LUC ALPHAND, THE CHAMPION WHO CAME FROM THE COLD Nine years after becoming Alpine Skiing World Champion, the French driver is again the best, but this time in the Dakar Runner-up of the last edition of the Rally, Luc Alphand faced this...
LUC ALPHAND, THE CHAMPION WHO CAME FROM THE COLD
Nine years after becoming Alpine Skiing World Champion, the French driver is again the best, but this time in the Dakar
Runner-up of the last edition of the Rally, Luc Alphand faced this year his seventh participation in the Dakar and he did it with the firm intention of winning. But to do so he had to dethrone the best rally-raid driver of all times and his team mate in the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team, Stéphane Peterhansel. He took the lead of the race after the seventh stage, but navigation mistakes, getting stuck in the sand and hitting a tree took him to settle for the second place. But the Dakar Rally is unpredictable and the leader Peterhansel lost his options to regain the title hitting a tree as well. Behind the leader from the eighth stage and with two stage wins, Alphand finally became the winner of the 2006 Lisbon Dakar Rally.
Country by country, which has been your route to Dakar?
"Starting in Portugal was a great idea because it's a wonderful country for off-road racing. Both stages went well, especially the second where the terrain was hillier. Then we arrived in Morocco, but this year the stages have been harder, longer; the three days in Morocco were really complicated. We made more than 300 kms every day; there was a lot of dust and many motorbikes to overtake. It was complicated to get the pace and be fast; there was a different reason every day. But we had a nice fight with the Volkswagen, with the Schlesser. We were very close until we reached Zouerat, ten cars within ten minutes. Incredible for a rally like this. In Mauritania, Stéphane tried to push harder to set the differences and I did my best to follow him. The two stages until Nouakchott were very satisfying because we opened a good gap to the Volkswagen and the fight with Stéphane was very close; we were only 8 minutes behind until Kiffa. From then on everybody was telling us that we would be the winners, but all the stages in black Africa were quite complicated. I made my first serious navigation mistake and then I crashed with a tree, something that made me forget about the victory. But Stéphane also made a mistake; we took over the lead and worked hard to keep it until the end. I'm very happy of having reached Dakar as the winner."
Which has been the worst moment for you in this edition?
"Accidents are always the worst moments for us. Andy Caldecott's death was hard. The cars are coming from behind and that day we passed the accident site and saw him and the bike. It was a horrible moment, with no doubt. From the sporting point of view, my worst moment was when I hit against the tree. I knew that everything was over for us. We had been fighting day after day for the victory and we had lost it due to a driving mistake. It was a bad moment but I'm happy for the rest."
Apart from the victory, which was the best moment?
"The stage from Zouerat to Atar. We were driving together with Stéphane and we knew that we were enlarging our gap to the Volkswagen. We were driving to the limit and I felt comfortable following Stéphane's pace. We made an almost perfect stage if we hadn't got stuck in the sand for a while, but we were fast."
Mitsubishi has taken the victory six times in a row, what do you think is the secret?
"The strongest side of Mitsubishi is that they have a very good base. The car is good, but the team of people working there is fantastic. Everybody works in the same direction looking for the victory and trying to progress day after day. And you have to add their experience. Mitsubishi has been in the Dakar Rally for 24 years, so they have the know-how. Every day at the bivouac, solving problems, preparing tactics, studying stages... Money is not the key to success, that's the big advantage of Mitsubishi. We will continue exploiting it to improve the car and try to win again next year."
Let's talk about your team mates. What about Stéphane Peterhansel?
"He is a reference for all of us. He is fast, strong, really hard to beat, but he has shown that he's also human. We all make mistakes under pressure. I also made them. I hit a tree and got stuck in the sand in the three Mauritanian stages. So far it had been strange that the leading cars would get stuck so many times, but now, with the new regulations as regards the self-inflating, it happened to all of us. Stéphane and I are great friends, but we're also fighting with the same aim, which is the victory. I'm very proud of having been fighting with him until almost the end."
"Nani has impressed me a lot. He might have been driving over his limit in the first stages, but he knew how to compensate and in the end he did a great job. We met on the track one day and I had to overtake him, but the truth is that it cost me a lot. He was a bit angry with me and I apologised, but such are races. He's a great guy and I'm very proud of how he has improved in one year. I'm sure that next year we will be fighting together for the victory. Next year we'll be an even stronger team."
What role has played Dominique Serieys in your victory?
"We're always talking about the drivers and forget about the team director. Dominique is a key element in the Repsol Mitsubishi Ralliart Team both from the human and from the sporting point of view. Dominique is a great person, somebody who makes the team work as one and feel close. It is evident that we all want to win and Dominique makes the best for each one of us. Individualities are complicated to bear but we always make team meetings and spend a lot of time together. The aim is to work, both physically and psychologically and with the car, but also to be close and to work as a team. Dominique is, in a large part, responsible for Mistubishi's and my success."
Now that you have won the Dakar, which is going to be your next challenge?
"I don't know yet, but it wouldn't bad to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a jet ski."
What is Luc Alphand going to do in the next days?
"I want to go back to France. We still have a couple of days of work with the press ahead. A couple of days in Lyon and then we're going to Paris. Then I'll dive into the snow, I'll go to ski in Garmisch and then to work for the French TV during the Olympic Winter Games. When that's over I'll go back to work with Mitsubishi for the Argentina Rally, then one week to rest and off to Tunisia. There's no time to rest."