2005 was going to be a transition year for them, the prophet said. Should have listened to him, and not only me.
With a new car in gestation, new hopes, and a new big time driver in the mist for 2006, what we did not know was the extent to which this "transition" was going to be pushed to. Fact is, apart for a new bumper, there came nothing significant into this car that I knew about. I was present on tests in Monte Carlo, Sweden, Sardinia and Finland. Only thing I heard of was playing around with clicks on the dampers and changing springs from 30kg/25kg front/rear bias, to 30/21 and back to 30/25. As I saw it those tests were no development tests but just mileage for the drivers. Oh, yeah, just to give you an example of the sort of work I saw them do, on the Swedish test, which I attended. As the Czech driver was driving, the main thought of the laptop guy was setting up the launch control in 2nd gear or 1st gear....2nd gear.....1st gear... And it went on for hours as I stood there. You decide if that is relevant for winning a rally.
Another glimpse of the standstill came in Monte Carlo. I was better integrated in the official team, so I got to sit in for briefings and other meetings. I received word the boss had called for a pre-event meeting in the HQ bus. We found ourselves, drivers, co-drivers, engineers and other coordinators, up there. Different things were discussed, from radio talk procedures, parc-fermé procedures to being made aware of any new changes in rules or oranisation. Then, it was time for the boss to speak. He told us that, this year, he would not tolerate any engine failures (engine numbers were limited). Ok. So he said that if and whenever we get the red "no oil pressure" light, he would give us 10 seconds to stop and shut off the engine... The feeling I got, from him, was that if you didn't stop in 10 seconds, not showing back into service would probably be wise!
I came bloody close to getting a taste of his wrath, in Cyprus.
We were having a good rally. A steady drive pushed us into 5th place at the end of day 1. Day 2 was going to be some other story cause behind us stood Toni, Francois and others I can't recall. I was going to have to get out of my comfort zone, tread the fine line, if I wanted any chance of keeping my position. Then came the moment, somewhere in the forest, when suddenly the spoiler sunk in the ground and dust kicked up. Turns out I had been on full throttle and the engine sucked it all in. Some couple hundred meters later, red light. The boss's words were echoing in my ears... quickly, I found a place to stop and flipped the switch....Off. Was it quick enough? My gut thought it was.
The car was towed back to service. There, the engine guy was already taking a peek, deep in the cylinders. Out of the corner of my eye, a glimpse of another car engineer, with a DVD in his hand running to the bus. Ok, not my problem.
Before I knew it, I was summoned to the bus for an improvised movie séance. Turns out that DVD was a copy of my in-car, they were going to screen it, stop-watch in hand!!! They wanted to see if I was going to star in tonight's barbecue.
So they started watching the in-car until the incident came up. The boss himself, timed it, from the moment the red light showed to the moment I stopped the engine.
1, 2, 3, .........10 seconds. On the spot. I sunk down deep into my chair. I was not going on the grill after all, but straight to the lobby bar.