Prodrive chairman David Richards has delivered his response to Daniel Elena’s scathing comments on being dropped from the British team’s Dakar program.
Elena’s split with Sébastien Loeb was confirmed on Monday – a move which prompted a vitriolic response from the Monegasque, in which he labelled the BRX Prodrive effort as “s**” and the BRX Hunter car as “an onion.”
Asked why Elena wouldn’t be in the team moving forward, Richards told DirtFish: “We consulted with Sébastien on the whole thing. Obviously a decision of this nature is not something to be taken lightly, but you have to look at things objectively and take tough decisions sometimes.
“If you look at the results on the event and what happened on the event, I think this Dakar is somewhat unique now – the whole thing has changed in the last few years. It’s not the event it was in Africa or in South America it’s quite unique in terms of the navigation challenge – it takes a lot of experience and a lot of practice.”
It’s not something we would’ve even suggested if we didn’t think Sébastien would accept the conclusions we’d all come toDavid Richards on Elena's exit
Richards admitted Elena wouldn’t be the only change on the team, but he wouldn’t be drawn further on other changes.
He added: “We did a very thorough appraisal of our performance on the event. It’s two months ago and we’ve had lots of debriefs and lots of debates, we looked into every last detail about how we performed and we looked at how we can improve going forward.
“Nothing was off limits, everything was under the microscope on how we approach this – that means every detail of the vehicle, the performance of the driver and co-driver, the performance of individuals within the team which we are changing as well.
“Any change in an organization is difficult and not to be taken lightly and this was made in full consultation with everybody. We were very well aware of the long-standing relationship between Sébastien and Daniel and it’s not something we would’ve even suggested if we didn’t think Sébastien would accept the conclusions we’d all come to.”
Richards declined to comment on precise issues with Elena, but the pair ultimately retired from 43rd place after suffering two punctures with only one spare.
Loeb had described this year’s Dakar as ‘hell’, with three punctures on the opening stage ruling him out of the fight for victory. On top of that there was wishbone damage which forced them to limp out of stage six and navigational errors as Elena – like other leading co-drivers – worked to get up to speed with Dakar’s new tablet-based navigational process.
Richards accepted the new system took time to come to terms with, but added: “[Stéphane] Peterhansel was extremely successful in securing a new co-driver [in Edouard Boulanger] this year and went on to win the event.”
Asked who could replace Elena, Richards said: “We are doing research on that at the moment. It’s not an easy task to find somebody with a level of experience that’s required on this type of event I’d like to emphasise that.
“The co-driving requirement has changed dramatically and that is the key to the whole situation and now is the time to bring somebody else on. Sébastien is determined to win Dakar and we would like to win next year’s Cross Country World Championship and now is the time we’ve got plenty of time to resolve this.
“We will be testing again by the middle of the year, once we have modified the car to incorporate the new regulations. We are looking to participate in Morocco and some other events prior to Dakar next year.”
On Elena’s criticism of the car, Richards directed questions elsewhere.
“We got the best result of any newcomer at Dakar,” he said. “Nani [Roma, team-mate] didn’t suffer more than two and a half minutes of mechanical issues through the whole event. I suggest you ask Nani and Sébastien what they think of the car rather than Daniel.”
Elena also made his feelings clear about Richards and a decision he was involved in during his time as the WRC’s commercial rights holder in 2005. That decision was to remove co-driver’s names from the rear windows of rally cars.
Richards said that decision was made in the interest of driving the sport forwards in terms of public appeal.
“I stand by my arguments back in 2005,” he said. “Actually, I wasn’t asking for the co-drivers’ names to be removed, I was asking for the driver’s name to be put on both sides of the car and the co-driver’s name to be in smaller lettering.
“It’s fundamentally true, while we acknowledge the role of the co-driver, the public follow drivers. And, who would I be to deny that given my previous role? But you have to face facts and look at what’s in the sport’s best interest.”