Mads Østberg on hybrid rally cars and drunk pop stars
Citroen's Norwegian rally star talks hybrids, historics and Scandi nonchalance
We caught up with Mads Østberg - a man whose World Rally Championship experience spans several generations of car regulations - after a wild ride around the Goodwood rally stage in the passenger seat of his Citroen C3 WRC. Here's what he had to say afterwards.
TG: Are you excited for the new, hybrid WRC cars?
MO: I think so. We obviously don’t know exactly how the cars will look, but there is no way around it. I think it’s good that regulations are changing to match the direction of road cars, it’s important for the marketing side of it. If you want manufacturer teams you need to follow what’s trendy.
For some drivers it’s not exciting, but I was always very interested in engineering and development and I have used a lot of energy on that through my career. I look forward to hopefully being a part of this next step as well.
So you like getting stuck in…
I’ve not studied engineering, but I grew up working on my own cars. My first was an Opel Ascona B. I paid a thousand quid for it and it was completely original, I just fitted rally tyres and a roll cage and then GO. It was good fun, I was 16. You were not allowed to drive at the age of 16 in Norway so I went to Sweden. I had a Swedish car, Swedish co-driver, Swedish driving permit, and a Swedish address. You had to have all that to do it. I did a few rallies and I just loved it, it was absolutely amazing.
I did quite well and so after one year I bought a slightly more expensive car, an old Volvo 740, a big massive car but with a 2.3-litre engine so a little bit more horsepower, and still completely original. I entered the Volvo Cup in Sweden which was massive, like 150 cars in the category.
When I was 18 I came back to Norway to do the Norwegian championship, and I did that for the next four years. I did a few world rallies here and there; 2011 was my first season where I stopped doing the Norwegian stuff and started focusing on the world championship.
How does your C3 compare to WRC cars before it?
There’s a massive difference, particularly with the aero. On gravel it’s quite special because you can feel the variation in aero quite a lot; when you slide the car you lose so much pressure on the rear wing. You need to change your driving style, think about how you can use the aero as much as possible and sometimes carry much more speed than you think is possible to gain that extra grip.
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On the faster rallies you slide the car less but on the slower rallies you tend to slide more, because you have so much extra horsepower so it’s more difficult for you to get traction.
How was WRC itself changed?
Over the last ten years fitness has become a big part of my everyday. We travel so much and our competition week is so extensive. We start on the Monday and are out from 6am until 10pm every day. We sleep a maximum of six hours every night and have full work, all day long. It is exhausting, you are quite dead after a week.
There is no time during race week to do your fitness, so you build up before the season, then your fitness goes down, so you build it back up in the summer break. I’m in that time now, where I just have to train every day as much as possible, lose some weight and save that for the second half of the year. And do the same again at Christmas!
Do you have cars to play with at home now?
No. I’m not that interested in cars. I like fast rally cars but I don’t have a big interest in fast road cars. It’s nice when I get asked to drive some of them, that’s fun. But I have no desire to own them, not at all.
I wasn’t into cars growing up, my father was a rally driver at national level so I went to see him, but I never went to WRC or anything, I didn’t even follow it. So when I started I didn’t know a lot. I learned as I was going and I am much more interested in rallying now than when I started. I love sport. I watch every sport. I support Manchester United…
Which is your favourite rally?
Finland is my absolute favourite. You run the car really low, at maximum performance. You don’t think about tyre wear, it’s about going as fast as possible. There is nothing to worry about. Not many rallies are like that.
Our last rally was in Sardinia, where it’s very narrow, very rough, and very easy to get a puncture. You have to be careful every corner. Your brain is always working. In Finland you just leave your brain and go. It’s where the current rally car is working best because of the aerodynamics. Your average speed is normally about 130kmh, there are massive jumps and nice wide gravel roads, it’s amazing. They call it the Grand Prix of WRC.
Lots of drivers miss Rally New Zealand…
It’s not in WRC at the moment, but I’ve done the national historical rally in New Zealand the last few years. The roads are incredible.
I’ve been in the same car for two years in a row now, a really old original Ford Escort BDA, it’s amazing. This year I finished sixth overall, and I beat all the R5 cars. That was good fun. I was on the limit all the time, the owner of the car was happy, but also not happy.
Is it difficult to adjust your driving style?
To adapt to different cars is fine, to understand how much you can push them is the more difficult thing. There are some guys who are driving Escorts every weekend and they know how to use their cars – definitely – but I beat them because I have more speed and better pace notes. But they definitely drive the car much better than me, they know how to take advantages of the car’s strong side, whereas I have no idea what the strong side is. The goal is to protect the car as much as possible, but still go as fast as possible.
Do you have a big following back in Norway?
Yeah but Norway is always… different. We are not a very enthusiastic nationality. We are quite calm. The fan base is good, and the interest for rally is quite high, especially after Petter Solberg. It’s a good country, but it’s a relaxed country, no one gets excited. Everything is controlled.
Even the biggest stars in Norway – the guy from A-ha, he walks down the street like it’s not a problem at all. He can go to a bar in the street in Oslo and be completely p*ssed, and no one will care. Even the Crown Prince is very often out and he’ll have a security man, but he can sit at a table in the café without a problem. The whole of Scandinavia is the same. The Prince of Sweden is a big motorsport fan, he comes to Rally Sweden every year and he’s just a nice person, we can sit and have lunch just like this.