Patrik Sandell was once again one of the fastest drivers in the Red Bull Global Rallycross field as the 2016 season got underway last weekend.
After taking second place in the first race of the year, Sandell now sits third in the points standings. We caught up wit the Bryan Herta Rallysport driver after the season opening double header event to hear his thoughts on the year ahead, his championship chances, and how the new slimmed down Herta driver lineup is benefiting him.
TCF: This season sees Bryan Herta Rallysport scale down from two Supercars and a Lites program to running just you. Do you think that it will help you over the course of the season having all of the team’s resources concentrated on you?
PS: “I think right now it’s good, everybody in the team knows what they should be focussing on and everybody is trying to do what they can to make this car as fast as possible. Of course it’s good like, for example Scott (Speed) and Tanner (Foust) that they have each other so they can quickly be faster together as a team and we have to figure it out all ourselves, but I know I have a really good team behind me and Bryan Herta Rallysport always makes my car really fast after thoughts and the work we do together so for now it feels only good to be by myself.”
TCF: Just like last year you’ve emerged as one of the fastest drivers in the series. Of course, with Volkswagen winning the first two rounds, what must you do to keep on their tail and overhaul them as the season progresses?
PS: “The Andretti team was really fast at the first race and I think we had the speed to be as fast as them. We were struggling a bit with the launches so they had a bit better launches than us getting off the line so on the track we were, at least in the corners, as fast as them. I think we just have to really go through this race and see what happened and then also look forward to the next track and see what type of car we need at that track. I think the Dallas one will be much more technical and I think that will suit me as a driver. So I think when we come through this whole season it will be a few races where the Andretti car will have some benefits and there will be a few races this season where our car will have some benefits and in the end it’s down to us drivers to stay on top of it all the time, and there’s a lot of other drivers as well fighting really hard. Both Ganassi cars were going really good in the first race and the Hondas fore sure will also come faster and faster throughout the season but the plan is definitely to try to win the championship.”
TCF: Now you’ve mentioned that during double header events other teams tend to catch up with what you’re doing in terms of setup by the second day. Do you think that the remaining three double header events will hold you back because of this or are you confident you’ll be able to unlock more performance throughout the season at the other double headers?
PS: “As a driver, I’m very quick to learn a track because I’m used to learning a track after just seeing it two times at a slow place from stage rally so I pick it up pretty quick and we as a team are also very quick to get up to speed and we are normally really fast on the first day of a double header and then people try everything they can to catch up with us and we just need to learn to take those next steps so we also step it up from day one to day two. We didn’t really do that in Phoenix, in the first race we had a fantastic car and we were super fast out of the box in the first and second practice and then that was the level we kept throughout the weekend so we need to keep on working during the race weekend and try to improve our speed over the whole weekend. I’m not worried that we have more double headers, I’m pretty excited about it because Daytona is a double header and that was a track that I really enjoyed last year, New River (The Base) was another one that I really enjoyed last year. We were leading before the red flag, so I’m really excited about those two. It will be an interesting one in LA, the final one, and the approach for that one; we have to talk about later because that depends on where we are in the championship.”
TCF: Last weekend saw the début of the new BF Goodrich tyre in Red Bull GRC. When testing a few weeks ago you said the tyres fit you well – how do they compare to the Yokohamas used for the last two seasons?
PS: “Those tyres (BF Goodrich) are lasting a bit longer so when they start to fade out they don’t fade out as much as the tyres we have last year so those tyres are more easy to drive on. I wouldn’t say they were more easy to get the very best out of them because I still think that all the teams have something to improve there but they drop down to maybe 90 per cent after one or two laps and then they stay pretty consistent so I like this tyre, and we have much better grip on dirt with this tyre so I really like that we can attack the dirt corners and hopefully we will have some nice dirt corners during this summer, fast speed dirt corners where we can really push it so I really cross my fingers that GRC will give us some dirt to play on.”
TCF: In Red Bull GRC there are three other drivers running the M-Sport Fiesta, with you coming out on top last weekend. Because they’re in the same machinery do you measure yourself against those drivers first or do you just see them as any other driver in the field?
PS: “Yeah there’s a few M-Sport cars and I think first of all the M-Sport Fiesta fits me really good because I’m a rally driver and exactly how this car handles in all situations, that’s how I grew up. The balance of the car, the movement of the car, I just feel at home in this car, it feels so good to drive this car. They are doing their thing and we are trying to tweak this car so it fits me as a driver so I don’t really pay attention to that have similar cars as me, I’m just trying to dial my car in as good as I can together with my team.”
TCF: During the second final you spent a lot of time stuck behind Sebastian Eriksson despite looking a lot faster than the Honda – can you talk us through that 10 lap final and the challenges you faces being stuck behind the Civic?
PS: “I had the choice to stay in the first row (on the grid) next to the two Volkswagens or take second row inside and I knew that both Volkswagens and also the Honda started to get really good launches and that is where we were dropping down so I felt more safe to take second row inside instead of being outside. I don’t know if it was a good or bad decision but I got stuck behind Sebastian after the first two corners and we were pulling away a slight gap to the guys behind me and I kept asking my guys if we could joker because I really felt that he was holding me back. We had much more speed in the car than they did so we tried to take the joker as early as we could but as I was so close to him he was driving quite protectively so that was slowing down the speed so it took some extra laps before I could take the joker to not end up behind people further back in the field. Yeah, I’m a bit disappointed with that one but it was not really more we could do. We could have had a better launch and take him off the line but that Honda is a big, big car and I tried to put my nose in there a few times and I didn’t want to risk anything because we’re racing for a championship and I need all the points I can get but I tried to put my nose in a few times and move him around a bit on the dirt but that’s a solid piece of steel right there so it’s not so easy to move.”
TCF: Looking ahead to the rest of the year, how confident are you that you can lift the championship trophy in LA in October?
PS: “For sure it’s going to be a super tough season. The level is incredibly high, Speed and Foust have really showed amazing speed this year and I know it from the past as well so I think definitely we have the speed to be able to fight for the championship with everybody. Hopefully we can have some of the luck on our side this year because we didn’t have any of that last year – when my car stopped when I was leading in the final in Detroit, and we got a red flag against us when we were leading by far at the military base, so if we can have a few of those things with us, I’m pretty sure we are going to be able to fight for the championship at the end of this season. It’s all about scoring points in every race so I will race hard because I know I need to be in front of those two Volkswagen to be able to beat them at the end of the year but I will not risk everything to do that anyhow because I know it’s so easy to end up in the back of the pack in the final and then you get zero points instead of 40, 45, or 50, so I will not tell you my but I can do that after really.”