Markko Martin is not only the fastest Estonian there is, he's also one of the most famous. Last week it was confirmed that he'll be driving with Peugeot after three years with the Ford team, culminating in a career-best championship finish in 2004. The Baltic Times caught up with him in Tallinn last week to discuss the new move and what he hopes to achieve next season.
Your annual results in the World Rally Championship have improved for the last three years in a row. Do you expect 2005 to be an even better year for you?
Yeah, of course. Everybody wants to do better than the last time. So far we have improved our results every year. We are going into the new year with the same goal. It's been a long and a difficult year, but I would not say I am disappointed that I did not win the championship. The summer was depressing - losing points and all - but the end of the year was an improvement.
It is also the end of my three-year contract with the Ford team. Six months ago I mentioned that I would like to join the Peugeot team and so it happened, whatever the reasons that it was confirmed so late. This year Peugeot wants to give a serious run for all the titles. We can expect a promising year.
How is your new team different from the previous one?
Peugeot is French-oriented and a French-speaking team. I will miss the atmosphere of the English team. I've learned to understand British humor very well. I cannot say that I was dissatisfied with the Ford team. It is a good and competitive team. Ford Focus has been a model for many. You see, things are not black and white. The Ford team is a private company working closely with the manufacturer. Peugeot and Citroen are manufacturers' teams. I do not know how much longer I can participate in the sport, so I need to try new things.
Some skeptics say that Markus Gronholm will be the number one driver for the Peugeot team this season (Gronholm won the WRC in 2000 and 2002).
I would not say there is such a distribution of labor - this driver is number one in the team and this one is number two. It is good that Gronholm is in my team, it means I will not have to do everything myself, I will have someone to rely on. I get along well with Gronholm.
How do you assess your potential for the next year? What are your short-term and long-term goals?
Next year is going to be difficult because I need to get used to a new car and a new team, and that will require some time for sure. If the beginning of the year goes well, I am sure we can fight for the champion's title. Anyway, my goal is to bring the manufacturer's title back to Peugeot.
It would be great, of course, to start another rumor that journalists could write about for six or maybe even 12 months, but I really do not know what will happen in 2005. A good driver can always find a job, so I just have to be a good driver.
How long will it take you to get acquainted with the new car?
It depends. I have not driven the car yet but I am sure it is different. I haven't driven either the [Peugeot] 206 or the 307, all I know at the moment is that it [the 307] is a red car. It will take some time but how much I do not know.
Peugeot and Citroen announced they're leaving the WRC at the end of 2005. In your opinion, what is going on in the WRC and how will the championship develop?
I don't know. It is a busy time at the moment with a lot of changes. It is not the best for the championship if Peugeot and Citroen leave, that is clear. It leaves a hole, and somebody else has to come and fill it. It will be a difficult task because those are two of the top teams at the moment.
How did you feel about receiving the Estonian Red Cross (fourth class) on Nov. 25 from the president? Is there any extra pressure from being so famous in Estonia?
That was an old thing. I could not go to the main event [the Independence Day reception] in February. I do not think there is any extra pressure from that [being famous at home]. There is enough pressure from the teams, other drivers. I think that having a country behind you probably helps, it does not add any pressure. It is nice to do well, for the country, but if I am not doing so well it is my loss, not the country's, I think.
Rallies take place in various countries where the environment is extremely different. Are there any countries that you especially enjoy going to?
Well, for sure New Zealand is the nicest place to go. But that is the good thing about the rally - we go to different places. There's snow in Sweden, hot weather and rough roads in Turkey. We go to Japan, Mexico, Argentina - all different places and that is quite interesting.
How do you relax when you're on vacation?
It's quite nice to stay in one place where you know people. We travel so much it is difficult to settle down. It would be nice to spend two weeks in one place - that would be a good vacation.