Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Frenchman gives locals a lesson in rallying

Published:Sunday | December 6, 2015 | 12:00 AMGlenroy Sinclair
The French pair of Simon Jean Joseph and co-driver, Jack Boyere, carefully negotiate the water splash stage in Wakesfield, Bog Walk, St Catherine, during the running of Rally Jamaica 2015, which concluded last Sunday.

Veteran rally expert, Simon Jean Joseph, gave his Jamaican counterparts a lesson in rallying while manoeuvring the wet, slippery and challenging terrain, of the FIA/NACAM/JMMC Rally Jamaica 2015 event, which climaxed last Sunday.

The French national and his co-driver Jack Boyere, in a 2015 Ford Fiesta R5, came to Jamaica well prepared and hungry for action, but left a bit disappointed because of what he described as a shortfall in competitiveness.

"The competition is a little bit strange down here; there is no fight (rivalry), said Jean-Joseph, who spoke with Automotive on Sunday, during the lunch halt at the Tru-Juice Sports Club in Bog Walk, St Catherine.

He believes the rally was an excellent one, but stressed that the organisers have some small improvement to effect, but not without the input of the drivers.

"When I was contesting the European and World Rally Championships, I've always represented the Caribbean, more so the English-speaking Caribbean. But it is a pleasure to be here with Jeffrey Panton and the rest of the guys. On day one, we had a difficult start, but later got over it," said Jean-Joseph.

Up to the lunch halt on Sunday, he was in second place behind the leader Jeffrey Panton, a position he maintained until the end.

"For me, it was good training to come out and drive again, because I have not driven many years, but today (Sunday) I am enjoying it. The car is really, really good to drive and the road is nice. I was expecting more spectators. The organisers seem to be really pushing to do the best as possible and all the drivers need to see how much they can help them. I am here to demonstrate how we can drive this type of car, which is less expensive than the WRC cars, and do a fantastic job," said Jean-Joseph.

The Frenchman started rallying in his native Martinique in the late 1980s, where he drove a wide variety of cars - Citroen AX Sport, Ford Escort RS2000, Opel Manta and Renault R5 GT Turbo - mixing front and rear-wheel drive. His first major successes came in a Peugeot 309 GTi, winning a hat-trick of Martinique Rally Championships before he moved on to tackle the French Championship.

His first mainland campaign was short-lived. He retired from his debut WRC event - the Tour de Corse - in a Ford Escort Cosworth after engine failure while running inside the top 10, then claimed a handful of class wins in a Peugeot 106, before returning home. An accident in Guadeloupe in a Nissan Sunny GTiR in 1995 left him on the sidelines for six months, but he won four events in a Subaru Impreza the following year, on his way to a total of 25 regional victories by 1997.

Back on the mainland, with what was by now an elderly Impreza, he won the Amateur title in the 1997 Championship, then looked set to win outright the following year against opposition driving state-of-the-art two-wheel drive asphalt machinery. A showdown in the final round with works driver, Philippe Bugalski, however, left him runner-up.

But he had been noticed, earning a Ford works drive for four WRC rounds in 1999, co-driven by Ireland's Fred Gallagher, who was in Barbados last year, as Clerk of the Course at Race Of Champions. While they only finished once, seventh in San Remo, Gallagher remembers "a great driver, who never did get quite the results he deserved".

Success was soon to come, however. After three top WRC 10 finishes in each of the following two years in selected events (2000, Subaru World Rally Team Impreza; 2001, Kronos Peugeot 206WRC), along with his new co-driver Boyere, Jean-Joseph switched to two-wheel drive and Super 1600, the beginning of a long record of giant-killing acts.

In a Renault Clio, he earned class wins in the WRC (including at Wales Rally GB 2002) and the French Championship - S1600 Champion in 2003 - then claimed three victories on his way to the ERC title for the first time in 2004. In the next few years, he combined ERC with three outings in the Dakar Rally Raid and development work for Renault and Citroen (particularly on the C2 R2), winning his second European title in 2007 against exclusively 4WD machinery in a PH Sport-prepared Citroen C2.

A water-skiing accident in 2008 curtailed his career for a couple of years, but he burst back as a rally winner in the 2011 Rallye Terre Auxerrois in a Petter Solberg-run Citroen Xsara, giving Kumho its first major victory, going on to win the French Gravel Champion-ship that year, his last title win.