Mathieu Baumel is mostly known for being Nasser Al Attiyah’s co-driver in both Dakar and rally. However, the Frenchman doesn’t shy away from a steering wheel. This weekend he took the helm of a GSeries ice buggy at the idyllic Pas de la Casa circuit in his new home base of Andorra.
Mathieu, usually we find you sitting next to Nasser on the Dakar. Now you’re on ice, and you’re driving. This must be a huge change for you?
Well, whether it’s sliding on ice or sand it’s all the same to me. It’s all about having fun in a car no matter what terrain I’m driving or co-driving on.
This time you’re sitting on the other side of the car, taking up the driving duties in the GSeries here in Andorra. What is this series all about?
The GSeries is a national series organised in Andorra. It’s a really fun competition with participants who race at a very high level. A lot of professional racing drivers often participate in these events. This weekend I’m participating in it with my friend and downhill mountain biker Cédric Gracia.
The cars in this series are very specific. What kind of machines are they?
It’s a car built out of a tubular chassis, with four-wheel-drive, and powered by a Suzuki 1300cc Hayabusa engine. The engine sits in the middle of the car, basically inside the cabin where you would expect a passenger seat, and it’s coupled to a sequential gearbox. The car is incredibly quick, and it has a lot of grip because of the studded tyres.
You’ve been driving and competing a lot in the last few years. Does being a co-driver help?
It works both ways. As a co-driver, you learn to read and understand the road and track conditions very well, and this helps a lot when you’re driving because you understand what kind of surface is beneath you. Vice versa, as a co-driver it’s very helpful to also be a driver and understand how navigation can translate to a reaction as a driver. The great thing about working with Nasser is that he knows I’m a driver as well and he’s always trying to give me pointers to become a better driver. We’re basically helping each other all the time.
Last month you were still on the sands of Saudi Arabia. What was this year’s Dakar like for you?
It was a great and very positive experience. The Dakar in Saudi Arabia is a great event, and the roads and scenery are simply amazing. This year was a bit more challenging than previous years as the roadbooks had changed from paper to digital and the way they were drawn had changed drastically. So instead of the race being a challenge for the drivers, it ended up being a bigger challenge for the co-driver. The biggest difference was made by getting to grips with the new system and not making any navigational mistakes. We didn’t manage to win this year, but we were still very happy with our podium position and we went home smiling.
In Dakar and other events, you spend so much time sitting next to Nasser you two must have an incredibly strong relationship?
Nasser is not just my boss, he has become a lifelong friend. Every year we spend about 200 to 220 days together. When we’re finished with our race, we often go on holiday together. The bond I have with him is not only great on a personal level, but it also reaps its benefits in the car. I just have to point or look at something and Nasser will immediately know what I mean. This level of trust is a big part of our speed that we achieve together.
You have a strong partnership with Motul. What does the brand mean to you?
Motul is a form of insurance really. When you’re competing in harsh conditions such as the Dakar there are so many things that can go wrong. Having Motul in the car helps a lot. It gives us peace of mind knowing that the lubricant in the engine is something we don’t have to worry about.