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Q&A: Ken Rees (Subaru) - EXCLUSIVE

21 December 2006

by Rob Wilkins


Ken Rees is the one of the 'main' men at the Subaru World Rally Team responsible for ensuring the Banbury-based squad have all they need at the various events around the world. We caught up with Ken just after the Cyprus Rally at the end of September and here he speaks exclusively to Rallycourse and Crash.net Radio about his job as the team co-ordinator / logistics manager, a position he has held since the mid-1990s...



Q:
Ken, during the season the FIA World Rally Championship visits 16 countries on five different continents. Just how big a challenge is this for the teams in terms of logistics?

Ken Rees:
It is always a challenge, especially when they bring in new events as they have for 2007. There are 16 events that we have got use to - we do a few European events and then we go on long hauls, so the challenge is always there.

The logistics of it all is quite demanding because we have always got to work probably 12 months in advance. As we leave one country, we make plans with hotels, with flights, with work shops, if we have them with local labour and make arrangements for the following year. As soon as the organisers of the various events release their itineraries' - which is probably about eight months in advance now - we as manufacturers' study the itineraries and give them recommendations. We then set the plans in place. Once we have got confirmed dates, as we have now for 2007, we arrange the shipping of parts for long hauls and we arrange the flights for team personnel, the hotels, and things like that. So as soon as things are definite, you can make plans.

Q:
Have you ever been at an event on say a Tuesday or a Wednesday and been sat worrying where 'x' or 'y' is and when it is going to arrive in the service park?

KR:
Yes, a couple of times come to mind. In Mombassa some years ago, in the last years of the Safari Rally, the world championship ship, the boat that was taking all the equipment there, it couldn't get into Mombassa and panic started to set in, because it couldn't dock. We were all late arriving at the service park and then it was a matter of all hands on deck. We had to arrange to get the ship to another port in the end and then get everything off.

Again, a couple of years ago in Cyprus, I arrived on the Sunday, as I normally do for an event and the boat was delayed coming there due to bad weather. We then had to hire some local cars for the reconnaissance, which started on the Tuesday, because the boat was due in Tuesday morning, which was too late. It eventually arrived Wednesday morning and then it was a big rush to get everything off the boat and get going. We had all the team there by then and so we were basically standing at the dock looking at the boat struggling to get in, but eventually she got in and we got it off. But that was a bit of a worry and that whole championship event was in danger of being axed. That is the risk of sending things by sea, cutting things a little bit fine. We have learnt a lesson now and we work with the logistical companies that ship things around to make sure everything works OK.

Q:
This year there was the back-to-back events in Germany and Finland - and that was particularly challenging wasn't it?

KR:
That's demanding because when you pack your bag and go away for an event, normally you are only going to that event. When you are going to back-to-backs, you are packing to go to two, so you are taking more with you, knowing you are going to be away for two events.

The logistical challenge of it all was getting from one event to another. It was too close and I think the FIA have learnt now, that doing events that are quite a few countries apart, it takes a lot of travelling between the two. Trying to do it all in 24 or 36 hours, the change from asphalt to loose with the cars too, it was too much.

The vehicles left Germany really early - at the cost of half a day of the German Rally. Everything was on its way by mid-day on Sunday and it didn't get to Finland, Helsinki until Tuesday morning and up to the service park until mid-afternoon. Again it put a lot of pressure on people. It takes three-days to set-up the service park. We had to do in a day and a half, what we normally do in three. So the pressure there and the advanced planning, if the boat had been a little bit late, it could have cost us a lot in time and work. Unfortunately those dates were set and we as co-ordinators' of the manufacturer teams, had to work within those dates and try to make the best of it. We worked together in many ways, whenever we could, helping each other, for the sake of the championship. Logistically it does take a lot.

You look at the ones that work, Spain to Corsica and Corsica to Spain. That works because they are close and you can get from one to another over night basically - or one-day maximum. Then next year we have got Sweden to Norway that will work, because it is half-a-days drive. So we could leave in the early hours of Monday morning and be in Norway by Monday afternoon, which will be a normal arrival time. Some of the back-to-backs you have got to look at and say: 'hold on, come on, this is a bit too close'.

Q:
Was it a case then when you got to Finland and got it all set-up, it was a big sigh of relief?

KR:
It was a sigh of relief - it was a sigh of relief to see everything arrive. Unfortunately one of our vehicles had a puncture coming up from Helsinki and by the time that was sorted, it set us back by 3 or 4 hours. So, we were delayed there, but at 5 O'clock it arrived and the boys worked almost through the night to get everything set-up.

I was also relieved when I had a phone call to say everything had got from Germany to travel on Monday - and all the stuff was actually on the boat. I always had this fear, you are trying to get a 130 vehicles onto a boat, in our case we had over 17 vehicles going onto the boat and at some point they might say: 'No that is the maximum, we are going to close the doors and sail', because this was just a normal scheduled boat. It wasn't a designated one for us. It was a relief to get a call at 4-o'clock on Monday morning from our agency, to say: 'Yes all your vehicles are on and she is sailing'. That was a start and we were on our way. The weather was good and she got to Helsinki on time.

So, that was a relief when the boat was on the way and there was relief as well when we all got to Paviljonki [service] and set to work. But it was at a cost to both events, they both suffered a little bit because of it - leaving Germany early and arriving in Finland a little bit late. So, a lesson learnt there.

Q:
It seems pretty seat-of-the-pants sort of stuff?

KR:
It was - and that was one of the close ones we can do without. All the planning worked and it all fitted into place, but a lot of the time you had crossed fingers that it would work. It took some planning and it came out fine. But again I would like to see any other back-to-backs in the future have a little bit more margin for error or not so big a distance to travel between them.

Q:
Surely with everybody packing up early in Germany, it couldn't have had a very good impact on that event?

KR:
It didn't. I feel sorry for the organisers of the Rallye Deutschland. They did very well this year and the Germany organisers are improving year by year, as is the event. To see spectators this year arriving in the service park on the Sunday, all we did was a ten minute service at 8-o'clock and then it was a quick pack up - we only had twelve hours to get on the road. It was so upsetting in a way, being as involved as I am, seeing people arriving at 9-10 in the morning to see action and they had bought tickets and everything and all they saw was the service park coming down as quickly as possible. People come to watch mostly on Saturday's and Sunday's, because they can't get the time off on Friday and they lost a day's viewing. The event was finished by 12. So that was upsetting to see people wandering in and looking at that point at 50 per cent of the service park down and by 12 it all down. You saw hundreds of people standing there and saying: 'What's happened?' The German organisers weren't too happy about that either, but that's the way it had to happen to have those two back-to-back. But as I say in future, with having a twelve hour drive, a 20-hour ferry crossing and another 6-hour drive, that is too much.

Q:
Can you give us some stats that reveal how big a logistical challenge the WRC is?

KR:
Well in our case, on a two-car event and generally on European events, we have about seven trucks, four recce cars and four management cars – we have to get those around. On European events we drive to every event.

Generally including drivers', we have about 45-47 personnel on a two-car event and about 55 on a three-car event and probably 60-63 on an asphalt event, where we have safety crews and weather crews, they come into their own on those.

So, the statistics of moving people about is quite demanding in that a lot of them are family people - and you tend to have mechanics, team personnel, who work two events on and then one event off. So, over the 16 event championship they will only do 10. In fairness if they did do the whole championship, they would be away for possibly 160-170 days a year, which is too much. You have to juggle that around and while they are back in Banbury they are preparing the next events cars. So that is the statistics of getting all them around on the European events.

Long haul events again it is extra time away and you have to plan that your containers will leave the UK Christmas time heading off for, lets say Mexico. By the time we get to Mexico as a team, most of the freight is there, except the air freight and the cars that are flown in. As we leave Mexico we fly the cars and the air freight back home and send all the containers with the basic equipment onto Argentina. After Argentina, its sails on to Japan - and then from Japan, it goes to Australia and New Zealand. So, while we are doing European events there is a lot of our equipment on route sailing to the next long haul. All the time there is something happening. As we are driving around Europe, we are sailing to somewhere else for the long haul. We have got people in the office, who look after all that as well, because I am away on all 16-events and that is demanding because you are out of the office a lot. We have to rely on good people back at the base to keep the 'ship afloat'.

Q:
Have you got a big map with pins on then, so you know where everything is?

KR:
It is experience I think - if you look around the championship the people, who are doing the co-ordinating are relatively well travelled and experienced. We sit together at team management meetings on each event and get together and say what do we agree about this or that and will this or that work. Without sounding blasé about it, we have probably got more experience, myself and John Millington and so on, we have got a lot more experience than some of the organisers, in being able to say 'yes this will work' or 'no that won't work'. We work together a lot more now for the sake of the series. There is a lot of planning and as I say, when new events come in, it is quite demanding to look at it and say 'this will work and this won't'. I enjoy it.

Q:
Next year there are three new events - Norway, Portugal and Ireland. From what you have said, I assume you have already sorted the plans for those then?

KR:
Yes, other than Ireland, we are just waiting for the final details for that one. We are well on with Norway - we have already done hotels and crossings etc. Being a back-to-back, a comfortable back-to-back, we will fly people to Sweden and then fly them home from Norway. The same will happen with the vehicles, the vehicles will go probably into Oslo and then drive across to Sweden, then come back across to Oslo.

Portugal is what we term a relatively simple event because it is a cross-country. It is just a long drive down to there. The organisers are arranging flights and hotels for the manufacturer teams, so that is in a way taken out of our hands. We haven't had to find hotels and so on; we have just given them numbers. But we are already working on that.

Ireland - it is early days there. We are still waiting for an itinerary off them. We have had an itinerary off the other two, which we have looked at. Ireland is at the latter end of the year and will run for the over-seas teams almost back-to-back with the UK. From our point of view, we will do Ireland come home back to Banbury and then go to Wales.

Again it is a challenge - new organisers to deal with, new events to go to, hotels' to get use to us and new facilities to find and so on. That's the same sort of challenge it has been in the past, with events like Japan and Mexico coming in - they have been interesting. It takes a year or two or possibly three for a country to get use to a world championship event and the demands that we make upon it. The facilities we require and when you go into statistics, I think the WRC demands two to two and a half thousand hotel beds. The infrastructure needed for electricity, water, mobile phone communications. Sometimes we jam the system at certain times if it isn't geared up properly. Over a year or two they learn and then they become good events.

Q:
How has the championship changed over the years? Have you had to get more and more organised with more and more events coming in?

KR:
I go back to the old-days in the early mid-1990's though, when you used to have 20 to 30 to 40 service points and as soon as you got a route, such as Monte Carlo, you would be straight out, no matter when you got it, to find your service points and to find your hotels on route. It was a much more complex service schedule and everything like that.

Then it went down to one service point for each day and now it is one central service point. The job has gone away from finding little service points but now the one service point is the main focal point of the event. Now it is about liaising with the organisers of an event and getting the right services there - electricity, water supply, it is now much more of a hospitality event.

We sell hospitality now to get people in. A good example was Finland this year - it was a tremendous event, it got 80,000 people through the service park and it is now a big show and it has to look right. The demands have gone from just finding quick lay-bys and petrol stations at the side of the road, to having an excellent service park with all the facilities close to the stages and stuff like that. That side has changed a lot. The routes are now a lot more complex too - they are closer to the cities, where you can go out do the stages and come back to you're central service point. Over the years it has changed. It is much more of a big show now - a big circus travelling the world, the night stages have gone; it is now more three one-day sprints. But still it is very demanding on drivers, very good for spectators because the stages are close. It has changed, but it has changed for the good.

Q:
The provisional itinerary for the Rallye Monte Carlo next year is quite controversial isn't it? As it really breaks the mould of what a modern WRC event should be, with night stages, and virtually no action on Sunday.

KR:
It is very controversial, the whole event at the moment, as it is the Monte Carlo Rally, based in France and Valence, which is 400 kilometres from Monte Carlo.

The first point is: it is trying to get FIA approval to start the event on Thursday evening with two stages in the dark. Then it is a big day Friday and an early finish Saturday, with a 45 minute service in Valence and then everybody going down to Monte Carlo for basically a 3 kilometre sprint, twice around part of the Formula One circuit. They are going away from the normal approved format of the championship. They are still trying to get approval for the Thursday night stages and are still trying to get extra kilometres in, because they are short of their kilometres. Again is it going to be four legs? Do you count Thursday's night as leg 1 and then Friday and Saturday, as leg 2 and 3? What is Sunday? Is it just a showpiece around the circuit or is it going to be a stage? It is not yet finalised by a long way. They are still trying to get things together. They are a little bit behind on that, whereas if you look at Sweden, Norway, Mexico and Portugal, we probably had the routes and rally guide 1 issued a while back. They are well ahead. We are just waiting to get Monte Carlo into place at the moment.

Q:
Do you think the Monte Carlo showpiece will work, because the Cyprus Down Town Special, turned out to be a bit of a farce?

KR:
[long pause] Yeah… Cyprus tried hard, they put a lot of effort into it, but unfortunately I think they should have had an organising committee behind it, who worked a lot harder at it, rather than one man, namely the Clerk of the Course, who took it upon himself to run it. In hindsight it shouldn't have run, it was dangerous and it didn't run competitively in the end.

Monte Carlo they are use to a grand prix there. They will run it and run it right, without a doubt. Whether it is a showpiece or not is another thing. We will have to see whether it is a competitive stage or whether it is showpiece. As I say, until they make their mind up we don't know.

Q:
Is there a typical timeframe for an average event, in terms of when everything has to leave the team's base to getting to the event and then getting everything set-up prior to the rally?

KR:
Well it depends on where we are. If we are talking about a 'local event' - close by in Europe - everything will leave generally on a Friday to be in place by Sunday night. The vehicles will be parked up and then ready for Monday morning. If it is further a field, somewhere like Greece, we will set off mid-week, again to have everything in place - a five-day drive for the trucks. The recce team will leave on Sunday to get there on Monday.

For long haul, it will depend, on whether you are looking at Australia or New Zealand. The cars will probably fly a week before - if they need to be there on a Wednesday they will fly the Wednesday before to get there. So, long haul you look 10 days before the event for personnel and freight staff, whereas it starts leaving the week before on European events.

So although when you look at it on TV it is a three-day event – it is a lot more than that. People are gone 10 days before and they come back 3 or 4 days after. One event rolls into another. Take the latter half of the 2006 season - we have got some people that are away 9 or 10 weeks from home in one way or another travelling, because there is the logistics of getting from Cyprus to Turkey and so on. There is a lot going on that is not seen on the television.

Q:
Lots of days owed in lieu then?

KR:
Yeah, that is why it is 365 days a year, it is only 16 events, but we are continually working. We are probably working six or seven events into next year already. Yesterday we booked the flights for the Acropolis Rally of Greece - which is twelve events away at the moment! That is how far ahead we as logistics work and we will be sat in meetings now looking at car builds for next year and rotating staff for next season.

Q:
Final question, how much of the team's budget goes on travel/logistics roughly?

KR:
Hard to actually pin down - you would put, for the travel side of it, around US $1.5 million, which is just under a £1 million in actual travel. Again you can look at freight being another £1 million, but that will depend on the amount of air freight you have - air freight is very expensive. You will fly two or three cars to Australia and New Zealand and flying a car can be £10,000 each way, but those are all approximate figures.



STOP PRESS - STOP PRESS: RALLYCOURSE 2006-2007 is available in all good book stores now or it can be purchased direct from Crash Media Group by going to: http://www.rallycourse.com


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