How to answer a rallying call

Taking to the special stages goes far beyond finding a car and a co-driver, so we asked a familiar face to provide his guide to rallying
By Tony Jardine

I have had a passion for motor sport from a young age, and although I enjoy racing I love getting back to rallying. That’s why I targeted three big events this year – Rallye Monte Carlo, the RACMSA Rally of Scotland and Wales Rally GB. They are a massive draw for me because they’re world-class events, being part of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge and World Rally Championship.

Each year I plan a hit list of rallies and then I start thinking about sponsorship, finance and if we can get any media partners on board who’ll help us to attract sponsors. That’s the first step. If I can sort out a media partner, I can start getting proposals to potential sponsors, and only then can I start thinking about the car.

Previously we’ve run a Ford Fiesta ST 150 with the ProSpeed team, an outfit I know and trust. Also this year we’ve been lucky in hiring Andrew Wheatley’s Fiesta R2 (Andrew is from M-Sport), which we ran in Scotland. But it had to come within budget, and first of all we had to find out what spare parts we could get with the car and how well prepared it was. Then you start working through what you can do and how you’re going to put your team together. Because we had such a short amount of time before the rally in Scotland and no chance to train a journalist co-driver we were fortunate to get Gordon Noble on board – a top Irish navigator of some repute.

Being realistic with your budget is very important. You also have to put the rest of your costs together, considering everything from accommodation and insurance to fuel and tyres. When you are organising all of that as well as doing your normal job you end up doing it at night, slotting in the odd call during the day and scrabbling around to put a campaign together.

Somehow for Scotland we managed to get all the components together, whether it was hotels, extra people to help Olly Marshall and his ProSpeed crew, or persuading a member of staff from my agency to be press officer for the team.

I’m lucky to have some great sponsors. Kumho supply product and have supported me for almost five seasons now. They were attracted by what we were doing with our media campaigns, when journalists join us in the co-driving hot seat. When the editor of this magazine, Damien Smith, joined me on the Colin McRae Stages and at a rally in South Wales that was attractive to my sponsors because of the publicity they received. On the Rally of Scotland and Wales Rally GB we’ve got Sky Bet, part of Skysports. com, for whom I do Grand Prix previews, write their website previews and record their online video footage. I’ve worked with Sky for five years and they are keen to promote their Sky Bet service through our rallying partnership.

I get young drivers saying to me, “we can’t do what you do, we can’t attract those sorts of sponsors”. But I tell them you have to research companies and individuals in your local area for whom it would be relevant to get publicity from rallying or racing. It’s only then, if you can put together a campaign to benefit them, that they’ll be interested in what you’re doing.

Most young drivers get to know their regional media quite quickly and start supplying them with press releases, news and pictures. Once they can amass that sort of publicity they’ve then got the ammunition to go into local companies to try and get some budget.

In my early days I found Chingford Fruit Packers, which is now one of Europe’s biggest distributors of refrigerated fresh fruit to major supermarkets. I managed to get through to one of the company directors and found out that he had a mild interest in motor sport, so I got him involved initially as a co-driver to see if he liked it. He then sold it to the company MD, and they supported me for two years. And we had quite a substantial budget from them. It was about involvement – getting their workforce involved and sending news and pictures internally so that they felt part of what we were doing. Communications are vital in any campaign.

There was a downside of having fruit in the rally car… I decided to give some to marshals on route on the rallies, and the bag burst on a stage on a long downhill section. I had apples, bananas and pears squashed under my brake pedal which wouldn’t work, and I hit a gatepost which ripped the front of the Talbot Sunbeam to pieces. So, choose your sponsors carefully…

For aspiring drivers I would recommend that they become a member of their local car club, because through that you meet other people, you can do deals, get spare parts and a lot of free help. When you’ve done enough national events and got some sponsors on board, then it’s a case of getting an international licence to target big events like Rally of Scotland. You can do the national section of Wales Rally GB before the full event. But you’d have to plan a World Championship event at least six months in advance, and certainly you would have to start planning the finance before you do anything else.

World-class events are expensive for amateurs – you’re looking at an entry fee of around £2500 on the international amateur side of Wales Rally GB and £2000-plus for Rally of Scotland. But you can do the national sections of these events at half the cost. It’s fewer stage miles, but you’re still running in the tracks of the top European drivers. And in the case of Wales Rally GB, you’re running behind all the international superstars, and there’s a big wow factor in that.

Even at World Championship level I still try and get in technicians and helpers who’ll work for expenses only just to help the budget. I’ve known people stay in bedsits and motorhomes or camp out to save money to do an event. The MSA’s initiative Go Motorsport! is about getting people to have a go, and one good way is two or three people sharing a car, chipping in expenses and then taking turns at different events. What you do in that case is a single-venue rally on an airfield, where you might have one or two sets of tyres and during a day you might do eight different configurations of the same
stage. It’s a very economic form of motor sport, and a great way for people to start rallying.

The key to all this is motivation. You’ve got to want to do it so much that by hook or by crook you’ll pull in all the different strands and somehow get going, whether it’s on your local airfield or forest stage. You can almost ‘beg, borrow and steal’ someone’s spare gearbox and old tyres via a motor club just to get started.