Sun 16 Jul 2023

ERC @ 70: How it turned Super (1600) for Jean-Joseph after WRC blow

Simon Jean-Joseph was out for revenge when the FIA European Rally Championship’s streamlined era fired into life in 2004.

Gone were World Rally Cars and multi-event calendars with more accessible Super 1600 machines and a far more manageable nine-round schedule the new normal.

Jean-Joseph needed a platform to showcase his ability after a last-minute blow to his World Rally Championship plans for 2004. The restructured ERC was the perfect solution.

Plans for works teams to run a third car for a young driver yet to finish on the podium in the WRC had been hatched for the 2004 season and Jean-Joseph had a two-year Citroën deal in the bag. Then came the bombshell.

“I signed with Citroen as the third driver for 2004 and 2005 and one month [later] the calendar went from 14 to 16 rallies,” Jean-Joseph recalled. “The manufacturers said, ‘okay, but we can’t put the third car, we can do 16 rallies only with two cars’, so my contract was cancelled and that was the end of my career in the world championship.”

Determined to remain in the international spotlight, Jean-Joseph secured an ERC campaign in an ORECA-run Renault Clio Super 1600, the car he’d been developing since 2002 and used to win the French Super 1600 in 2003.

“I was so disappointed [with what had happened in the WRC] so in 2004 I was more motivated than ever and I was just flying flat out,” Jean-Joseph said. “It worked and we had really, really good fun with some fantastic results [in the ERC]. The ORECA team did a great job, we are still friends and have good memories.”

Jean-Joseph continued: “The Clio was an easy car to drive, I did all the development on this car from 2002 to 2006. I had a lot of affection for this car, it was a small car but easy to drive, 220bhp, two-wheel drive but a fantastic chassis with very good brakes. I really enjoyed it and with the team we worked so hard altogether. Between 2003 and 2004 I did something like 17 rallies, plus the development of the car.”

Jean-Joseph’s 2004 ERC season was the perfect example of building up slowly for a big finale. He was on the podium in Poland, Bulgaria, Belgium (Ypres) and Madeira but a first win had thus far eluded him. Then came the Barum Rally in Czech Republic where Jean-Joseph began a four-event winning run, which also included victories in Turkey, Greece and the Rallye d’Antibes finale in France.

“The whole season was very exciting,” remembered Jean-Joseph. “I went into the championship with my small Clio and each rally was a new challenge because everything was new and on each rally we would have 10 or 15 local guys going very fast. They knew the rallies very well and each time we had to fight against them. But it was always a good atmosphere, nice rallies and nice but big fights.”

After winning the 2004 ERC title, Jean-Joseph finished third in 2005, managed one appearance in 2006 before coming back for 2007, this time with Citroēn C2 Super 1600 power.

But with Super 2000 cars now ruling the ERC roost, Jean-Joseph’s S1600-specification Citroën didn’t quite pack enough punch for outright wins although his five podiums were enough for a second ERC title at the end of a 2007 season that would prove to be his last in the championship.

“There were good and bad memories from the ERC but I still follow it now,” he said. “The structure and the promotion of championship is really good. There are some very, very good drivers doing the championship and I am happy to see that, it really is the step before the WRC.”

Having made more than 40 ERC appearances, Jean-Joseph naturally has many memories, good and not so good.

“A good memory was maybe [on Rally 1000 Miglia] in Italy when I was fighting on the podium before I forgot to fix my bonnet and I did a complete stage with the bonnet open,” the now 54-year-old said. “This year when I was on Rallye Monte-Carlo some Italian guys said they remembered this time when I was flat out with the bonnet open. But it was a bad memory because I lost my podium for that.

“Another crazy rally was Ypres in 2004 because I was fourth overall at the end but I finished second because the guy just in front of me had something wrong with the turbo and another guy did a jumped start and got a penalty of 10 seconds.

“There was also podium in Poland after I got a puncture and then there were the wins in places like Turkey and Greece, all very good memories.”

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