Being the Dakar boss: a whirlwind experience
Getting hold of him is a real achievement. Étienne Lavigne is always on the move and this probably rubs off from the Dakar in its current format: an event on the move and constantly developing. However, this is not a sufficient explanation to get a grasp of what his duties entail: being director of the world's biggest rally raid, what is it all about?
The best solution is to ask the man in question. It was several days ago in Rosario. Étienne Lavigne beckoned us to the side of a corridor, opened his briefcase, took out a document, opened it in the middle and said “There you are!” Appointments underlined in pink, others in green, endless lists and a breakdown of his schedule right down to the very last minute. After came the explanations, because he is a real rally enthusiast and therefore very talkative: “The Dakar is probably like a rocket. Every day, I need to check that each stage is functioning and that it activates at the right moment. The work upstream has been done, of course: the meetings, visits, contacts, the terrain, etc. Everything has been checked and validated, but now, this immense puzzle must work instantly. Personally, my work is to see everybody: from the volunteers to the highest authorities of the countries. I need to check the final adjustments boost the teams and find the right word to please people. I'm also constantly listening. Scrutineering is not the most interesting part because it's all been planned months in advance”.
In the corridor leading to administrative scrutineering, the walkie-talkies crackle and the personnel from all the divisions that work on the rally cross paths. There is an atmosphere of pre-start effervescence, an ambiance of major events. Étienne Lavigne remains impassive, a trait which is probably his trademark, as he continues: “It's here that I can see people that I won't see again during the whole rally. But there is also the press, with interviews to be given, which have also been meticulously scheduled. I need to be omnipresent and it requires a lot of energy. I need to embody the rally. I also force myself to go right through scrutineering like a competitor because I want to sense in real-time the things that can be problematic during scrutineering”.
Once the race has started, Étienne Lavigne is all over the place. Via helicopter, he shoots from one point to another. The marathon stage was an example. On-site, he was the one to come to quick decisions: “This morning, very early on we organised an intervention with the helicopters,” he explains in Barreal, at the special bivouac for bikes and quads on the 3rd stage. “We had to take supplies to the competitors in the mountains who were in difficulty and who spent the night outside”. On the rally, his duties can switch to managing this sort of unpredictable occurrence. In such a case, Lavigne assumes another role. “It's one of his fundamental qualities,” points out Philippe Sudres, Director of Communication for the A.S.O. group. “He immediately grasps the impact of every decision on all the rally's competitors”. To give a good understanding of his position, Julien Goupil, Media Director for A.SO., adds: “He's a visionary crossed with an operations manager. He's creative as well. Bolivia this year is down to him. The choice of South America as well. He is not satisfied with reproducing the same formula and is always looking for something extra, getting stuck in”. To manage and embody the rally, it is therefore necessary to be able to adapt at all times and to be constantly creative. Self-appraisal and self-criticism are also important too. Lavigne, who beforehand could not speak a word of Spanish, launched himself successfully into a linguistic challenge and now the man from Rouen in France is perfectly understood by the South Americans.