Turns out former Grand Prix winner Robert Kubica is a really nice bloke. Despite the fact I’ve inadvertently interrupted preparations for his first ever stint in a 24-hour race – a combination of moderate hero worship and sheer cheek – the former BMW and Renault driver is more than happy to spare me a few moments to discuss his career hitherto. A subject that could quite easily take us to the end of the race itself. After all, following his 2006 debut – and his first podium finish just two races later – many touted the Pole as THE man to beat, no small achievement given that his rivals at the time Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
Then came February 2011, and the rally stage that changed the trajectory of his career (more on that below). One that, most of us believed, would end it. How wrong were…
Robert, obviously there’s still a long way to go, but how are you feeling about your first Dubai 24 Hours?
“Well, I’m feeling good. It’s my first time in Dubai, first time with this car [the #29 Forch Racing Porsche 991 GT3 R], and, actually, this is my first endurance race too! But I think we’re okay. The circuit is nice, the weather here is great, and the race has started pretty well. We are lacking a bit of pace, but the night is coming where I shall do most of my stints, so I’m looking forward to that.”
So, first endurance race, first time in the car, and first time in Dubai. Bit of a baptism of fire for you…
“Yes, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s a good challenge and it’s very special race with so many cars in so many different categories. So it’s very much about being clever in the traffic then about full speed.”
There are rumours that you’re looking to switch to endurance racing next year. Is this the first race of a new career direction?
“That’s the idea, yes, but we’ll see. Maybe.
“I would like to end up doing endurance in the future, so I need to start doing it. And that’s why I’m here, to gain experience. Okay, last year I did the 12H Mugello [which unfortunately ended with suspension failure on his way to a podium position] but I’ve never done a 24-hour race. And as I say, endurance races are not fully about speed and driving as fast as you can. There are a lot of things that are going on, and until now I have only been doing sprint races, so I have to get a bit of knowledge, and also try to understand how to behave from my side. Races like these are not just about the driving but when to rest, how to rest, how to drive with teammates, etc. I just want to make sure I’m ready if a good opportunity comes my way.
A completely different kind of endurance then to your recent World Rally Championship career, then…
“Yes. Unfortunately I lost the support of my sponsor for my rally program. And rallying, to be honest, is very expensive, especially with a private car and a private team, it’s very difficult to compete against top teams and top drivers. When you want to compete at a high level, you need to have everything.
“It’s no secret I thought I would be in the WRC this year, but unfortunately it did not work out. So, now I will see what I can do and try to find the best opportunity for myself and try to use the motivation I have. I think in the end, okay, I have some limitations with my hand. But the speed is there, so there might still be a chance for me to do well.”
On your injury – apologies, very predictable question – but do you think that your injury still affects your driving, on-track or on the stages?
“Actually it’s been a long time since I’ve been asked about my injury. It happened quite a long time ago. But yes, I’m feeling good. Of course I still have some limitations, and unfortunately those will stay for good, and there’s not a lot I can do about that. But we shall see what the future brings. I’m in good shape, I have worked really hard over the last six/seven months, and I’m happy with what I’ve achieved with my fitness level.
“That’s why the Dubai 24 Hours is so important to me. It’s an answer: in the end, if I’m able to do good stints with good driving, that’s good progress, and I know I can do more of this.”
*Back in February 2011, Robert Kubica suffered a horrific accident during the Ronde di Andora rally, nearly losing his right hand entirely (as well as compound fractures to his right elbow, shoulder and leg) when an accident shortly after the start saw a guardrail sheer straight through his Super 2000-spec Skoda Fabia. The accident would cost Robert three years of his career during his recuperation, as well as his 2011 Renault Formula 1 drive, his seat eventually going to former BMW teammate Nick Heidfeld on the eve of the 2011 F1 season.
You mentioned that you were keen to continue with your rally program. Do you look back at the World Rally Championship as unfinished business?
“[Pause]….I think I could have achieved much more, either down to my own mistakes, or technical problems, too may punctures, etc. So a lot of things came together and I didn’t achieve what I think I could have done. The speed was definitely there, and that’s not easy with a private car and a private team. But for sure, winning WRC2 in my first year at a high level [in 2013, in a Citroen DS3 RRC with French privateers PH Sport], that was a very big achievement.
“Maybe perhaps I won too early, because I went into WRC with limited experience, and as a Formula 1 driver, people just assume you should be fast. But rallying is a different sport. Without the experience, it’s very difficult. In fact it’s nearly impossible.”
In much the same way that Formula 1 has changed so much since you last competed…
“Yes, but to be honest, I’m not interested in discussing my time in F1 this weekend! I had some good opportunities, so who knows? But that’s part of life, and it’s the same with the WRC. I still won a few stages, with private car, and that was something big, but as I say, I was missing some final results, and that’s a shame. The reality is I was learning during the most difficult rallies, but many people still didn’t understand what was going on, and how difficult that is. I think, perhaps, I stopped at the worst moment because we were starting to get things sorted. Still, that’s the way it goes.”
If an endurance seat doesn’t materialise this year, do you think we’ll see you back on a rally stage this year?
“For sure, if I get the opportunity, I will go for it. I definitely have more experience than when I started, and with that, I’m sure I could do a much better job.”
A Forch Racing powered by Olimp crew man hovers up to robert’s right shoulder, and with a friendly pat of the arm, the Pole is off, scanning the timing screens and beginning preparation for his first stint in the Porsche 911 in his first ever 24-hour race. How will he get on, we all wonder? Pretty well, we’re willing to bet. After all, the man is no stranger to challenges.