We present an exclusive and very interesting interview with Povilas Jablonskis, a Lithuanian who works on the stages of the World Rally Championship
We have a talk with Povilas Jablonskis, who works with P1 Fuels company and fills WRC cars during the events. He shares his opinion about his work and other things in the WRC
First of all, tell us how you ended up at P1 Fuels and how you got involved with the WRC? Was rallying closely related you before?
When I started working with this company in 2019, it was called “P1 Racing fuels” – now it’s called “P1 Fuels.” At that time I was working for another company and through Facebook I got a job ad that a German company was looking for a driver and support person for a motorsport competition and I was interested. I got in touch with the person from that company, we talked and found a solution together. That’s how my path to the WRC began. When I started working with “P1 Fuels”, we had a team of 6 people, and today there are already more than 30 people working there. Since 2020, Aurimas Eidžiūnas and I have been the representatives of “P1 Racing fuels” in Lithuania.
On the question of whether the rally is near me – it really is. In 2004 Markas Judzentavičius and I with the Peugeot 306 became 2nd winner in the class LARČ N3 in the annual competition.
Apart from WRC, what other racing series have you served? What are the special features of these other competitions? Maybe there are even more interesting ones?
I have had a number of competitions to look after over these years:
ERC – European Rally Championship. Compared to WRC, the requirements are very simple and easy, because each team can use the fuel they want, there are no regulations. But this year we are not working with the ERC.
WRX-ERX – World and European championship in rally-cross. About the work in these competitions I can say that it is easy, fun and you can still see some races. In these competitions the car consumes about 3-5 liters in one run, it takes longer to connect the hoses than to fill the fuel 🙂 As of 2023, the P1 is no longer in works with WRX-ERX.
WTCR – are the easiest because there we only serve fuel in 54 liter tanks, and teams refuel themselves in the pits, so my work takes 4 hours, and then I watch the competition 🙂 From 2023 we no longer serve.
The European Kart Championship, like the WTCR, is the easiest in terms of work.
In terms of work, the specifics are similar to WRC, ERC and WRX, because there we add fuel, while in WTCR and karting, we just distribute fuel and investigate if everyone is running on the same fuel.
Tell us about what your work week is like on the WRC events? How does the work in the refueling areas go?
The work week usually starts on Tuesday when I arrive at the service area and the car is parked in the refueling area.
On Wednesday, all the commisions, stickers, and permits are collected and the paperwork is done, but that is usually done by our team leader. In the morning we start setting up the mobile fuel station and preparing for the competition. According to the regulations, from 14:00 to 18:00 fuel is distributed to the teams in tanks of 54 liters each, because the teams have to calibrate and go to the technical commission.
Thursday is already the start of work, but as we say – a long and boring day 🙂 Thursday is usually a test day, so our fuel station is open from 8:00 to 14:00, and we always have to be there.
On all other days there is a schedule for the arrival of the cars, that is, when the fueling area is opened and closed.
Normally there are 4 people working in the refueling area, plus the team leader, the firefighters and the marshals who record violations when they occur 🙂
In competitions at this level, everything is probably very strict and regulated. How do you and the participants manage to comply with all these rules? Is it always possible to do everything by the book?
Yes, everything is very strict in this competition. Any violation can lead not only to a fine, but also to disqualification. The teams and we try to follow the rules, but the most common offense in the fueling area is a cell phone that isn’t allowed to be used (talking, texting or just holding). In Estonia 2022, the Ott Tanak co-driver got a fine of 300 euros just for holding a cell phone 🙂 I myself had to break the rules in Finland 2022 when the firefighters forgot to come to the refueling area 🙂 Although we kept asking 1 hour before – where are they? The answer is “everything will be fine, don’t stress”. Later, this caused a lot of stress for the organizers, because if there are no firefighters in the refueling area, we can’t refuel. The first cars pulled up and the shouting started because the crews were automatically late for the time checks. My colleagues and I decided to take responsibility and refuel anyway, while the other two colleagues stood there with fire extinguishers to at least provide some safety. So a rule is a rule, but the human factor always remains.
To make the WRC work, there are many people working behind the scenes who are almost never in the media spotlight. What are these people who work “in the background”? Don’t they lack attention?
Indeed, there are a lot of people working during the event:
Teams, (managers, assistants, suspension, engine, brake engineers, etc., mechanics, media).
Then security, all catering staff, the local organizer, the WRC organizer, The entire FIA delegation, and TV personnel
There really are a lot of people 🙂 There is definitely no lack of attention, but I try to hide somewhere when a filming delegation comes and wants to make a nice video 🙂
How do WRC participants behave off camera in places like refueling? Is their TV image very different from reality?
The participants at our refueling station are all friendly. Of course, communication can change if you don’t do well in competition, so we just refuel quietly and don’t get in their way. I can’t say anything about the image of TV because we communicate without cameras and you form an opinion about a person in real life, not on TV:)
Maybe you have/had a closer/friendlier relationship with one of the WRC teams, drivers or co-driver? How do the “stars” generally communicate with the service staff?
Good relationships with all the teams. As for the drivers and co-drivers, I’ve a very good relationship:Kalle Rovanperä ir Jonne Haltunen
Janne Ferm, Esapeka Lappi co-driver
Takamoto Katsuta ir Aaron Johnston
Sami Pajari has learned to say “good morning” in Lithuanian this year! 🙂
Indeed – I could name and name 🙂
As for communication with staff, the vast majority communicate normally – some less, some more. Of course, we also have real star athletes who may not even say hello in the morning and look at you like … But there are only 2 of them 🙂
Tell us how the whole WRC family in Croatia dealt with the death of Craig Breen? What kind of relationship did you have with Iris?
This issue is still painful. It was really very emotionally difficult in Croatia, there was no atmosphere of sporting joy. There were more tears than smiles at the service area. The relationship with Craig Breen – even now, answering the question, I have a lump in my throat. We met him at ERC 2020, we only talked to him about work, but he came to refuel on a WRC stage once. It was a very early refuelling, I was tired, I had not slept, and he told me with a huge smile – “Povilas, concentrate, I need fuel, I didn’t come to the exhibition.” That was very memorable.
Tell us more about WRC’s oil-free fuel?
I can’t tell you much about it because I don’t know all the details – I mean how it’s made, the formulas, etc. Of course, the chemist of our team – Doctor DEN – could tell you more about it 🙂
Where do you think the WRC will go in terms of fuels? Biofuels, hydrogen, electricity or the possibility for manufacturers to choose, as it’s the case in WEC or Dakar?
I think we’ll continue to hear the sound of normal engines and smell burnt fuel for quite a while 🙂 With electricity, there are many nuances in terms of safety. For example, if the car catches fire, it cannot be extinguished, as we saw in 2022 in Japan and Croatia when the Hyundai i20 Rally1 of D.Sordo and O.Solberg caught fire. It was clear that the regulation was violated and the drivers jumped to put out the fire, risking that the electric battery could explode. We also have an instruction, when the radon light comes on, we mustn’t touch the car, but when there are 4000 liters of fuel nearby, it’s…
The WRC won’t be like the Dakar, here everyone has the same conditions – both in terms of fuel and tires. It wouldn’t be fair if one team ran RON98, for example, and the other sports fuel.
At the moment there is a lot of talk about the WRC, its popularity and its future. Competitors, team bosses are voicing their opinions, and Mr. Solberg is taking the initiative to meet and talk. How does this whole situation look from the inside? What is the mood on the events when it comes to current WRC matters?
I can’t answer that question because things change there every day. I prefer to wait for the final version or when something is clearer.
When players of the caliber of Toyotas, Hyundais, the FIA, Pirellis, P1s, and others are involved, it’s probably inevitable that there are many different levels of policy and decision making going on behind closed cabinet doors, and what we see at TV is just the tip of the iceberg of those decisions. How much of what we see in the final version is real?
I’m not going to lie, in the final version you see a beautiful video, and that’s what the viewer wants to see. No one will ever show conflict situations, arguments between the crew and the team leader. Screams between the driver and the employee of the refueling zone or conflict situations when the marshals starts smoking in the wrong place and many other unpleasant things 🙂
From the outside, the WRC looks like an incredibly exciting place to work, participate or watch. How did your previous opinion and perception of the WRC change after you started working there and saw everything with your own eyes?
WRC is really interesting work, but not everyone can do it. Over the years, I have noticed that young people come to work and after the first competition, or even after one day, they say, “No, thanks, I can not do it anymore. Here you have to be emotionally strong, because even the smallest mistake you make is described in a complaint to the FIA and the team boss. Complaints are the basis here and it sometimes looks very unpleasant.
When I started working here, everything changed. Before, I too saw only the tip of the iceberg and a nice picture.
How often do you meet Lithuanians at the WRC or other competitions?
I met WRC Lithuanians for the first time only this year in Portugal – they are Audronis Gulbinas and Vytis Pauliukonis.
At the RX, of course, I had met Paulius Pleskovas with the whole Lithuanian team. At the ERC I probably met the most Lithuanians – Aurimas Eidžiūnas, Giedrius Notkus, Vladas Jurkevičius, and others.
The most emotions this year were provided by a young, very fast man, Markas Šilkūnas, who fought like a lion for every centimeter of asphalt in the karts.
Photos – Paulius Jablonskis, P1 Fuels, WRC