Interview with Jean-Pierre Nicolas : Work, work and more work-- After leading the Manufacturers' standings for much of the first half of the 2005 World Rally Championship, Peugeot currently figures in 2nd place as the second half of the calendar...
Interview with Jean-Pierre Nicolas : Work, work and more work--
After leading the Manufacturers' standings for much of the first half of the 2005 World Rally Championship, Peugeot currently figures in 2nd place as the second half of the calendar begins. The Director of the French squad is not unduly alarmed by that, so long as the team puts in an even bigger effort over the eight events to come.
What is your analysis of the first half of the championship?
"We got off to a rather good start, with a number of strong, close formation finishes which enabled us to defend our position at the top of the Manufacturers' championship and pull out a nice lead. But that advantage has since melted away to the point that we are no longer in first place. In addition to Sebastien Loeb's outstanding form this season, Citroen scored a lot of points in the last two rallies by recalling Carlos Sainz. At the same time, the 307 WRC's impeccable reliability since the beginning of the season let us down in Cyprus and Greece where mechanical problems deprived us of two strong points finishes, although Marcus Gronholm and Timo Rautiainen's gritty determination limited the damage."
Is reliability your priority?
"Absolutely! That said, rally car mechanicals will never be an exact science. The timing problem which affected Marcus in Cyprus came at a bad moment and proved very costly. The transmission problem which prevented Marcus from coming away from Greece with a top result was more disappointing still. I'm not one to blame things on bad luck, but it was so frustrating to see our efforts annihilated by a minor problem with a minor part which ended up costing us dearly in terms of lost points. But that's the way it is. The level of competition in today's World Rally Championship is so fierce that the slightest weak link in the chain can cost you the championship lead, especially when your rival doesn't make any mistakes."
What about the performance of your drivers?
"Marcus Gronholm has put in a first class season. He has impressed me by his motivation despite the problems he has faced. On the other hand, Markko Martin has had difficulty in recent events getting himself into a position where he can score big points. Perhaps our opponents are more reliable, but that doesn't explain everything. It's true that the handling of the 307 WRC doesn't completely suit his driving style and that is something he is having difficulty coming to terms with. It's not easy and we are trying to improve the situation, but Markko must also make a big effort concerning his motivation to produce the level of performance we expect of him and which we know he is capable of."
The tyres are important too--
"The difficulties that rival teams running on the same tyres as us are facing in their fight against the championship leaders prove that we need to improve in this area. Pirelli is perfectly aware of this and they are working very hard, just as we are doing all we can to adapt the 307 WRC's suspension to their products. At the beginning of the season, the whole Pirelli range was new to us. We now have a better knowledge of their products and that has strengthened our collaboration, but there is still scope for improvement."
You don't consider yourselves beaten yet then?
"Not at all! The fact that we have announced our plans for the future has in no way detracted from our objectives for the current season. Nor has it had any effect on the resources channelled into helping us achieve them, and even less on our motivation. At a staff meeting after the Acropolis Rally, I repeated the same positive message as in 2000 when we were in an even more difficult position halfway into the championship. The way the wind turned after that proved that I was not just being optimistic."
How do you evaluate your chances of getting back on top this year?
"We are only five points behind and, on the face of it, the position in which we find ourselves is less delicate than it was in 2000. That said, the situation is different inasmuch as our rivals haven't shown the slightest sign of weakness. Citroen Sport is a strong and highly respectable opponent and the battle we face over the remainder of the season will probably be the toughest we have ever had to fight in the World Rally Championship. But I have every faith in our potential. The coming events will be more favourable to our Pirelli tyres, with Rally Argentina taking place in winter, and therefore in damper and colder conditions, while we will also have a new tyre evolution for Rally Finland, an event on which our drivers excel. I can't promise that we will win, but we have a very real chance and I can assure you that we will do everything in our power to make the most of it."