Interview: Jean-Pierre Nicolas : A final challenge in rallying Jean-Pierre Nicolas was recently appointed as successor to Corrado Provera at the helm of Peugeot Sport. His style will doubtlessly be different, but his ambition will be the same:...
Interview: Jean-Pierre Nicolas : A final challenge in rallying
Jean-Pierre Nicolas was recently appointed as successor to Corrado Provera at the helm of Peugeot Sport. His style will doubtlessly be different, but his ambition will be the same: to make the French team's final season in WRC a success.
Q: How do you intend to approach your new post?
Jean-Pierre Nicolas: "Taking over the responsibilities of Corrado Provera while at the same time continuing to be in charge of the sporting side proper implies a different, bigger job. But I know I will be able to count on the likes of Xavier Carlotti and other members of the team to look after certain domains. We are all prepared to do what it takes for this transition to pass off as smoothly as possible."
Q: The team has been through some potentially unsettling moments, notably when you learnt that the rally programme was to be stopped at the end of 2005. You must have feared a certain fall in motivation?
JPN: "To have imagined that would have been an insult to the team. We have effectively been through a troubled period and there was undeniably cause to feel unsettled. But here at Peugeot Sport there's no need for a magic recipe. Everyone pulls together the instant there's a fresh hint of success and everyone is passionate about their motor sport. Their motivation may be momentarily shaken but there is absolutely no getting away from that fact that their sole objective is to win, and to keep on winning. When the 307 WRC is reliable and competitive, the human side of the operation also runs at full song. The team has weathered other storms and, each time, it has proved its ability to bow to the wind, let the storm pass and fight on to merit better days which finished by coming. I am confident in our chances of finding ourselves on an upwards spiral again very soon."
Q: In sporting terms, has the announced cut-off date altered your approach to this year's championship in any way?
JPN: "The fact that this is our final season in rallying hasn't changed anything. Our approach is the same and our ambition is to win the world title for Peugeot. We weren't strong in 2004 in terms of reliability and the blame for that is shared between the team and the crews. This year, the 307 WRC is a definite contender for victory. We doubtlessly deserved better in the season's two opening rounds but there are still plenty of other opportunities to score points."
Q: You have two thoroughbred drivers in Marcus Gronholm and Markko Martin, but is it not going to be difficult to channel their respective energy?
JPN: "I think the stakes are worth it. I prefer to have to take this parameter into account and to be able to count on two key trump cards. It is particularly satisfying to see how well they get on and how intelligently they communicate together. You can feel how strong their desire is to win for the team. Perhaps it will be difficult to prevent a certain rivalry creeping in between them at times, but their approach to the year is excellent and that's a good sign."
Q: How do you judge their respective starts to the season?
JPN: "Marcus has been Marcus. He has twice challenged for outright victory but his efforts have not been rewarded. Is that down to bad luck or excessive generosity? Whatever. Now these joker cards have been played so soon, he and we know how important it will be to make sure we score points from now on. Markko has performed intelligently and has not attempted to go beyond what he feels he is capable of achieving at this point in the season. Even so, he has scored some valuable Manufacturers' points for the team and is himself second in the Drivers' championship, just one point behind the leader. Over and above this bead-counting analysis, he has progressed too in terms of his understanding of the car. We already know in which direction we need to work so that, with the help of the engineers, he can drive in total confidence and, therefore, at the very top."
Q: How has Markko blended in with the team?
JPN: "He is a very surprising person. He comes across as shy, discreet, distant even, but he comes completely out of his reserve the instant he feels the need. He is very attentive in his relationship with the technicians who say they have received very good feedback from him. We chose him for his speed, but also for his skills on the technical side and he seems to be living entirely up to our expectations."
Q: Another new aspect of the season for you is working with Pirelli. How do you judge your association after two rallies?
JPN: "On the Monte Carlo Rally, we knew we would have to cope with a certain handicap in specific conditions and, alas, those were the conditions we encountered. In Sweden, we saw that the work accomplished by our Italian partner was perfect. We also think they will be competitive on the loose. Despite the little time we have had to work together to prepare for Mexico, we believe we will very shortly be able to challenge for victory with their tyres."
Q: The 2005-specification 307 WRC will make its debut on gravel in Mexico. What are your objectives for this rally and also for the remainder of the season?
JPN: "The wider track dimensions will be an advantage on the loose, as should the car's current weight split which we have improved since 2004. We will see how we go in Mexico without losing sight of the fact that it will be essential to score points with both cars. As far as the rest of the year is concerned, the testing we have done -- including on the rough -- has shown that the 2005-spec 307 WRC is both reliable and quick. Both our crews have the potential to be up there with the best on every event. The conditions will determine each time whether we should aim for victory or make sure of finishing--"