Interview with Pascal Dimitri : The logistics of travelling to Rally Japan
Moving an entire rally team to such a distant and singular country as Japan is no easy matter. Peugeot Sport's Logistics Manager Pascal Dimitri explains some of the niceties of the exercise...
Rally Japan was a WRC round for the first time last year. What sort of difficulties do you face when travelling to a new venue?
"In the case of new events, the first job is to ensure you know where to go to book hire cars, for example, or where to find hotels close to the action with the capacity to put up the whole team sufficiently comfortably. This calls for a recce trip to the venue well upstream of the rally itself. This work can be quite complicated in a country such as Japan which has a number of particularities."
"First of all, the language barrier doesn't help matters. We have to work with interpreters or local contacts who not only help us locate what we need but also look after the necessary groundwork taking into account the Japanese way of thinking. For example, when they do not exactly understand one of our requests, they tend to sit on things rather than approach us for the additional information they need. But once you've understood that, you know you needn't hesitate to keep following up your requests until your requirements are met."
It is also said that administrative formalities can be relatively complicated...
"In addition to the problems you face when preparing for any long-haul event, Japan has its own quite strict and specific laws that you need to be aware of before leaving. For example, an international driving licence isn't sufficient to drive in the country; you also need Japanese translations of the driver's European licence. Also, for certain non-French members of the team, we may be requested to organise a special aptitude test on arrival before they can be authorised to drive in the country! At the same time, we are not permitted to ship out medical supplies and equipment by freight, which means we have to juggle with a number of waivers and find a local source for certain products which we need to be able to identify. There are also specific regulations covering customs and the use of radio and satellite communications. The cellular phones we use everywhere else don't work in Japan either, so we hire some fifteen mobile phones, plus a number of landlines for our use in the service park."
How do you organise the transport of the cars and equipment to the rally's base on the island of Hokkaido?
"This is a one-off case because, since last year, the factory teams and ISC have pooled resources to charter a 747 from Japan Airlines which flies directly to Sapporo, the closest suitable airport to the rally's host town Obihiro. Of course, this means being reliant on the other teams because you need to establish a detailed schedule that everyone is happy with and which you then need to meet to the letter."
So the logistics staff of the different manufacturer teams have found a way of cutting costs...
"In a way. By travelling together, the trip out to Japan is barely more expensive than it is to other long-haul events and the other costs are pretty much comparable. The contribution of each team to the cost of the charter varies according to how many cars and much equipment they take out. But the price can also fluctuate because of last minute changes to the plan, such as Mitsubishi's withdrawal of its entry last year. Even so, it is still less expensive than working in your own little corner and, apparently, the system seems to work. The equipment is sent out on Friday September 23rd, arrives in Sapporo the following morning and is in the service park by the Sunday. For the return trip, the plane leaves Japan on Tuesday October 4th. The 307 WRCs and equipment are back in Velizy some time the following Thursday, so it's quite quick."
Could this approach be carried over to other events?
"Not necessarily. In the case of Japan, freight costs are very high because the number of planes available is limited and they are always full, so chartering a plane is a cost effective solution. But for destinations such as New Zealand, Mexico, Argentina and Australia, there are far more planes offering sufficient space, so we benefit from very attractive prices which make it worthwhile to work individually."
What about your 'basic' overseas equipment package?
"We still make use of our four big containers which travel round the world carrying four recce cars, two lightweight vans and a selection of parts that need neither maintaining nor replacing. These containers arrive in Japan before the event and will then travel directly to Australia after the finish. The Australian authorities are very demanding regarding the cleanliness of our equipment, so everything is given a thorough wash and clean in Obihiro to ensure that every blade of grass or speck of dirt that could emanate from another country is removed. Before they are put back into the containers, parts and vehicles are shown to the Australian quarantine inspectors who travel out specially to Japan for this purpose. They then seal the containers which travel on to Perth for Rally Australia. But before the team travels out there, it will have competed in both the Tour of Corsica and the Catalonia Rally..."