Swift Swiss Jonathan Hirschi was the first driver to register for the 2015 FIA European Rally Championship as he continues to press ahead with his move from circuit racing.
Hirschi will make his Jännerrallye debut in a Peugeot 208 T16 having finished a career-best fourth on the penultimate round of last season's ERC on home soil in Valais, admitting that he still has some way to go to complete the switch from a previous career that took him from karting, via international single-seaters, to the Le Mans 24 Hours.
“The main difference between the rally and the track, first of all, is we have two in the car,” he explained, “In track, you are always alone apart from the link by radio, but it's not the same.
“The second thing is that the rally, for me, is much more difficult right now because I don't have a big experience compared to the track. It's a little bit difficult when the tarmac condition changes a lot. You can start at the beginning of the stage and it is dry and then it gets wet and then back to dry and this is what I need to learn. My line is good on the stage, but there are small things I have to learn to put side by side and make good things.”
The Jännerrallye, coming on the first weekend of the new year, will not be an easy event for Hirschi either, with ice and snow expected over the three days.
“We did some tests a few weeks ago, but it was really dry so maybe not suitable for the conditions of the rally,” he admitted, “Normally, I will do the test before the event in the Czech Republic and that should be good. After that, it's a bit like a casino with the weather, if it will be snow or dry tarmac.
“It's difficult to prepare for this event because, if we prepare the car for the snow and it's dry, it will not be a good way so let's see. From my part, I saw some onboard camera footage just to see what the stages are like and it looks really great. For sure, I like this kind of challenge. I come from Switzerland, so I have this kind of weather for three months of the year. I did some racing on the ice, in the Andros Trophy, and my experience was not bad so, if I can get this kind of condition - ice and snow - I will enjoy it for sure.
“If I can get some experience in the snow, it's really good. I have good experience on tarmac from the track, but I don't have experience on the gravel and snow is the first step to learning difficult conditions because it is not so different to gravel.”
With the first three rounds of the ERC already inked onto his schedule, and the rest under consideration, Hirschi is not setting his sights too high for Austria.
“I will do the first three rounds because it's a good opportunity and I am lucky to do that,” he conceded, “After that, the target is to do 80 per cent of the season. If nothing changes, I will do the first three rallies and we will see.”
“I will try my best [on this event] for sure, but it's a bit like before Valais. I have not so much experience and, if you want to get experience, you have to finish the rally and do all the mileage of the rally. This is the big target for me. If I can catch a good pace, for sure, I will do this but, if I am a little bit far away, I will try my best.”