The largest revelation of the 2014 European Rally Championship (ERC) season was, again, the Baltic states, who showed that they clearly know how a race should be organized, said the ERC coordinator Jean-Pierre Nicolas, who visited Latvia to check the next year’s Rally Liepāja course.
During the short visit, Jean-Pierre Nicolas and his colleagues from Eurosport Events also managed to find some time to do an interview with Delfi - the official news portal of Rally Liepāja.
- Jean-Pierre Nicolas (www.fiaerc.com)
What did you see in this visit to Latvia?
We had a chance to drive all the stages. As always, the chosen roads are fantastic and will make for a beautiful winter rally!
What is your view on having a city stage? After all, this is something new for a winter rally, after all!
After going through the stage I can say that if there is enough snow and ice, it will be a great stage for the spectators to see. Having a city stage in Liepāja is a great idea!
The calendar for the ERC next season was announced rather late this year, why?
That is because the Formula 1 is the main event in the motorsports calendar, which is followed by the World Rally Championship (WRC) and only after those two have been done we can make our own. For example, we had to change the date of our Portugal event in the Azores to a later date since the WRC Portugal rally was moved to mid-May, which was the time we planned originally. Because of this, we had to talk to the organizers of the ERC event and see if they could move the event, if the city allows it, etc.
It is quite a complicated process.
Austrian rally, the opening event of the 2015 ERC season, will begin on a Tuesday. Why is it so, considering that rallies typically begin on the weekends?
This time it is because of the organizers of the event. The first rally of the season, Jannerrallye, is typically held on the first weekend of the New Year, but this year that would be the very beginning of the year and if we had asked to have the event on that weekend, the competitors would have to spend New Year’s Eve doing recce, instead of being with their families.
Therefore we decided to let the teams celebrate Christmas and New Year at home. We are very much unlike the Dakar rally in this regard (laughs).
In a time when the Formula 1 championship is expanding, the ERC is going in the opposite direction – next year will have two fewer events, totaling just 10. What is the reasoning behind this?
We are trying to make the championship more attainable for the competitors. The current financial situation in Europe is not that great, so we are looking into ways to save some money and reduce the expenses. Lots of different ways of achieving this were discussed, and decreasing the number of events is just one of them. Today, a rally car is somewhat similar to a helicopter or an airplane, in the sense that its costs are calculated per kilometer, and that is what we are decreasing – the stage lengths and number or rallies. For privateers, it is cheaper to do 10 events instead of 12.
How far will you go to reduce the expenses?
It is always possible to reduce the expenses even further! As mentioned, this could be done by reducing the total length of rallies and by limiting the stage distance in each event. Next season the total length of stages in a rally will be limited to 230 kilometers – down from the 300+ kilometers that we have seen in the past. There is also a limit on tires – 18 per event for R5 and S2000 class, 16 for two wheel drive cars and 12 for juniors. Of course, any ideas on other areas to save money would be appreciated from anyone, as long as they don’t compromise the safety of the rally.
This was the second season of the ERC in its new format. What conclusions have you made after 2014?
We have begun more intensive work with TV and video, popularizing the championship and the event calendar. I am certain that we are moving in the right direction.
The last season went very well and we hope that 2015 will be even better, for multiple reasons. First of all, we hope to drastically reduce the costs for competing. Secondly, there will be two new cars that will be homologated next year – Škoda Fabia R5 and Citroën DS3 R5. This means that the market will have some new cars, which should increase the availability of used cars, potentially resulting in more privateer teams for next season.
In Corsica, we had the chance to see Le Mans 24 Hours race winner Romain Dumas at the wheel of a Porsche – a fantastic car that we hope to see back in rallies next year as it is quite a sight to behold, and makes a great noise as well. Naturally, it might not be as competitive in gravel rallies, but in events like Latvia or Estonia, where you have great quality gravel roads, I don’t see why it couldn’t participate. It would be great to see some Finns or Baltic drivers at the wheel of such a car!
How easy was it to choose the recipient of the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy in each event?
There were times when this was very hard to decide with multiple worthy recipients, since our position is that the trophy should not go to the winner of the event. The jury, which chooses the recipient of the trophy, consists of Jimmy McRae (father of Colin), Roy Gilbert and myself. We look at the drivers and judge them from a “Colin McRae perspective”, and I’m especially proud of Kevin Abbring, who won the Colin McRae Erc Flat Out Trophy Driver of the Year prize. I believe that in two to three years he will be the best rally driver on the planet! Many of the drivers currently fighting for the top spots in the WRC actually come from the ERC, such as Andreas Mikkelsen, Kris Meeke and Thierry Neuville. Abbring could be a future world champion!
What was your favorite moment of the 2014 ERC season?
It’s really difficult to single out just one thing. For example, we were really happy to find two rallies in the Baltics, both of which are organized at such a high level – last year it was Latvia, and in 2014 it was Estonia, and both of these races were in the Top 3 in Europe in terms of quality! The organization of both rallies is very clear and perfect, these events are used as an example for everyone. As a Frenchman it is very difficult to admit, but the worst event of the year was Corsica – we’ll send the organizers to the Baltics to learn how to organize a rally! They will probably be too proud to go, however (laughs).
Which was the best event of the year from a TV perspective?
Jean-Batiste Ley,the ERC coordinator: All of them! (Laughs) Statistics show that we had a very consistent audience throughout the season, between 6 and 9 million people for each event. It was not like having 5 million for one event and then 15 million for another.
We also know that the first six events of the year, from Jannerrallye in January to Ypres rally in June were watched by 79 million people on Eurosport and other TV channels. Data for the whole season will be available in January. In 2013, the total audience was 220 million.
Did the situation that a battle for the title ended when one of the contenders had his car burn down before the race impact the intrigue of the last event of the year?
I don’t think it did, because Corsica had a great battle for victory between the former Formula 1 driver Stephane Sarrazin and Bryan Bouffier, who were also threatened by French national championship driver Maurin. Sure, he had some trouble due to cows on the road, but there are many different animals in the woods in Latvia as well, and we’ve seen them!