Interview: Vincent Laverne : Peugeot Sport's Janus Just like the two-faced Roman God entrusted with watching over the gates of the city, Vincent Laverne's mission is to check everything that can affect the team's operation during a round of the...
Interview: Vincent Laverne : Peugeot Sport's Janus
Just like the two-faced Roman God entrusted with watching over the gates of the city, Vincent Laverne's mission is to check everything that can affect the team's operation during a round of the World Rally Championship.
You have been Peugeot Sport's WRC coordinator since the days of the 306 Maxi. What does your job entail?
"I am the link between Peugeot Sport's base in Velizy, France, with all the different organisations and people that have an influence on our programme, that is to say the organisers, the sport's governing body the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile), the drivers, the co-drivers and all those who intervene at rounds of the World Championship."
What does your role include?
"From my office, I gather all the information we need from the organisers. That is to say the rally guide, the regulations, additives, etc. I then make sure that our crews receive copies of all the documents necessary to help them prepare for each event. Once that's done, I draw up the service plan which, theoretically, is prepared before the rally that precedes the event in question. The varying speeds of reaction of the different organisers can sometimes bring you out in a cold sweat because the service plan has to be ready a week before recce begins. The various documents supplied by the organisers frequently include conflicting information concerning a time, a distance, the positioning of a control, etc. Before the rally begins you need to be absolutely certain which is the correct version! When a rally is new to the calendar, as was the case with Sardinia last year, you sometimes have to go and visit the country to see certain things for yourself, such as the location of hotels and garages for fuel during recce and you need to be sure that everything matches what you have planned on paper."
What do you do once at an event gets underway?
"I collect the passes and documents produced for the event by the organisers as well as the GPS tracking units that we have to fit to the rally cars. During the competitor briefings which take place on the Wednesday before the start at 4 p.m., we communicate to the organisers any observations our crews may have made during the recce, such as their view that a stop control is placed too soon after a flying finish, possible roadworks on a stage, etc. I then write a report which is copied to everyone in the team. After scrutineering, where we show the cars' and crews' documentation, I take a look at the service park to see the site we have been allocated, the positioning of the time controls and the itinerary our cars will need to take to reach them. Finally, before going to bed, I look at the official notice board to see if there have been any last-minute changes and to check the following day's start order which is sometimes published quite late."
You're then up early the next day--
"That's right. Once I have made sure all the telephones and other means of communication function correctly, checked that everyone's watches are set to official rally time and once again read through all the different documents, it's time for the rally itself to start and that too is very busy of course. During events, my job is to note the stage times, cross check our calculations with the official times, supervise the check-in times of our crews and man the radio link with the team's management. Being close to the crews, being constantly present 'inside' the rally cars, is doubtlessly the most exciting part of my job. From our base, we are the first to communicate split times to the co-drivers, to worry when we're without news for what we feel is too long a period and then to breath a huge sigh of relief when we hear 'stage clear for Marcus' over the radio, or 'Markko has finished the stage' for the final time of the weekend, especially when we score a top result!"
Has the evolution seen in rallying over recent years modified your work at all?
"Even though the current format of events may sometimes go against the grain of what we feel as rally fans, the compact nature of today's events clearly lightens our workload. On the other hand, recent incessant modifications to the regulations can be very stressful, for you can never be sure whether you are 100% up to speed with the latest changes or whether you have understood and interpreted them correctly. In New Zealand, for example, certain instructions from the FIA World Council meeting were only communicated to us half an hour before the start of the rally, and that included some urgent information, such as the number of mechanics who were authorised to work on the cars! When it's your job to pass on these indications to a long list of people who are rarely together in the same place at the same time, that can be tough on the nerves. Happily, all the different team coordinators get on well and we all pull together when faced with this sort of problem."
Amongst your successes, you won the 1978 Monte Carlo Rally sitting alongside a certain Jean-Pierre Nicolas. Many of the team coordinators are effectively former co-drivers--
"It's a natural career move since the two jobs call for the same skills, namely an ability to take in information and anticipate, method, rigour, concentration, calm-- and a good dose of passion to ensure you keep the latter whatever the circumstances. I think I'm someone who is easy to get along with and that can come in useful when a little bit of psychology can come in handy to facilitate your dealings with different people at all levels!"
It's also a job for someone who is happy to work in the shadows--
"It's true that this type of work is not for someone who enjoys being in the limelight. For me, when my work is recognised by the crews or members of the team, that's amply sufficient to satisfy my ego. A wink, a smile or a tap on the shoulder can sometimes be just as rewarding as the cheers of a huge crowd."