From Chris Biewer [ 24/09/2002 ].
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Peugeot Sport has a habit of swapping cars and mechanics teams between drivers at random, so everybody, drivers and mechanics alike, get their fair share and are not stuck at the same corner of the same car for the rest of their life. Also no thoughts of giving better cars, mechanics or drivers to any specific team member can come up. However it only makes sense that each driver has his personal and permanent engineer, a trusted friend as person of contact for any wishes concerning car and set up.
For Marcus Grönholm this personal engineer is Francois-Xavier Demaison since Marcus is with the team. Francois-Xavier is 33 years old, comes from Annecy and when asked about his hobbies, his reply will include cars and his friends. He is in a double rule, on non-WRC weeks he is responsible for data analysis. Francois-Xavier joined the WRC team from Peugeot’s very successful German 406 STW touring car program.
One of the most outstanding characters at Peugeot Sport is Jean-Charles Odon, the highly rated, tall, black engineer. He is aged 32, from la Rochelle and in his spare time loves athletics, music and karting. For some it was a shock, or at least surprise news when it became clear that for 2002 Jean-Charles Odon would be no longer on the side of Harri Rovanperä but has been moved to look after Richard Burns instead.
However, Harri as well as Gilles Panizzi, whoever pilots the 3rd works car on the event, have been rewarded with a rather pleasant sight. They have been presented with a personal engineer that turned out to be a 28 years young, brunette, little cutie from the Ardennes region in Belgium/French borderland: Emilie le Fur. Emilie joined the Peugeot Sport works team in 2000 mainly to work in a support role with Peugeot customer teams as Kronos and Grifone. As hobbies she interestingly names rugby, ice hockey and enduro motorbiking. She as well insists that after one week without cars and the team she feels sad and neglected. But Emilie has been appointed as the head engineer for the #3 works Peugeot for all the right reasons. In fact she proved just that from the beginning. In the first 4 WRC events of 2002 the car Emilie le Fur was responsible for won outright twice and now has added another victory in San Remo!!!! Now that’s girl-power!
So, who exactly is Emilie le Fur? Why not just ask her?
A WRC rally engineer is something of an unusual career choice for a young lady…
Emilie: ”It's a choice that came naturally. I have always been interested in cars and automotive technology. When I was little, I always wanted to check the engine oil level and the pressure of the tyres. At secondary school, I was determined to become an engineer.”
What was your parents' reaction?
Emilie: ”They were accustomed to my 'tom boy' side, although I counter-balanced that by taking part in more traditionally feminine activities such as ice hockey and classical dancing. My mother always left me free to make my own decisions. She would give me advice, but would never impose her ideas on me. She felt I was happy working in this direction, however strange she may have found it.”
What are your qualifications and experience?
Emilie: ”I had an ordinary schooling to begin. I went to a technical sixth form college and got my baccalaureat specialising in economics. After that, I went to an engineering college called L’ESTACA. Then everything went extremely quickly… I spent some job-experience time in a motorcycle racing environment and that was immediately followed by two years in Grand Prix motorcycling at world level. After working on a programme involving privately-entered Honda 500s, I joined a Swiss-German team that was developing its own bike. My duties included engine bench testing and the design of certain components. I learnt so much. Our rider, Luca Cadalora, scored some top results and the competition bug bit. After that, I switched to four wheels with my move to the Peugeot World Rally Championship team.”
How easy is it for a young lady to carve out a place in such a traditionally masculine field?
Emilie: ”It's true that the number of female colleagues in my immediate entourage has progressively diminished. At my technical sixth form college, there were fifteen of us. But then, in the automotive department of L'ESTACA, I was the only girl. I was a sort of curiosity. That was occasionally quite tough and, when classes finished, I had an instinctive need to be in the company of other girls. My dance lessons were a sort of compensation. When I entered the world of motorcycling, I was aware that I didn't have any margin for error. If I had made mistakes, people would have said it was normal because I was a girl. In the paddock, I had a few unpleasant experiences because of rumours and other difficult moments. Having said that, being a curiosity can also have the opposite effect. When you do a good job, people take more notice than they perhaps would with a man. In that case, being a girl becomes an advantage… When I arrived at Peugeot Sport, I already had some experience under my belt and I was warmly welcomed. Today, I feel I fit into this world quite naturally and my place isn't questioned.”
Do you think your position might encourage other would-be female engineers to follow your example?
Emilie: ”Why not? I don't think I'm an exception. There are plenty of girls capable of doing what I do, and with the same enthusiasm. A group of engineering university students recently visited a Peugeot Sport service park on an event and the girls were all very interested. The process is under way. Indeed, I'm no longer on my own because a new young lady electronics engineer joined the ranks of Peugeot Sport this year.”
Seen from the inside, and through female eyes, what is your perception of the world of motor sport?
Emilie: ”When you're green, straight out of school, and find yourself suddenly immersed in motor sport, it doesn't take long to realise that in addition to the theory, human relations - from the boss to the mechanics - are also extremely important. With the drivers, psychology is a big part of my work. It's an aspect I discovered once in the job and one I appreciate a great deal. This year, at Peugeot Sport, I am in charge of the third works car. Working with drivers with such different characters as Gilles Panizzi and Harri Rovanperä is a particularly rewarding experience. They are both extremely kind and motivating.”
When one is new in an established team, the reigning World Champions to boot, is it difficult to make oneself heard? Especially for a young lady?
Emilie: ”I had already worked with Gilles Panizzi at Peugeot Grifone and he put me at ease from the outset by having confidence in me despite my inexperience and I was quickly accepted by everyone in the team. I am sometimes complimented… like the others. Sometimes I get a good shouting… like the others. And that's the way it should be. If everything were diluted just because I'm a girl, it would be very vexing. Everyone is there to progress together…”
What about the inevitable attempts at seduction?
Emilie: ”You have to keep clear of them, even if that means putting a lid on dressing up as you might like during work hours. To be dressed in the same way as the rest of the team can be frustrating for a girl, but it's a small price to pay for the immense joy my job brings me…”
Is there anything about your job you would like to change?
Emilie: ”I feel it's a shame that the regulations mean we have set up camp in the same service park for three days. We go to so many fantastic countries without getting a real chance to discover them!”
What do you like most about your job?
Emilie: ”The sense of communion within the entire team when we win. Everyone, whether French or not French, man or woman, engineer, driver or mechanic, is united in the same complicity and that's always very emotional. I can't wait for our next victory!”