Nothing can quite prepare you for a World Rally Championship week. William Creighton had already sampled several international rallies but his Croatia Rally experience has left him counting down the days to Junior WRC’s second round in Portugal.
Creighton arrived in Croatia with “no expectations” against a Junior WRC field filled with event winners and championship contenders. It was all about learning, and that is exactly what the Northern Irishman did.
Croatia’s asphalt stages left a lot to be desired by the time JWRC crews reached them. Mud and stones strewn across the road from the ever-deeper four-wheel-drive cuts meant it was an even trickier JWRC debut than Creighton could have imagined.
Looking through their stage-times, it’s clear Creighton, and trusty co-driver Liam Regan, managed their progress professionally. Seventh-fastest times on Friday became fifth-fastest times on Saturday before punching in a second-fastest time on the rally’s final stage on Sunday.
“The rally was relentless,” admitted Creighton. “From the minute you get there, recce starts and you are in the car all day.
“I think we covered 530 kilometres on the first day and something similar the next.
“As soon as you get back to the hotel you grab something to eat and get stuck into the DVDs.
“It really is relentless – and that’s not a complaint, that is the nature of these rallies.
“After you do your day’s rallying you want to get back into the hotel and look at the notes again for the next day.
“You have already gone over the notes after recce but that is the way it seems to have gone now. All the top drivers do it and that is a big part of it.
“At the same time you need your sleep but I think it is important to do all that sort of stuff. It gives you a bit of confidence going into the next day’s stages.
“There is something about knowing the first few corners or the general layout of the stage. I don’t know how much quicker it makes you but there is definitely a psychological element there that makes you more relaxed because you know what is coming.
“Also knowing that your notes are accurate gives you confidence to push on with them.”
While frustrated with his time-loss on Friday the 23-year-old’s cautious approach was rewarded with fifth overall on Saturday. As JWRC’s early pacesetters ran into problems Creighton found himself in a position to score a decent haul of championship points.
With one stage remaining, nine-time stage winner Sami Pajari, who rolled his Ford Fiesta Rally4 on Friday, was now hot on Creighton’s tail. The Motorsport Ireland crew’s advantage sat at a slender 1.1 seconds.
“I was trying now to get glued on the times,” explained Creighton, “but I know after the first run of the Power Stage, Liam had said that Sami was right on us.
“It just felt nice on the final stage and I knew it was going to be close so I thought I might as well push on a bit.
“It was slightly risky because the aim was to get to the finish of the rally but at that level you have to push whenever it is needed.
“That was definitely the trickiest stage of the rally, I thought Power Stages were meant to be a sprint to the finish line!
“That was a really technical stage – a 14 kilometre stage that felt like 25 kilometres. It was completely opposite to the first stage on Sunday.
“The pace is constant throughout those rallies, Sami was going for it and I am sure he wanted fifth, so it is a big confidence boost knowing that I can go at the pace required.”
The Junior WRC’s next round, Rally Portugal, is only four weeks away and M-Sport Poland’s asphalt set-up will be swapped for gravel.
It’s another new event for Creighton who remains focused on the bigger picture.
“It’s again about finding our feet and learning as much as possible. It is going to be another tricky event, Portugal gets extremely rough so maybe we’ll get a bit of luck if we stay tidy and stay away from punctures.
“You need to recognise that you might be at the bottom on Friday but you need to work your way back up through the weekend.
“For me that is the end goal: to drive at that speed from the word go to the end of the rally.
“Once you get a taste of these world rallies, it is just where you want to be. It is where you are going to learn the most.
“I have learned so much over the past week, working with M-Sport, everything is so professional. Seeing how others go about their business, you are just trying to take as much as you can from it to improve yourself.”
Photos courtesy of FIA Junior WRC