ERC boss talks EXCLUSIVELY to us about the year ahead

The boss of the FIA European Rally Championship, Jean-Pierre Nicolas, spoke to Liga Stirna this week in an EXCLUSIVE interview for Handbrakes & Hairpins. The ERC is ready to become big success in motorsport.

Words: Līga Stirna.

LS: First year of new European Champioship. How was it?
JPN: Really interesting! A lot of fighting between regular drivers, and finally the title went to Jan Kopecky, who’s a really nice guy. We are happy for him and hope that he will be known all over the world.

LS: New format – was it worth it to introduce?
JPN: Ok, there is a crisis in Europe, but on the start of every rally we have more or less between 50 to 80 cars on the start. A lot of young drivers are coming in. Concerning promotion, thanks to Eurosport we were able to deliver beautiful images from countries all over the Europe in 2013. This new season: again we’ll have 12 rallies, the timing will be much better this year, and we love to have one rally every month or every three weeks – what is easiest for teams. We have new FIA regulations for cars, and lot of new cars are coming; for example, Ford Fiesta R5, Peugeot 208 R5, and we’re waiting for Citroen DS3 R5 in the middle of the year, and new Skoda for 2015 at the end of the year. Every manufacturer presents a new car this year. I’m sure it will be big success. We decided to introduce new championship for Juniors, which will be very intersting as we had lot of demands via internet and phone calls. Juniors – under 25 years, 7 rallies – gravel, tarmac and snow, and first will be here, in Latvia. Cars will be more or less the same: Class R2. It is a very good level for young drivers, and the winner will get two races in R5 in 2015 in a factory car.

LS: Did you have any surprises last season?
JPN: Yes and no. Yes, because some drivers had the spark. Jan Kopecky is a winner, but Craig Breen, who came second, and Brian Bouffier, who is a well-known driver because of his wins in Monte Carlo rally and Corsica – they had spark! A young French driver Lefebvre, Kajetan: extra fantastic! And it’s good to see that drivers, who previously participated in ERC and IRC, are now official factory drivers in WRC: Thery Neville, Juho Hanninen. This is our satisfaction!

LS: Do you see ERC as a support series for WRC?
JPN: ERC could be a step before WRC. Why? Because it’s very easy to come to ERC; there is no obligation to enter the full year, cars are 50% less expensive, rallies are not so long, and it is really fantastic school.

LS: What do expect from the Latvian event this year?
JPN: Number one: snow and ice. You have to do your best (laughs)! Last year it was just fantastic, but right before the start it was warm. I went to the rally last two days and have to say again, that these roads you have are best rally stages in the world. When there is snow and ice!

LS: What would be your ideal ERC?
Number one: it’s not to polish your shoes, but really Latvia, Raimonds Strokšs and his team are more or less our model of organizers. We would be so happy if most of event promoters see how they must work. Then the championship will be fantastic! We want develop ERC more; have more official teams, and lot of high level privateers as well. ERC is a good compromise: not so long rallies – approx 250 km in stages, two days, cheaper cars – I think that in future, thanks to TV coverage, it will be one of the biggest successes in motorsport.

LS: How close do you work with the national federations of respective countries?
JPN: We have a few contacts, and we work with national event promoters who have relations with national federations.

LS: Is populartity of the specific rally itself important for ERC?
JPN: Very important! It’s not just drivers who are ERC. Rally – I’m quite long time in this business and I know exactly – is if you take numbers, 10% are offcial drivers, 10 to 20 good teams and that 70 – 80 local drivers. Without theese privateers you can’t do a rally. Our interest is to have lot of people come to rallies.