by Rob Wilkins

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH CONRAD RAUTENBACH: CLICK HERE

Conrad Rautenbach made the step up to the top level this year in the World Rally Championship - and while the first half of the year was something of a rollercoaster ride for the former JWRC driver, there were still a lot of positives. Crash.net Radio caught up with the 2007 FIA African Rally champion recently and spoke to him about the year to date...

Crash.net:
Conrad, we are halfway through the year now, what has it been like competing in the World Rally Championship in a Citroen C4 WRC car?

Conrad Rautenbach:
It has been fantastic. It is a great opportunity for me. The beginning of the year was quite difficult but it has been getting better and better. I have had a nice break now and I can't wait to get going again.

Crash.net:
You started the year with the Xsara WRC before switching to the C4 WRC in Mexico. How big a learning curve has it been because last year of course you were competing in the Junior WRC?

CR:
Obviously it is a huge learning curve with a WRC car. It takes time to find out what they can do and what they are capable off. We haven't had that much testing but we have been able to do all of the events this year, which is great. We are trying to treat it as a learning year. But it is quite a big step. We have made a few mistakes. However I have enjoyed it. It seems to be getting better and better all the time and the car is getting better too.

Crash.net:
I think it is fair to say there have been plenty of ups and downs. I assume the highlights are those points' finishes in Argentina and Turkey?

CR:
Exactly - when we have been able to stay out of trouble we have been able to do okay. We have had a few problems. But like I said it is getting better and better. I am getting more comfortable with the car. I am really looking forward to the second half of the season because we have done most of the rallies before in the Juniors and so we have the pace-notes already. That should be a big help.

Crash.net:
You were fourth in Argentina - that must have been quite a surprise?

CR:
It was fantastic for me and for the team because we were battling a bit before it. It was really unexpected. It was a very difficult rally and we managed to get through it without any problems and it paid off. It was nice for everyone in the team.

Crash.net:
What was the biggest low?

CR:
The biggest low would have to be in Jordan when I had that accident with Sebastien [Loeb on the road section leading to and from SS11]. It was very disappointing for us. The day before we were doing quite well but we had a problem on the car and had to retire at the end of the last stage. I really didn't think it could get any worse. Then on Saturday morning we had the accident with Sebastien. That was a real low point. But we have got over that now and we are just looking forward to the future. We want to get some more good results.

Crash.net:
What is the target now for the second half of the year?

CR:
We want to try and score some more points finishes and hopefully maybe get some top fives on some events. We are going to try and pick up the pace a little bit. We were taking it a bit easy in the beginning of the year. We want to go quicker. The car is capable and Urmo [Aava] has proved that. He is doing really well [in the other C4 WRC run by PH Sport]. I want to up the pace. But most importantly I want to get to the finish too. We want to finish as many rallies as possible. Obviously if I am feeling comfortable I will try and go quicker. That is the main goal.

Crash.net:
How are you going to approach Finland?

CR:
Finland is the next WRC event, but we are doing a small rally in Estonia first with Urmo [the South Estonian Rally - this coming weekend]. It is like a 'test' before Finland. That should be really helpful because it is the first time we will have been able to really test the car outside of a WRC rally. It will be good for us and we have a test planned for Germany too. We have got quite a bit of testing coming up and the fact I know the rallies is great. I'm really looking forward to it.

Crash.net:
What about Germany, how tough will that be because that will be your first event with the C4 on asphalt?

CR:
It is going to be a really tough event. It always is - and the weather can play a big part there. But I think, as we have seen before, the Citroen and the C4 is very strong on tarmac. I am really looking forward to it. I think the cars, certainly in the past, are more prepared for tarmac. The car should be pretty good. I am really looking forward to the tarmac events.

Crash.net:
How much advice have you been able to get from Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo?

CR:
We talk quite a bit and we do get a bit of advice from them. It is always nice to have that - especially as I am one of the younger guys. They have helped us quite a lot and it is an on-going thing. That has been really good.

Crash.net:
Your co-driver David Senior has got a lot of experience - has that been useful as well?

CR:
Like I said, all the help we can get is great. It is all new for us. David has played a big part.

Crash.net:
In the last event before the summer break we saw a lot of tactics. Do you think that is good for the sport?

CR:
I don't think it is bad or good really. It is the rules and that is the way the sport is. I think it makes things a lot closer on the second and third day. Maybe Citroen were a bit surprised when Ford did those tactics. But Ford did take a risk in doing that [and slowing down at the end of day 1 in Turkey]. I am a bit 50:50 about it. However anything that brings the competition a bit closer is not a bad thing. I don't know...

Crash.net:
Sum up, what you expect to have achieved by the season ending Rally GB?

CR:
The main goal is to get so that we are going at a good comfortable pace. We want to get close to the top guys but not over stretch ourselves. That is our main goal and maybe try and get in the top ten in the points overall. That would be great. Maybe even top eight - but that is probably pushing it a bit. Top ten in the points overall, more good finishes and hopefully some good times on the stages too - those are my aims.

Crash.net:
Will you continue with the Citroen C4 in 2009?

CR:
I hope so. The beginning of the year was quite tough. But it is getting better and better. I am learning the team and they are learning me a bit too. It is always difficult to begin with. But I have a really good relationship with Citroen and I am hoping to work with them next year. However there are other teams. We will have to wait and see.

Crash.net:
Any idea when you will be able to confirm your plans for 2009?

CR:
I don't know yet. We are still discussing. It depends on how the next few events go as well.

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH CONRAD RAUTENBACH: CLICK HERE