Logistically yours... Interview: Pascal Dimitri Looking after the logistics of a World Rally Championship team can be likened to having to cater for the needs of an army with the swiftness and flexibility of a commando operation. Pascal Dimitri,...
Interview: Pascal Dimitri
Looking after the logistics of a World Rally Championship team can be likened to having to cater for the needs of an army with the swiftness and flexibility of a commando operation. Pascal Dimitri, who is in charge of this vitally important department at Peugeot Sport, tells us more--
How many people work in your department and what does your work entail ?
"There are four of us, including a trainee, but the team is about to be strengthened with the arrival of a fifth member. Our main job is to make all the necessary hotel, flight and vehicle bookings for an average of around eighty people, and to obtain the authorisations for the work to be done in the country where the rally will be held so that the team has nothing else to do than to look after the rally cars."
With the addition of a new event and the significant changes made to the calendar, you must have had plenty to do during the early part of the year--
"It was effectively difficult because the calendar was only finalised at a very late stage. On top of that, we have had to make repeated revisions to the way we function. Last year, we had two distinct operations. While all the trucks went by road to all European rallies, we used an 'overseas kit' consisting of seven large sea-going containers for the long-haul events. In these containers, it was possible to load three trucks, two trailers, the recce cars, team personnel carriers and all our equipment. This winter, however, the manufacturers competing in the World Championship decided it would be preferable to transport all the teams' equipment together. This was to be coordinated by a single shipping agent whose job it would be to freight the entire championship around the world. This system was due to start prior to the Rally of Turkey. However, given the current international situation, it seemed quite difficult to put into place. In the space of just days, we had to find an alternative solution. Happily, we had kept on our two operations and that meant we were able to save the day."
How do you go about preparing for a new event such as Turkey?
"We contact our local importers in order to obtain as much information as possible and we then compare this 'intelligence' with that supplied by the organisers. Whenever possible, we try to make a reconnaissance visit. We were fortunately able to do this with an entry on last year's event for Juuso Pykälistö in a Bozian-prepared 206 WRC. A number of Peugeot Sport staff went out there and they came back with some valuable information. Although customs formalities are slightly more complicated than in Europe, access to Turkey is easy. We had no difficulty finding a boat to get us to Antalya where the rally is based. The only thing we can hope for now is that all goes well on the international scene."
How do you cope when faced with a problem like the one prompted by the current uncertain geopolitical situation in Turkey?
"We have to be alert and ready to react in the case of an emergency twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If we find out the event has been cancelled after the trucks have set off, we will have to bring everyone back as quickly as possible in order to prepare for the rest of the championship serenely. The fact that we kept on our 'overseas kit', which will be operational for New Zealand, gives us a certain amount of independence. As for the trip after that out to Argentina, it was impossible in any case to get there on time other than by freighting out the necessary equipment by plane. In an ideal world, unforeseen last-minute incidents have to be planned upstream of their happening!"
What sort of unforeseen 'surprises' can you come up against?
"They can be quite varied. They can range from an oversight concerning hotel bookings to a delayed flight which can turn any advance planning on its head. We once had to organise impromptu return travel arrangements in the middle of a rally after all our cars dropped out. Happily, the 206 WRC is now a reliable machine!"
For some of you, the rally doesn't end the day after the finish--
"Part of the team effectively stays on in the country in order to evaluate, list, classify and load all the parts and equipment that have been used. On long-haul events, we have to produce totally new lists, prepare pro-forma invoices and coordinate the freight's return. The cars and equipment all have to be cleaned on site. Certain used parts go back to the factory. Other emergency supplies will simply switch from one container to another-- and all this has to be carefully noted in the customs carnets. On flyaway events, we generally return on the Wednesday after the finish once we are certain that nothing or nobody has been left behind--"
How is your relationship with the non-rally people you have to deal with?
"The golden rule of our job is diplomacy with the customs authorities and a good network of shipping agents. As an interface between the team and those parties not involved in the sport, you must be able to pace your negotiations and prompt people to react who aren't necessarily used to working with a sense of urgency. That's why it's important to build up long-term relationships with people who understand our needs. The majority of the service companies we work with on the logistics side have followed motor sport for some time."
In a way, your work is a sort of rally in itself --
"It's true that the competition starts with us since we are the ones who have to find the best facilities, book the best plane tickets and get the good hotels before the other teams. Having said that, it's just a friendly competition and the teams will help each other out if they can. For the battle that counts, the battle between the drivers, we are totally committed and one hundred per cent motivated. Our overriding objective is to help Peugeot win."