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GP Week : Issue 147
Thirty years ago, Michele Mouton won the Rally of Portugal in her works Audi Quattro, her second victory on a world championship rally on only the second time she had been to the event. These days Michele has the number one job in the world championship, as Manager of the WRC, a position awarded to her by the President of the FIA, Jean Todt. A few days before this year’s Rally of Portugal, she was guest of honour at the promotional single stage Fafe rallysprint run in the north of the country. There were tears in Michele’s eyes as the huge crowds and the boundless enthusiasm of this nation came to mind. GPWEEK: This must bring back all sort of memories? MICHELE MOUTON: I will never forget the passion of these people for rallying, for the drivers. I had been to Portugal the year before, in 1981, and the enthusiasm of the people was everywhere. Even during the practice you couldn’t go out of the hotel, the crowd was there, everybody was there during the night too. And during the rally the road sections were often blocked by people. My co-driver, Fabrizia (Pons), kept telling me to continue driving even if we could not see the road because of the people. A really incredible passion for our sport and I was reminded of this at Fafe. Under the current system of the FIA, do you think that this rally could ever go back to the north again? I have to say I really hope so, our sport is a popular sport and I think we have to stay close to the fans. OK, when I say "close" I do not mean like the spectators used to be, standing close to the edge of the stages. You have to keep educating people today, but I really hope that the rally can go back to the north of Portugal again, close to the people who love the sport. As Manager of the World Championship, do you think the championship should change in its style? At the FIA we know all the arguments about the cost. We are working on different elements in our sport for reducing the cost, with the tyres for example. But I think what is missing in our sport is creating stories and we have to change to inject more endurance. Endurance does not necessarily mean longer rallies – we can run longer stages. At the end of the long stage in Mexico the journalists were waiting because they knew something could happen. If you make the same length of stages in three shorter stages, nothing will happen. The cars are too strong, the drivers are good, if you have a puncture you don’t stop to change a wheel, so you don’t create stories. The driver will have to drive differently. You can drive 15 or 20km on a flat tyre, but you cannot drive 60km. With 60km you have to change the tyre, so this also makes a difference to the way drivers will have to drive. The FIA keeps making experiments, quite often going back to what has been tried out but abandoned before. Little things like reverse seeding. Is this new change just another experiment for the moment or a permanent policy? We are not stupid. In this matter we want to avoid the stupid tactics (artificially altering your classification position) which were not good for our sport. At least (reverse seeding) stops that, but if we find a better solution then of course we are not against another change. For the moment I think it is working better than last year but of course nothing is perfect. How permanent is the reintroduction of night gravel stages or is this another experiment? It is experiment, aimed to give more endurance to the rally. I know that drivers are not used to driving on night stages but why not driving at night? I don’t think it is more dangerous. We have to adapt our safety systems to the night but I don’t see why it should be forbidden. We always used to drive with dust before. I don’t know why suddenly drivers cannot cope with the dust. Do you have any more experiments that you would like the FIA to try out? We have a lot of ideas for the future. We are trying to see how to reduce service time and to have cars that you can run longer without changing parts, but this is still a study we are still working on. We would like to have more stories, more endurance. Our sport is endurance rally, it is not a sprint, and I think we have to go also with reducing the cost, and we are working on all of that. One final question, I see that Fabrizia is still winning rallies but you are not. Don’t you feel you retired from rally driving too early? Not at all! I let Fabrizia enjoy rallying as a co-driver but I don’t feel like starting again in competition. I am busy enough in my new life! 5 MINUTES WITH MICHELE MOUTON MARTIN HOLMES caught up with world rallying’s First Lady, rally winner and now FIA administrator, in Portugal 5 MINUTES 17 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: