Jean-Pierre Nicolas - Our heads held high... Not only does Rally Australia mark the end of the 2005 season, it will also be the final outing of Peugeot's extraordinary adventure in world class rallying. Jean-Pierre Nicolas looks back at ...
Jean-Pierre Nicolas - Our heads held high...
Not only does Rally Australia mark the end of the 2005 season, it will also be the final outing of Peugeot's extraordinary adventure in world class rallying. Jean-Pierre Nicolas looks back at the achievements of his team before it moves on to the fresh challenges that await it in the near future.
How would you sum up Peugeot's formidable run in the World Rally Championship?
"In a period of six years, Peugeot has won three Manufacturers' world crowns and finished 2nd in the championship on two other occasions. I believe those figures speak for themselves. The team that has taken over from us at the very top is also a member of the PSA family, but other manufacturers have been chasing after this sort of success for many years. If you add the two Drivers' titles won by Marcus Gronholm, I think the bottom line of our presence in WRC is very positive."
More particularly, what is your analysis of the 2005 season which is about to come to a close?
"Till September we have beeb very competitive for the title. We are proud to have won five world crowns in such a fiercely contested series but you always have to accept the possibility that you will not win all the time. That said, given certain attenuating circumstances, I believe we have put in an excellent season."
What sort of attenuating circumstances?
"We had to acquaint ourselves with a whole new range of tyres at the start of the season. After that, we made good progress with Pirelli and reached a very competitive level on the loose. That work was rewarded with wins in Finland and Japan. We improved significantly on asphalt too, although we lacked a little something to be able to challenge for first place. Our choice Pirelli was in fact coherent with a development programme based on a period of three years. But we then had to curtail our presence in the sport which means we didn't have time in the end to benefit fully from our choice."
Does the same apply to the bold technical choices that were made relating to the 307 WRC?
"The intention of the FIA regulations is to ensure that everyone is on a level playing field. It is therefore perfectly logical that the other manufacturers succeeded in bridging the technological gap we pulled out at the time of the launch of the 206 WRC. We therefore had to be particularly inventive if we wanted to pull out the same sort of lead with the 307 WRC. That led to us looking of sophisticated solutions like our innovative gear box, once again, we clearly didn't have the necessary time to develop it."
How effective has Peugeot's presence in rallying been as a sales support?
"If Peugeot is as well established and expanding across much of the world as it is today, it is above all because of the quality of our road cars. It cannot be denied, however, that rallying is important when it comes to stimulating sales, both in-house and externally. The Peugeot networks of all the countries visited by the World Championship profited from our presence to organise a wide variety of public relations operations. Bringing a rally team to their doorstep has undeniably been of considerable benefit to them."
What special memories do you have of your six years at rallying's highest level?
"I experienced the joy of winning as a driver, but the pleasure is even greater when you share it with a team like Peugeot Sport. We have had some setbacks, such as the spate of starter motor problems that eliminated us early on from the 2000 Monte Carlo Rally, but the happy memories outweigh the less pleasant ones by far. We have scored a total of twenty-seven wins, eighteen with Marcus Gronholm, seven with Gilles Panizzi and one with Harri Rovanpera and Didier Auriol. That's a fantastic run. We have had strong emotions and we have also given our fans plenty to cheer about. It is obviously impossible to forget the recent tragic loss of Michael Park during September's Rally GB. Not only did that have a profound effect on everyone at Peugeot, but it also hit the rallying fraternity as a whole very hard. That too, unfortunately, is part and parcel of a job which isn't always easy, but which is so absorbing that our passion always ends up taking the upper hand."
There is one round of the 2005 season to come. Do you intend to finish in style?
"The outcome of both championships has now been decided, so all the drivers will have a free hand. It will undoubtedly be a fantastic battle and I believe we have a very real chance. Daniel Carlsson lacks experience of the event, but Marcus Gronholm has always gone very well in Australia, as has the 307 WRC, and our Pirelli tyres are competitive on this sort of terrain. In the two recent asphalt rallies Nicolas Bernardi took time to accustom himself to the 307 WRC before picking up speed and going on to post some very competitive times. He showed that he warranted our confidence and that Peugeot's promotional championships are a first class breeding ground for young driving talent--"
Indeed, although a page is about to turn for the factory team, Peugeot will continue its involvement in rallying--
"Absolutely. The 206 WRC and the 307 WRC will continue to compete at World Championship level in the hands of private teams and our subsidiaries will also continue their national programmes with a variety of models from the range. Finally, we are also preparing for the future in the shape of a Super 2000 car for 2007. From the Rallye Jeunes talent-scouting operation to our promotional formulae, our driver-grooming programme will be able to continue in excellent conditions.