Nicolas Bernardi: Fantastic opportunity

Nicolas Bernardi: Fantastic opportunityFrom Peugeot Press [ 12/10/2005 ].
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Following Markko Martin's decision not to compete again in 2005, Nicolas Bernardi has been called in to defend Peugeot's colours on the year's two remaining asphalt rounds at the wheel of the second works 307WRC. The Frenchman talks about his immediate reactions to the news.

When were you told you had been nominated for Corsica and Catalonia?
"I was told at lunchtime on Monday October 10th, the day after the finish of the Le Touquet Rally, a round of the French Championship. Jean-Pierre Nicolas and Xavier Carlotti asked me to go and see them in Vélizy and, after a short chat, they took the decision to enter me for the Tour of Corsica and Catalonia in the second works 307 WRC. Without believing unduly in my chances, I knew there was a small possibility of that happening. I have a certain reputation on asphalt and being part of the FFSA Equipe de France was also a plus point in my favour. That said, I have never driven a WRC car in a factory team at World Championship level. It's up to me now to prove myself worthy of Peugeot's confidence..."

You are currently clear leader in the French Rally Championship after dominating and winning the recent Le Touquet Rally. Did that weigh in the balance at all?
"It doubtlessly helped show that I'm competitive at the moment, but I'm not an unknown face at Peugeot. From my win in the Rallye Jeunes talent-spotting operation in 1995 and my victory in the Peugeot one-make series in 2000, to my current French Championship programme with the Bozian 206 WRC, all my biggest successes have been with Peugeot."

You spent a long time in small, front-wheel drive cars before moving on to drive a WRC car. How difficult did you find it to adapt?
"A WRC car is obviously strong in all domains. It calls for much more concentration and you've got to be on your toes all the time. The straights, which give you a little time to catch your breath, flash past much more quickly and driving a WRC car just tends to take it out of you a bit more. To illustrate that, I have had to change my pacenote system this year. My notes are more precise through the fast portions and I have also simplified my descriptions of the slower corners. That said, a WRC car is also more efficient and, when you do feel confident driving it, it really does give you a huge buzz. So I suppose you don't get anything for nothing."

You've already driven the 307WRC. What can you say about it?
"To begin with, I can't wait to drive it competitively! I have already covered more than 1,000 km in testing for Peugeot Sport with the 307 WRC this year, and I drove it again more recently to get a better understanding of the car before going to Corsica. Its engine is fantastic and its chassis is very sound. You can feel the difference with the engine of the 206 WRC I drive in the French Championship."

You compete on Pirelli tyres in the French Championship, but they are no doubt different to those used in the World Championship?
"That's right, but I have also done some tyre testing with Pirelli for Peugeot driving the 307 WRC and, although my knowledge of the range isn't perfect, I do have a fair idea of the products available. After that, it will all depend on the conditions on the day and, since the weather can be fairly fickle in Corsica, I'm not going to worry myself unduly about that beforehand."

This is a first class chance for you, but will you not have a big weight on your shoulders?
"Very probably! I would be kidding myself if I didn't feel any apprehension prior to my first opportunity to represent a manufacturer like Peugeot in the World Rally Championship. It's true that I have never previously driven a works WRC car and, at the end of the day, I still have limited experience of this type of car, but I believe I can pull it off. After all, I've been trying to reach this level for nearly ten years, so I've had time to prepare myself psychologically! Rather than deny that I'm under any pressure, my priority will be to cope with it. Jean-Pierre Nicolas took the trouble of reassuring me by advising me to just do my best without setting me a very precise objective."

What sort of result do you believe you can achieve?
"It's clear that I mustn't run before I can walk and that I need to take things one step at a time. However, I have no intention of simply making up the numbers. I haven't competed in Corsica since 2001, but I've already done the event three times. I therefore have a good working knowledge of the island's very technically demanding stages. It's always very stimulating too to compete on your home round, especially when you're defending the colours of the FFSA Equipe de France and Peugeot. I am very, very motivated. The trick will be to manage that motivation and to stay both attentive and concentrated. But I don't want to set myself a precise objective until I've driven the 307 WRC competitively and seen how I compare with the other drivers."

What about Spain which follows immediately afterwards?
"That will be a different kettle of fish altogether. It's a very specific event that I have already done three times. This year's route is all new, however, and is focused much further to the south, so the stages will be different to those we know. We will see what they are really like when we get there, but at least all the drivers will be on the same footing and I won't be at a handicap as far as local knowledge goes. Also, after Corsica – which I hope I will succeed in finishing – I will have a better idea of how the 307WRC works."