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17 MIN

Rallyssimo meets Andrea Adamo: “I value the quality of my time and follow things I believe in.”

At Gino WRC Invest headquarters I met the Italian engineer and I realized that ...

“Only the dead and the stupid never change their mind.”

And it is by quoting James Russell Lowell that I choose to open my special meeting with Andrea Adamo. I want to tell you the truth: I didn’t like him at first. I don’t know why, but I always digested quite badly that character mood “over the top” and an interview granted to us at Catalunya 2019 had only confirmed the sensations from the outside.

I don’t want to say that I cheered against, but I would have never teared my hair when there have been others on the podium. I’ve always tried to maintain the necessary objectivity of those who presume to tell a sport to fans but, always finding some confirmation of that feeling very similar to antipathy.

Until December 8, 2021. Adamo resigned as Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal, and I felt sorry. I wasn’t interested in understanding the real reason or making hypotheses. I felt bad to know that that piece of Italy was leaving the WRC and I decided to write him a message on Facebook. It comes straight to me; it takes me a few minutes and at the same time that man so hard and angular in my eyes replies: “A hug”.

The months will pass, the hybrid era of the WRC will begin and in the first race of 2022 for Hyundai things did not go very well. Tanak stops for an unclear breakdown, and we all wonder how Andrea would have handled that kind of situation. I take courage again and ask him. He answers me again. And we start talking about rallies as I have done a thousand times with a thousand other people. But this time I’m with Andrea Adamo.

The deep respect I feel leads me to call it correspondence but, I don’t think I’m exaggerating in being able to consider it a rally friendship. A relationship that leads me to join him in Turin, at the headquarters of the Gino WRC Invest project, to be able to carry out my interview with Andrea Adamo live. Not with little emotion.

December 8, 2021: Your WRC adventure ends suddenly, in the middle of the final stages of the development of the hybrid Rally1 and in a mix of sensations and voices. Seeing it a few months later, what do you have left of those days? Whether it’s positive or negative, it’s up to you to tell me.

For me that date has no particular significance as I found myself in the condition of having to resign much earlier and I was a Hyundai Motorsport employee until March 31st.

I have never associated a date with any moment. I remember only one in which a person dear to me passed away that changed the last ten years of my life, but this is another story.

I’ve honestly never seen things so emphatically. I had to dedicate myself to my health and nothing else, that became my priority. An entire book of my life has closed because calling it a chapter would be an understatement, as it has covered seven years that have completely absorbed me but from which great satisfactions have derived. It has perhaps been the seven years of motorsport of my life that allowed me to bring home a complete all-round complete experience.

A time when I found myself building Hyundai’s customer racing from scratch, hiring people, managing budgets. With the first R5 I technically managed a project that had already been started and was already in an advanced state, correcting as much as possible what I thought was wrong and at the same time organizing the workshop and managing the budget dynamics here too. Meanwhile, in July 2016, the TCR project began, a rather complex moment.

An incredible experience as, in the end, I found myself managing all of Hyundai Motorsport and I was practically the head of Hyundai’s sports programs around the world. Even when it was time to support national programs, we were the reference.

I do not deny that I am happy with what I did but, in terms of personal commitment, as the English say, it was 24/7. For seven years I have lived and done everything that was needed for Hyundai, and I would do it again. It has been interesting, formative. I did not go away with regrets, nor with remorse and not even with melancholy I must say. When I conclude a chapter of my story and I am convinced to do so, I turn the page and go on. I am not one who lives in the past, I live in the present and plan the future.

Beyond the world championships, all that is tangible (and successful) in your recent experience with Hyundai, is there a moment, something or someone that best represents the whole experience?

No, I do not think so. I have a particular memory that it is the victory of the world championship with Tarquini in Macau in 2018 because it was the first victory of a world championship for Hyundai. A turning point, in my opinion, because up until that moment she had never won anything and had always been considered a bit the “Cinderella”. A strong victory, with the drivers ‘and constructors’ titles repeated also in 2019. That is the real turning point of these seven years.

Even in rallies, however, Hyundai came from an experience that was anything but satisfactory and was remembered more for sympathy than for anything else.

Yes, probably yes. Perhaps up until then Hyundai was the home of the “Almost”. Almost won, almost competitive. Getting close is only valid for pétanque.

And now we can also stop with the nostalgia that (probably) I feel more than you. Let’s talk about the rallies we are seeing today.

After three races, hybrid technology is under siege, plagued by reliability problems and more. At the time you had expressed some doubts about the transition to this technology, especially with respect to the times of realization and the car models that the market can offer for the next three / four years. Saying it today is perhaps easy but, what was the case to take some more time? Was it necessary to do this because the market is asking for that? What do you think?

Look, I am still convinced today, after seeing the race in Portugal as a retiree who goes to see a WRC race instead of the road construction sites, that this regulation was a mistake. I am convinced that today’s cars should have been Rally2, with a bigger restrictor, maybe a more eye-catching wing and rear bumper. Potentially there would have been more manufacturers today, there would certainly be more customers ready to race with these cars, there would probably be more interesting races because with cars that cost less, the panorama of competitive drivers who can race is widened.

Today we have very sophisticated machines on an electronic level but, with limitations in terms of suspension, engine and much more that lead me to wonder if it has been worth to focus on machines like these. The transmission concept, with all due respect, is the one of an R5: five-speed sequential lever operated gears without center differential. Then we can tell all the sophistication we want. The engine is an engine that has a huge cost where the ALS system (ed. Anti-Lag System) is the same as the Rally2, since you can’t have Fresh air as it once was.

In a current moment where there are lower budgets, I believe that making spaceships, because this is their nature at the end, with certain extreme sophistications and with incredible costs like the hybrid system does not make much sense. Especially for a system that is used to move the cars to service in full electric mode and to have, maybe, additional power in the special stage, but the drivers declare that they detach it because it is easier for them to drive.

I wonder if we did the right thing and I take my share of the blame for having these cars now, because I was there too, despite having fought against it until the majority prevailed. We have no new manufacturers, and we don’t know if we will have any soon.

Indeed, we risk having a few less.

There are enough of “Cassandras”, but we hope that those that are there will remain. I don’t know how long this regulation will last: I believe we can soon say that it is an old one since I do not know how much the hybrid system we have in the cars at the moment could be used in the future as a marketing object. Mamma Mia.

The 2022 season sees a Kalle in great shape with a certain balance behind it. Yet everything becomes “more heated” on weekends in which at least one of the two Sebs (ed. Ogier and Loeb) is on the entry list. Why do you think we can’t break free from that past? Too strong and cumbersome that generation or too little substance in the new generations?

Monte Carlo was an exception, where the experience still holds true and where it was an “alignment of the wrong planets”, especially since Hyundai was still far behind. I think Kalle had a tidal wave of problems on the first day, but he never complained because he is a professional and the two Sebs found themselves up front, with Loeb riding an extraordinary Puma but being driven by a level of drivers who are not able to demonstrate its real value. I believe we like to tell ourselves the story that Seb and Seb need to spice up the world championship but, in my opinion, it is not true. Loeb in Portugal made the silliest mistake of all and Ogier has never been in the race for a thousand reasons but, all in all, the event hasn’t been that bad.

What is shown now is that Rovanpera is a very clever driver, despite having a car that is head and shoulders above the others. In Sweden he did what he was supposed to do. In Croatia he had a very brilliant race: when he needed to manage, he did it with incredible coldness, in moments when others would probably have beaten him, but when there was a lot to push, he showed it and won. In Portugal he managed very well the first stage in which he found himself cleaning the road and trust me, that having made good stretches of special on foot there was some to clean in a very soft road that was dug, and the other days he did incredible times. Even if Seb had been in the race, I don’t think he would have been able to contain him.

New generations? (ed. sighs)

Well, we’ve talked about it several times, haven’t we? A world championship of four “real” drivers but quite advanced in age, Kalle, Oliver with all the unknowns of the case. The question I ask you is: what’s next?

You know, let’s say there are four or five strong young men.

Where do we sit them?

Here you are. It is called the law of the market.

We often discuss an aspect that “unites us”: communication. In your role as Team Principal, your skills as a great communicator were undeniable, able to catalyze the attention of the media for good and “less good”, often offering reasons for inspiration and discussion. Today I have the impression that rallies lack of stories and we miss who knows how to tell them. Everything is confined to the mere chronicle of a sporting event. The result? Fewer and fewer young people interested in rallies and more and more nostalgic who would like the 80s and 90s back. How do you see it? How do we bring people back to wanting to know more about a one-of-a-kind sport?

I did a similar interview a few days ago and I can only repeat myself. I believe that before giving oneself some answers, one must ask oneself questions. And ask yourself the right questions. I think the way rallies are presented to the public today are scary boring.

Apart from a few countries where there is still interest, I don’t know how many people there are who still want to walk miles to see the cars pass by in some seconds. There are events without fights at all for the entire rally. To attract people today there is nothing, but social media and rallies are still not well presented. It is useless for the promoter to continue to sell us All Live as it is conceived for an audience of passionates.

You know, the difficult thing to manage in the media is that dirt and bad sport reputation that manages to get people talking only when there is a tragedy.

But nothing is done to talk when something good happens.

Yet the drivers themselves speak of rallies as the essence of motorsport and the images prove it. Yet we are no longer able to intrigue someone to wake up early in the morning, pack a backpack and go on the special stages.

I would never do this again because we are in 2022 and we must remember that the 80s have passed for forty years. I keep saying it. It is useless that we continue to want to convince people that the past is beautiful. The past is over.

Let us ask ourselves: how do we bring to people what we have today with the tools we have today?

I take the liberty of saying one thing and I say: those of F1, who will probably be regarded as ugly, bad and unpleasant in the eyes of those of rallies, however, since Liberty Media arrived, said “well gentlemen, now we work the things out because we are continuing to talk to each other, being self-referential”.

And it is the same mistake we are making as we keep talking about rallies as we’re doing. All nice but outside the rallies nobody cares.

So, you have to take someone who comes from outside who knows how to do real communication and says, “Now we follow this way”.

F1 started using social media, YouTube, Netflix and all these things it does and guess what? Now it goes to America. Why? Because they presented F1 in a different way than the stereotypical one that has been going on for years and today the same product is much more pleasant to the fans.

Then they made cars more spectacular, without struggling in the draft thanks to studies paid by the promoter. Not by the FIA: Liberty Media invested money, hired people, to do some studies and take it to a higher level of showmanship.

We keep talking, wondering how to do the best rallies with people who have been in rallies for 50 years and they keep telling each other that rallies are beautiful. Okay, let’s carry on but the guy across the street hasn’t the faintest idea who these people are.

Let’s make nice documentaries, meetings with the drivers as they should be. Truly spectacular and well-known montages. People get passionate and go to see them and see them again. In Formula 1 you have your Coca Cola, lounges, sponsors, and everything becomes a show. In rallies we take people far away to eat the dust and they don’t care.

Yet attempts like Ypres and Monza didn’t go all that well, did they? Didn’t they show something different than what rallies are?

It was full of fans. People care and whoever pays the ticket saves the event, but what really matters is the all-round visibility. Those who bring the money are the sponsors, the ones who pay for the TV rights. World F1 teams also get money based on TV rights; instead, World Rally teams pay for the air they breathe too. Explain to me how a new manufacturer is attracted to a sport where: there is no visibility, it has spectators on the side of the road and maybe with an exit you kill someone of them, there are hospitality for sponsors but they’re often unused because the car goes out in the morning and come back in the evening.

What show do I do in the service park? What’s in there? Is there anyone who has asked the problem? No, there is All Live.

They will write it on the plaque the day the rallies die: “but they had All Live”.

You look pretty busy being, as you like to call yourself, a retiree. What led you to accept Alessandro Gino’s invitation in this particular and beautiful adventure in the Gino WRC Invest and to put a foot back in rallying?

No, no: calm down a bit (ed. smiles). I define myself as a retiree because compared to the type of life I have left; I have a completely different quality of time management. Here with Alessandro, we didn’t really set a foot inside the rallies. Or rather, this is a business that is done with rally cars, with different calm and rhythms. With the time to think about initiatives with the cars, as well as buying and selling them.

In my opinion, the very interesting part is also all the after-sales since these are cars that require different attention. Whoever buys the car to use it calls us and we go and help him get it started. We don’t do like so many that once the car is sold, no-one will know: this scares those who want to invest in cars of this type. What we want to do is a “fidelity”: we have spare parts and a certain type of ability to give a nice assistance service.

Why did I decide to enter it? Because during a dinner with Alessandro Gino and Massimiliano Fissore, former CEO of BRC, we talked about it. I liked the ideas and I immediately felt involved. I am a very “digital” type, either it’s 1 or it’s 0, or I do things because I believe in it, or I’m at home making models or I go to the mountains and ride a bike. I am lucky enough to be able to choose, I appreciate it so much and it is priceless and therefore I only do things if I believe in it. In the same way I give a hand to WSC Group which manages TCR and E-TCR as Technical Advisor. I believe in it, I like it, we discuss and work on this too.

But I’ll tell you more, I’ve been to Portugal. I replied to many who did not believe me, while telling the truth because the truth makes you free: I felt at peace, I lack nothing. I saw people very stressed, and I didn’t miss any of everything I saw.

And now a few bursts of questions that, I’m sure, many fans would like to ask you.

As a good modeling enthusiast, what is the perfect machine? And the perfect one you put your hand on?

McLaren MP4 / 4. While, in my opinion, the best realization among those in which I participated as a project I tell you the Hyundai 30 TCR because of all the machines it was the one with the best compromise between performance, costs and design. In my entire career it is the one I have the best memory of.

When the Hyundai i30 TCR project was born, I really started from a blank sheet, unlike the R5 which had already started with part of the team done, often with scraps from the WRC. Designers? I have put together an incredible team. Development people? Incredible team. Tarquini (editor’s note Gabriele) was the first person I called. Car was conceived, built and developed by a group of people totally chosen by me, who totally believed in the project from the beginning and put their soul and body into it. And as I’ve always seen in life, when you do it so, project can’t go wrong.

It was an absolutely competitive car, killed by the BOP (ed. Balance of Performance) because at one point it won too much. And I’m sorry for the others who had to have regulatory support for being able to compete because I believe that even today there would be no better car than that.

If I tell you Punto Abarth S2000, what will you answer me?

It was a car I believed a lot that destroyed the Abarth.

The strongest driver you have had the pleasure of working for? And the one you’ve never worked with but would have liked?

Tarquini and Senna

The race to be framed? And the one to forget?

The one to be framed for me is Montecarlo 2020 because it had a particular meaning.

The one to forget I’d find it hard to tell you. I can always find a bright side to things. Let me answer by changing your question a bit in a one-sided and undemocratic way. The race not to be forgotten but the emotionally more complicated one is Mexico 2020. The race closed a day earlier for Covid.

We started with a tense Europe in which we did not know what was happening and then in ten days the world collapsed. We were there and we didn’t know what was going on. Everyone had their news and word of mouth is never belittling but uplifting of negative news. Contact with travel agencies who told us they didn’t know how to get us back home; we didn’t know what to tell people. In Italy the lockdown did start, in the meantime you had to run and think about the rally but, trying to understand what was happening and meanwhile thinking about what you had to say to the mechanics who had their families in Europe who were locked up at home. Emotionally very complicated and very difficult to get 100-120 people back home and if you do your work conscientiously, I assure you that it is heavy.

So, to close, won’t you come back?

007 said “Never say never”. Today I should think about it thoroughly and I think I would say no. Even if someone will say it’s not true, they will come up with the story of the Fox and the grapes and etcetera. If I was interested in what people say, I’d do something else.

A thousand thanks. Thank you very much.

Don’t Sorry. You’re welcome.

And here the microphones turn off and we stay there, among incredible rally cars to frame another half hour in which there are no longer an interviewer and an interviewee.

There is only one man who exudes motorsport and one enthusiast who would never stop asking him questions. I am talking to a man who has fed pages and pages of my Rallyssimo, and I am doing it as if I have not done anything else in my life. Other stories and curiosities emerge that Andrea tells me without any hesitation. Stories that I will jealously guard, without ever making them part of any article.

My personal treasure from an incredible day that allowed me to realize that yes, only stupid people don’t change their minds.

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