transmission to his closest competitor just so he can run and that type of thing in the States. Is it the same kind of thing over there, but it’s more competitive?
CD – The FIA rules are a lot more strict, so you actually can’t help out as far as parts, and you can’t tow a car more than, like, out of a hole, so it’s a little tougher as far as what you can do and as far as rules go. But at the Academy everyone’s been super-helpful. There’s this kid Pontus Tidemand, the Swedish champion, he actually came and did some Global RallyCross and he’s very good. He’s probably one of the quicker ones once he gets his feet wet, because I don’t think he’s ever done Fiesta stuff, it’s always been all-wheel drive. He’s actually been a huge help. You know, I’ve been struggling with the notes, that’s probably my biggest downfall because we don’t do pace notes here – writing your own. So he said anything I need help with, and he’s actually shown me a few hints, like putting tape on your steering wheel so you know the degree of the corner without having to actually see it, or it’s just a little “guess and check” type thing, so he’s been a huge help with that. There’s a kid from Australia, same thing. He and his sister are super-nice. But really, everybody’s been super-awesome.
TON – So it’s good camaraderie, there’s no in-fighting or anything like that.
CD – No (laughs), but the Swedes do think their country is the best, and I keep telling them it’s different, so we always joke around with that – why their country’s better and why America’s better. It’s fun.
TON – You mentioned the notes. What would you say has been the biggest struggle with the WRC? Of course the funding we can say right off the bat…
CD – Yeah, the funding and then probably the lack of having people who can come over and support, like having lunch ready and have our schedule [figured out]. It’s just been me and my wife Sarah and then my co-driver, where some of the guys that have the budgets will bring guys over just for recce support. Some [competitors] will have like ten guys helping them out as far as what their schedule is, etc., and while they’re going to bed I’m staying up trying to do Facebook updates, so that’s been tough. And as far as in car and on the stages, it’s just my notes. I’ve been practicing quite a bit here, and actually Alex (Kihurani) is going to be in the car in Finland, and he’s very knowledgeable with notes. He rode with me in Pennsylvania and Maine, and already, it’s like little tricks, just how he says things, so I think it will actually be very, very good .
TON – I remember after Portugal you were reviewing and doing after action type stuff, and you were saying you needed to get used to the set-up of the car, and the notes, and then Greece got better [for you]… What are your expectations for Finland? I know that at least from the States, Finland is the rally to go to, to be a part of…
CD – I think we’ve already kind of achieved our goal just getting there. We definitely ran out of money, plus the exchange rate and the damage in Portugal… everything’s just been so expensive. I think doing our fundraising online and asking our fans and supporters to step it up, I think that’s just a huge accomplishment. It’s Alex’s first WRC event and he’s been dreaming about doing one forever, and definitely Finland, so that alone will be awesome just to get in the car for the first stage. The three rallies so far have been very technical and I guess kind of slow, whereas every rally here in the States you’re in 5th gear a lot more. I think I hit 5th gear once in Greece, the roads are just so much slower. I think it caters to me more with the flat-out stuff, and hopefully some of the other guys just haven’t got that experience. We did a top three stage time in Greece and it didn’t feel any different, it just worked really well, so it’s attainable. I think I can definitely put those times down, I just need to be able to do it consistently and not have any issues.
TON – I was looking online at the lead-up to the event, and I was reading about one of the guys who is ready, his pace is good in the R2 in practice. You’re running the events here in the R2, but you’re not able to get in and test your own car on a weekly basis. Is that a disadvantage?
CD – Yeah, I definitely think some of these kids have done all of these rallies quite a few times. They didn’t do Greece last year in the Academy so it was new to I think everyone, no one had been there. But then there’s Elfyn Evans – he’s very very quick, I think he’s second in the championship or maybe leading it – but I saw that he just did a rally in Finland, a regional rally, so it’s like, just the experience of them being able to get over there. So that’s a big disadvantage [for me].
TON – Because experience counts, like, tenfold…
CD – Yep
TON – You can relate it to Maine, the Concord Pond stage. Did you set the record this year?
CD – Yeah, we beat our own record and I think we’re actually on Ken Block’s old record in our little front wheel drive. So when he set the record in a Subaru, that’s the time we’re getting. Our pace is very, very good as far as stages that I know, and a stage like that where there’s big crests and blind crests, you can’t really go against that experience and knowing the stage. But, with good notes hopefully we can put it down.
TON – In a nutshell, what would you say has been your best experience and what’s your worst experience about this whole thing. Because this year’s been crazy for you, between trying to weigh work, and getting the prep done and getting money and sponsorship.
CD –I think the hardest thing has just been my schedule. We’re only seven months into the year, and I’ve done four American rallies, almost three WRC events, I’ve been here and there working, it’s been crazy the amount of stuff that’s been going on. So trying to keep my head in it as far as being able to work, and being able to find money, and then when I end up getting to a race, being able to focus and do what I need to do has been insane. We built a car for the American rallies here, so with all that and still trying to make it work, and be able to survive and live, has been insane. But I guess that’s what you gotta do, you gotta put the time in and work hard and hopefully it will pay off at some point.
TON – Exactly – it’s been good to see the dream come true, because now you’re on the world stage, and I remember when you were here at 12 years old that was your dream. Now is it like, “Yeah, it’s working out, but boy, this is a handful!”
CD – Yeah it’s funny, people think that because I have sponsorship now, and Ford Racing is helping me out, that it’s way easier. It’s actually way harder. You’ve got people to live up to their expectations, you’ve got contracts to fulfill, and it ends up that there’s more pressure put on that you have to, you have to make it there and those kinds of things. So yeah, it’s definitely way harder, but I wouldn’t change it for a thing. It’s what I want to be doing, and hopefully it pays off, but if not we definitely had fun doing it!