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Guerlain Chicherit talks World RX, Dakar Rally, GCK Academy, and his ideal circuit

2019-12-20 08:42

Junaid Samodien

Guerlain Chicherit

Image: GC Kompetition

Guerlain Chicherit, an innovator with a passion for changing the rules. Changing the rules - in what way? Essentially, the GCK brand strives to be unique, thought-provoking, eco-friendly and a game-changer in the World RX paddock.

Born and raised in Tignes, France, near a skiing resort, Chicherit quickly adopted skiing as a sport and went on to win 4 World titles in Freeskiing, one of the world’s most dangerous and demanding sporting disciplines.

Racing in the blood

Having won fourth world titles in freeskiing, the Frenchman traded his skis for a steering wheel in 2003 when he entered and won the French Rally Cup. In 2005 Chicherit tried his hand at the Dakar Rally.

READ | Andreas Bakkerud: humble beginnings, racing in Cape Town, and his ideal World RX circuit

He returned to the Dakar Rally in 2006 with a BMW X3, winning one stage and finishing in 9th place in the general classification. At the 2009 Dakar Rally, Chicherit suffered an unfortunate accident while fighting to improve his overall classification and finished in 9th place overall.

Later that year, he finished third in the Tunisia Rally, and he went on to win the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup. 2010 saw the Frenchman return to the Dakar Rally where he claimed a stage win and finished fifth overall in the final classification. In 2013, he piloted an SMG buggy at the Dakar Rally and he claimed an eighth-place finish overall.

In February 2013, Chicherit became the first man in history to complete an unassisted backflip in a car. In 2014, he walked away from a shocking crash following an attempt at the world’s longest car jump. Guerlain made his FIA World Rallycross Championship debut in 2015 with a JRM Mini RX Countryman.

Guerlain Chicherit

                                                                         Image: Junaid Samodien

He returned in 2016 and 2017, entering selected events before committing to a full-time programme with his own two-car GC Kompetition team in 2018. The 2019 season saw Chicherit return to the FIA World Rallycross Championship with 2 teams – GC Kompetition and GCK Academy.

Talent and misfortune

Swedish Rallycross driver Anton Marklund joined Chicherit in the GC Kompetition team, while two young rallycross talents, Cyril Raymond and Guillaume de Ridder joined the GCK Academy team to compete on the world stage with two Renault Clio R.S. RX Supercars.

Despite suffering from his fair share of misfortune. The Frenchman claimed a fourth-place finish in Canada, his best result in World Rallycross and ended the season in twelfth place overall. Guerlain Chicherit took some time out of his very busy schedule to talk to us at the World RX of South Africa last month.

Junaid Samodien: Why did you become a racing driver?

Guerlain Chicherit: Since I can remember, I really loved motorsport and I’ve always been crazy about the sport, and when I was doing my skii career. I was a professional skiier, but my dream was to become a professional driver.

When I stopped my skii career, I then decided to become a professional driver and I have been working really hard on that because I am coming from a completely different sport and you have to learn everything from zero, which was really hard for me because I am fighting with guys who have been driving go-karts since they were really young. So, I don’t have the same background it was really hard for me at the beginning and now we are getting there. 

JS: Having competed in the Dakar Rally for a number of years. Would you return to the Rally Raid in the future?

GC: I have competed in 10 Dakar Rallies.

JS: Would you consider returning to the Dakar Rally in the future?

GC: Yes, that is my plan. My cars are ready. They are in the workshop ready to go, but we are not going this year because we decided to change the technology and want to return in 2021 with the Dakar car(s), but with a different energy. It is not going to be a petrol engine anymore.

JS: Electric?

GC: (laughs) MAYBE!

JS: Having successfully completed the first-ever unassisted backflip in a car? Is there anything you are still contemplating doing in a car?

GC: The thing is when I started to drive and really became a professional driver – I always liked to push myself and do something that has never been done before or try and create something. And, when I stopped my skii career I was starting to be a professional driver, and I said: ‘why not try and mix the two sports’ and do something with my race cars. Something that I used to do with my skii’s. So, that is how the project with the backflip started, but it took almost four years to make it work. We started to build the cars in 2008 and we finally made it in 2012 after fifty or sixty crashes. So, it was a pretty long and hard process.

JS: Based on GCK’s performance this year there appears to be a performance difference between Fors and Prodrive. Have you noticed the difference in performance?

GC: This is good and bad. Prodrive is for sure an amazing brand and they designed these cars, and this car (Megane R.S. RX) is really amazing, but Prodrive is used to working with manufacturers spec, and a big budget which was not really feasible for a private team like us. So, that is why I had to make the decision last year and work with my guys in France, called Fors Performance.

They are not Prodrive, and they are not as big as Prodrive but on the other hand, they know Rallycross and they have been involved in the sport for 15 years, which is not the case with Prodrive. So, the best we could have done was use both Prodrive and Fors, but I couldn’t make it happen and I had to make the choice.

JS: GCK has made an impressive step from 2018 to 2019, having come incredibly close to a victory this season. What do you think the team needs to make that final step and claim wins on a regular basis?

GC: We are there in terms of performance if you look at statistics (data) at every track. The cars have been quite fast but we had some issues. It’s only the second year of the Megane, and don’t forget we are fighting against the Audi who have been in the championship for four or five seasons already, as well as Peugeot – I think it’s their fifth or sixth season. So, we are fighting against people who know the sport really, really well and those cars have been improved and developed to the top level, and especially in the last few years.

Guerlain Chicherit

                                                                               Image: GC Kompetition

The Audi’s and Peugeot’s were developed with a big budget, which is not our case and to be at that speed already and fight with them sometimes is really, really amazing, but now the next step is to beat them, which is going to be another big step which will not be easy because the drivers and cars are super fast and super reliable which is our problem at the moment.

We have the speed but something always happens and the question is to be able to put everything together which is the biggest issue at the moment, but we have already started working and testing for 2020 – and that is why Rokas was not here [in Cape Town] for the final race because we needed to keep one car in France. We have already started testing the developments for next year. The clear objective for 2020 is to fight for the championship.

JS: How would you assess your performance this season?

GC: It was up-and-down for many reasons. Sometimes I was upset with the reliability of my cars because I had some problems. Most of the problems were on my car which was a bit difficult for me. I was not 100% concentrated this season because I have some other stuff to do during the week and arriving during the weekend, and the just find a way to be focused 100% on my driving is not always easy for me, but I think for the last 3 or 4 races I have shown some speed and some really interesting speed in the statistics (data) for the last few races.

I have always been in the top 5 in terms of speed, which is good because fighting with the fastest guys on earth is not easy, and coming from a completely different sport and saying that I am top five in terms of speed is already pretty good. So, the question for me is: I need to try to be top 5 all weekend and to be able to fight for the final and also fight for a podium. I am not there yet and I still have a long way to go but I will get there.

JS: What are your thoughts on Projekt E? Do you see GCK entering Projekt E?

GC: It’s really interesting for us. We have been talking a lot to STARD and we want to enter. We really want to go because my core business is eco-construction. So, for me, it is really important to turn motorsport into a green sport. 

So, that is why we have also been working on the charging solution on the GCK side. Not only on the race car. When you have green race cars… How are you going to charge them? Is it just going to be plugging them into a normal wall plug because then it will not make the sport green. So, GCK is trying to work on the complete cycle.

Guerlain Chicherit

                                                                         Image: GC Kompetition

The question that GCK has and it’s not only GCK - all the teams have the same question. Do we invest in Projekt E and then we have to reinvest in 2021 because it’s not the same technology? That is why it is a bit upsetting as a team because I could at least have one of my cars electric in 2020 because it is good to learn, but it is not the same technology and then again in 2021 we need to make another big investment to cover the cost, and then what do we do with the cars converted in 2020 other than just doing Projekt E. That is why at the moment it’s a hard decision because we are talking about big money. The kit is expensive but the conversion - the way you need to convert the cars is also a completely new development. So, it’s a bit confusing – the decision has not been made yet. We want to go (to Projekt E) for sure but we still have to understand where the sport is going first.

JS: How would you assess GCK Academy and the drivers this season?

GC: We were super proud to have launched the GCK Academy team. We gave good opportunities to two young talented drivers. It was pretty hard for them this year because first of all, it was the first time that they were in the World Championship. So, they have everything to learn – they have the speed that is for sure and we know that.

The pace that they show on some laps is quite impressive. The question is to be able to repeat it consistently, which is a bit difficult for the moment, but you have to consider that the Megane is new, and Clio is even newer, including the team and engineers. In GCK Academy, everything is new – the drivers, the cars and the staff and engineers.

Guerlain Chicherit

                                                                            Image: GC Kompetition

Altogether it’s good because it creates good energy, but they have also made some mistakes and that is why it was a bit difficult and we tried to understand them as much as possible, but we also want them to be quite independent and be able to be efficient but they have learnt a lot and we will see what we will do next year – if we (GCK Academy) come back to World RX or go in Euro (RX).

To be honest the decision has not been made yet. For sure, we want to continue the Academy team but let’s see how we can do it because motorsport is hard – it’s not like when you do a marathon and you want to run. If you want to run, you take a pair of shoes and you are able to run. But motorsport is much more complicated and we need to convince partners and sponsors, and we have a long way to go to be able to make the decision to come back next year with the GCK Academy.

JS: What are your thoughts on Rokas Baciuska’s performance and does he stand a chance for a full-time seat in 2020?

GC: Rokas [Baciuska] is an amazing driver that is for sure and everybody knows that now. It’s funny because when we decided to take him nobody was really watching him so much and then we decided to give him a chance and clearly he showed the pace and the speed that he has. That is something that I am pretty proud of. To give a chance to young kids like this and he can show the pace that he has and it was pretty good. We really want to keep him with us next year. So, we are working on this.

JS: What do you think of Killarney Raceway, or of Cape Town and it’s people?

GC: At this race (Cape Town), I have always come with my wife and the family, but this year we decided that we will not take the kids. I only came with my wife this year – because it’s one of the favourite races that we have. We love the people here and everywhere we go the people are so friendly and so nice. I love this place. And, to finish the season in sunny weather is always good because from where I live, it is already snowing and two days ago - I was in 15 cm of snow. I love to come here and I hope that this race will stay for a long time.

JS: You have raced on a number of World RX circuits in a number of countries? I have a challenge for you. Can you DRAW your ideal World RX circuit, or what would it look like?

GC: This circuit does not exist yet.

Important Points

• The joker lap should be short (faster). 

• The jump needs to be on a curve (corner) because you will see action when the cars jump sideways.

Guerlain Chicherit

                                                                             Image: Guerlain Chicherit

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