Peter Utoft: "Everyone aims for the same - to win"
Wolfsburg (13 December 2010). A gruelling desert, extreme climatic conditions, high altitudes: The Dakar Rally is the toughest test in motorsport. Volkswagen tackles it with four Race Touareg 3 cars and a 72-member squad. As team manager, Peter Utoft is responsible for a smooth process flow. Here's a brief interview with him.
How would you describe your job as team manager of Volkswagen Motorsport?
"Casually speaking I'm the organisational Girl Friday. As the team manager, you determine who is assigned which jobs before the `Dakar' in coordination with the various departments. In the preparatory phase the travel plans and daily processes on location have to be arranged. In other words: everything that doesn't have anything to do with the technical side itself."
Is there anything in your work that is particularly difficult to solve?
"Although the tasks vary a great deal there is nothing that confronts us with problems that can't be solved. Since our first `Dakar' with the 2004 Race Touareg, a lot of routines have been added. Before each rally we compile a to-do list with 50 or 60 rough items which are continually checked off. Thanks to this `master plan' the gears started meshing again shortly after the past `Dakar'. And the squad on location is so well attuned to working together that everyone knows exactly what their job is."
So, planning is everything and improvisation is not needed?
"You've always got to improvise because you can't travel to the Dakar Rally in any other way than with the best possible preparation. After that, the principle, `Expect the Unexpected', applies. Thanks to the routine I already mentioned I'd say that our team organisation involves 90 per cent planning and ten per cent improvisation. We've been able to achieve this ratio by years of work."
Then, when does the detailed planning for the Dakar Rally start?
"As soon as the rough route has been announced by the organiser A.S.O. This year that was the case in late April. We first book hotel rooms and start our travel planning in June, for instance planning our group flights. As early as in August, for example, we order the diesel fuel that is taken to the bivouacs a day in advance during the rally and that is separately shipped to Argentina and Chile. Then, in late November, the service vehicles embark on ships in France."
What character traits are helpful when you're a team manager?
"Always keeping your cool, for example, and being able to look for the best solution when unforeseen problems come up without getting excited. But sometimes you also need a capacity for abstract thinking to achieve a goal."
And how difficult is it to lead a factory team like Volkswagen's on location?
"That's easy because everyone is pulling on the same string and aims for the same - to win. It's a pleasure to see how everyone in the team helps everyone else at the `Dakar.'"