Five minutes with… Eric Camilli
Words and photos: Emma Woodcock.
‘Uh, hello?’ Eric Camilli ducks down and stares into the back of a Transit. Extracting myself from the bowels of the van, I start snapping and the French rally ace starts chatting. As Eric sets himself down on the sill, an M-Sport employee swoops down and grants us just five minutes of the driver’s time. The clock is ticking.
Though Eric began rallying in 2008, 2016 was his first season in the top-tier World Rally Championship. Having impressed Malcolm Wilson with his WRC2 drives in 2015, Camilli was signed by M-Sport for a year in the 320bhp Fiesta RS. We met the fast Frenchman a week before Rally Sardinia, two thirds of the way through the season. ‘It’s my first time, yeah. It’s my first season in WRC – I came to M-Sport at the start of this year. They’ve got a lot of experience, it’s a good place to be. The season so far has been ten races, I think. We’re satisfied with the season we’ve had together so far.’
‘There are so many conditions to face over a season: snow, gravel and tarmac events; fast and slow stages. Of course, we need to be more rigorous going forwards. We should be aiming to finish every race, every time. But you can’t do everything in one year – especially when you are a very young driver. Personally, I am a very young competitor in terms of results, and in terms of experience. That’s how it is, that’s life. You know, it’s good that we’re out there. We’re in front of Mads Ostberg (Camilli’s 2016 teammate) in the championship standings so that’s not nothing.’
‘Which rally has been best for us this season? Sardinia. Maybe… We were able to fight in the top three for almost all of the event. We did okay, did our first fastest stage time. But yes, to fight in top three throughout the whole event: that was incredible. And after that, maybe Portugal. We finished fifth overall. Oh – but maybe in Finland as well, huh? Okay, we crashed out of the event but in Finland we were fast. We were in the top four on stage times and this was more than we expected so it’s all bonne… all good.’
Before moving to M-Sport, Camilli spent a season in the WRC-2 Championship. Following much of the World Rally Championship calendar, the category introduces drivers to turbocharged, four-wheel drive machines for the first time. Behind the wheel of a Team Oreca Ford Fiesta R5, Eric got off to a rocky start before rounding out the season with three podium finishes. Though the speed differential between the ST-based, 280bhp R5 and the near-bespoke, 320bhp Fiesta RS WRC seems scant on paper, Camilli tells a very different story.
‘Ah! It’s completely different – it’s not the same level at all. In WRC2 you have a field where all the drivers, all the others are young guys like me without a lot of experience. In WRC it’s completely different. Everybody else has a lot of experience of the speed, of the variety, of the rigour you have to take to each rally. The difficulty changes, it depends on the event, but overall it’s crazy and the level of competition is very, very high. You just can’t imagine that when you’re younger: you just don’t race like that in the lower levels. After each race, the difference hits home a little more and I achieve a little more. It’s so, so fast and impressive and I like that but it… it’s not the same. In WRC2, sometimes you can back off a little if you don’t like the stage. In WRC, you need to like every corner of every stage.’
Due to a new set of regulations, WRC drivers will have to up their game again in 2017. The loosening of chassis and aerodynamic rules should usher in more extreme splitters and diffusers, a larger rear wing and 55mm extra track width but the most exciting change comes under the hood. Decreased air-intake restrictors will allow WRC engines to breath more easily: a move that’s expected to push power to 380bhp and torque past 330lb-ft. A week before our interview, Eric had been testing the new car in the south of France.
‘The 2017 car has a lot of power – much more power than before. When it comes to the chassis, there isn’t a big, big difference: it’s far more about the power of the car. You need to manage it, to approach your driving differently. I think, for sure, next year we will have a larger time difference between each driver at the end of every stage because the power is…’
Eric trails off mid-sentence, throwing out his arms and opening his eyes wide. Words just aren’t enough. If the new car elicits this response from a factory WRC driver, it must be something else. ‘It’s not easy to manage this amount of power. You need to work very hard on your driving to approach it correctly. But we will be ready because the car is already bonne – the testing has gone well. Very well. So, I’m very confident for next year.’
Camilli is clearly comfortable with big power on the stages – he chooses the Lancia Delta S4, a flame-spitting monster as the historic rally car he’d love to try – but is he hoping to stay with the M-Sport Ford team into rallying’s new era?
‘Yeah, I hope so. I’d like a future here because the company and Malcolm Wilson believe in me and he gave me this chance to go into WRC, to jump up into WRC. I’m very grateful because he gave me the opportunity to drive in WRC and show my talent, my performance, my ability. What’s true as well with M-Sport is it’s like a big family and everybody unites to get the team out there to the events for me. They’ve supported me all through this season: when we’ve been on top and when we’ve experienced very bad things. Like now, for example, we’ve crashed a few times recently and things aren’t that easy. But after the Sardinia and Portugal rallies, things are very, very exciting and we are happy overall. They’re there for me all the time and that is what’s really important.’
With that, our time runs out. Eric poses for one last photo, thanks me and walks off to his next engagement. You can learn a lot in five minutes.