He’s the home hero most of Hungary wants to win when the FIA World Touring Car Championship makes its annual visit to the Hungaroring from 12-14 May. This is what the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team ace had to say ahead of WTCC JVCKENWOOD Race of Hungary.
Can you describe what it’s like to have so much support behind you?
“It’s amazing. It’s always huge pressure in the week before the races. But as soon as I jump out of the car after the Main Race I cannot wait for the next year to be back in the car racing in front of my fans. It’s the most special feeling I have racing at home. I have so many nice memories since my first podium there in 2011, since my first race win in 2012. I remember the great feeling, just moments and memories for the lifetime. I hugely appreciate all the support I have from my Hungarian fans because it’s really special to have these people standing behind me. No matter what happens they are 100 per cent there and supporting me. It gives me an extra boost many times and extra energy, especially when things are not really going my way.”
Last year’s race didn’t quite go to plan. Does that still play on your mind?
“There is a nice pattern actually. In 2014 it wasn’t good but I won the race in 2015. Last year wasn’t good so I hope this year that after one bad year a good year will follow and that means winning a race. This is my target, of course, I know we will have a competitive car and the layout of the Hungaroring should allow us to be strong but it’s never easy and the expectation is very high from the fans and the media.”
And your rivals could be stronger than you, is that a worry?
“To win your home race is such a nice feeling but all the good drivers are looking for good competition because, in the end, if you are successful with high-level competition then it gives you an extra boost.”
Would you prefer a dry race or a repeat of the rain we had in 2016?
“I am hoping for a dry race with nice sunshine for the fans more than anything. They deserve better conditions than last year and hopefully with a mid-May date we will have this.”
It’s your second year as a factory driver. Have you noticed any changes?
“Now it’s a bit easier than at the beginning. I knew some people from testing previously with Honda in 2015, but on a race weekend you have to work with a new engineer and new mechanics, and there are not the familiar faces. I was a bit affected by the new environment because it was a huge responsibility for me to work with Honda as a factory driver. But I really enjoy working with the people, not only because they are kind but because we understand each other 100 per cent.”
Do you have anything more to prove to Honda?
“There’s always some pressure when you are racing for a factory team. But the biggest pressure is what I put on myself. I have high expectations, it’s not just the expectations from Honda. There is some pressure, but most of the pressure is coming from myself.”
Are you confident of winning the world title this year?
“It’s really important to keep the head down, to work in the same rhythm, with the same kind of approach we did last year. If we do that we will be a very strong contender for the title and there is still a long way to go.”
If you don’t win the world title, who would you put your money on?
“For me, it’s [team-mate] Tiago [Monteiro]. He showed last season that he’s a fantastic driver and he’s doing that again this season.”
The WTCC’s esport championship has recently launched. Given your background racing online what do you think of this new initiative?
“Online gaming is very high-level competition. There are many drivers out there that if they had the chance to compete in a real car they could be really competitive. It has a big future and more and more brands will be looking to recruit young drivers from simulator racing.”
Finally, you and your wife Johanna recently became parents to a baby daughter. Will Mira be coming to watch you race this weekend?
“It’s too loud for the little one at the moment so for this season it won’t be possible. But Johanna told me she misses the atmosphere of the race weekend so we’ll try to arrange for the grandparents to look after Mira so Johanna can come to the track with me. Having her around is actually a boost of confidence for me so I hope it works out.”
Source: FIA WTCC