The 1990 BMW M3, tuned to perfection by Prodrive and proudly lubricated by Motul, remains an icon in the world of rally. The historic and period-correct Motul/Bastos livery is world-famous and very typical for the spirit of the late eighties and early nineties. Less known are the numerous rally victories Frenchman François Chatriot and his co-pilot Michel Périn took home. 30 years later, we catch up with Périn about those early, glorious days of rallying.
Michel, you and François won many rally championships together. Can you tell us how this rollercoaster started?
In 1970, at the age of 13, I started visiting the Rally Tour de France with my dad. On one occasion, the infamous Henri Pescarolo blasted past in his V12-powered Mantra with a magical and unrestricted sound. It was at that exact moment my automotive spark ignited. I grew up in a family of petrolheads. My grandfather was a coachbuilder and my father a bodyworker and car painter.
When did your professional career as a co-pilot start?
I used to have a big interest in Michelin maps, walking in forests and minding my own business. One day I realized these skills were perfect to become a co-pilot. Eventually I started road racing in 1977, but it took until 1984 before my career was launched. After the retirement of another co-pilot, I turned professional in 1984. Together with my good friend François Chatriot, who was driving the car, we finished second in the French Rally Championship. Later on, we would win the championship in 1988 and 1990 in the BMW M3 Prodrive car.
What was the recipe that made the stock BMW M3 such a winning formula?
Straight from the factory, the BMW M3 is a motorsport thoroughbred. Although it’s rear-wheel drive, which means the driver has to work harder, the car is very well balanced. It’s extremely responsive and the perfect car to rally. Prodrive tuned the four-cylinder engine to a powerful 285bhp and allowed it to rev to 9,000rpm. As Prodrive is solely focused on building high-performing rally cars, it masters the recipe to build championship-winning cars very well.
How did Motul contribute to these winning years in the French Rally Championships?
We were competing in the early years of rallying. Everybody’s focus was 100% on the technical improvement of rallying. Every tip, question or advice from the pilots was being changed by the team and sponsors, to help improve the car’s performance. It was a matter of action-reaction. Often forgotten and less visible from the outside is the fact Motul’s high-tech oil is lubricating the heart of a high-revving engine. When we were asking the most of our rally car in extreme and demanding circumstances, Motul proved to be a very reliable oil partner. It now has a great reputation in high-tech motorsport, but that’s more than earned if you see how well the internal engine parts are being protected.
What other rallies did you compete in?
After the successes we had with the BMW M3, things really took off. I switched to off-road rallying in 1992, to the side of Pierre Lartigue, winning the Dakar Rally in 1994, 1995 and 1996. I also achieved multiple victories and podium finishes in many of the most important off-road races, including Rally of Tunisia, Atlas Rally, Baja Italy, Spanish Baja and Baja Portugal. From 1993 to 1996, we won the FIA Cross Country World Cup.
In 1997 and 1998 I switched again to rally, participating in the French Rally Championship with Patrick Magaud. In 1998, I became team manager of the motorsport division of Citroën, where I discovered the young ace Sébastien Loeb.
Six years later, I returned to racing to share the cockpit with Guerlain Chicherit. In 2005, I signed for the Volkswagen Motorsport Team. Being Bruno Saby's co-driver, we won the FIA Cross Country World Cup for the 5th time in my career, including victories on Rally of Morocco and Rallye d'Orient, and a fifth place in the Dakar.
Your professional career kept on going?
Yes, in 2007 I was riding with Carlos Sainz and we won the Cross-Country World Cup for the second time, together with multiple other rallies including the Dakar Rally. In 2009, I was contracted by BMW as co-driver of Nani Roma in a BMW X3, winning the Baja Spain that year. In the 2010 Dakar, we accomplished a great start, winning the first stage but, after two accidents, we had to abandon it in the third stage. In 2015, I became the co-driver of Finn Rally Raid driver Mikko Hirvonen for the X-Raid. In 2018 I competed once again in the Dakar Rally as co-driver of Dutchman Bernhard ten Brinke with a Toyota Hi-Lux for Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa. It is only in the last year, when I turned 61, that I decided to quit high-level racing, although the offers kept on coming.
Once a petrolhead, always a petrolhead, right?
Yes indeed. Even now, after I’ve officially quit, I still participate with my wife and Henri Pescarolo in old-timer rallies and the electric rally in Monaco. I have a VW Golf GTI and my wife rides a Fiat Innocenti Cooper. And also, for these cars, there is only one oil brand allowed to be on the shelf in my workshop: Motul!
© Picture credits: unknown, BMW AG, Mark Henry, Martin Holmes Racing