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GP Week : Issue 173
C ars have always been an active part of the life of Jean-Pierre Nicolas, from the days when his father – a former works Renault rally driver – ran a garage in the South of France until he himself recently retired as the Peugeot Sport Director, and now as a chief executive of the IRC rally series. He began his rally career as his father's co-driver, and was a works Renault co-driver alongside his father when he was only 19 year of age, on what then was the toughest rally in the world, the Spa-Sofia-Liege. While his title as French champion in 1971 and his victory on rallies such as Madeira, Geneva, RACE and the Tour de Corse, confirmed him as one of the world's fastest tarmac drivers, his passion for the tough events of the world was unusual for a French driver of his day. Victories in Morocco, the Safari and Ivory Coast were classic stuff for ‘Jumbo’, a nickname he had for many years and the original of which I never discovered. It was always fun working with Jean-Pierre Nicolas. Every time you ask a question, maybe to address some current topic but frequently to be enlightened about something in the past you never understood, he awaited your question with eagerness. Several times I have made a trip just to see him. I went to the Paris Salon to have him explain all about Peugeot's new F2 Kit Car, I also went to Geneva for a resume on Peugeot's Super 2000 project. Every time I have come home knowing that the trip was worth every pound of airfares. A few years ago he gave me time in the middle of a world championship rally to talk about the Alpine days in the 60's and early 70's and the effect of the sudden end of the Renault Alpine rally team. When Renault closed the Alpine competition department in 1975, the lives of the Alpine team's drivers faced the sort of crisis that birds face when they are thrown out of their nest: "Apart from friends at Peugeot I had no professional roots. Suddenly I found I was a freelancer. Suddenly everything in my career had changed.” The roof had been taken from over his head. Success thenceforth did not come in a familiar way to someone who had achieved five podium finishes on world championship rallies in 1973. But once the dust had settled, opportunities presented themselves, some bringing successes beyond his wildest dreams, which would never have been possible at Renault. One of Jean-Pierre's wildest dreams was winning at Monte Carlo 1978: "I met Raymond Rue (a rally loving entrepreneur) who promised to find the money for me to do the Monte Carlo Rally. He asked me what car I wanted, and I said a Porsche. It was the best compromise, fast on asphalt, fast on snow, good traction and because we were going to be a private entry we needed a reliable car because we did not have an elaborate service arrangement. “In fact we only had four mechanics working with us on the event! In the end the decisions were right. We had no trouble with the car at all.” Hopes there were aplenty, but planning was brief. Jean-Pierre only knew two days before the rally that his entry would happen at all: "Until then we did not have a sponsor. Finally, Gitanes made a MARTIN HOLMES profiles the man who made IRC work ... Jean-Pierre Nicolas IRC >>> FEATURE