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Q&A: Andrew Coe - Rally GB: EXCLUSIVE

6 June 2008

by Rob Wilkins


TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH ANDREW COE: CLICK HERE


The Wales Rally GB confirmed that it has been awarded CarbonNeutral event status on Thursday at the official media launch in Cardiff. Crash.net Radio caught up with Andrew Coe, chief executive of event organiser International Motor Sports Ltd (IMS) and got the details on that - and spoke more generally about this year's Rally GB, the final round in the 2008 FIA World Rally Championship, which runs from December 4-7...



Crash.net:
Andrew, how are preparations going for this year's Rally GB?

Andrew Coe:
Great - we are very much on track. We have had an exciting morning here with the launch of the event and we have some thrilling developments for 2008.

Crash.net:
The big announcement of course is that this year's event is going to be CarbonNeutral.

AC:
That is correct. We are obviously very excited about making that announcement. I think as far as we are aware, certainly in WRC terms, we are the only event to be completely CarbonNeutral. But possibly even wider than that - and in terms of motorsport events in general, we are not aware of anybody else that has gone down this path. It is a very important move and hopefully using the platform of the Wales Rally GB and the WRC we can showcase the fact we can all take action both as individuals and corporately in our case, for this very important issue. The important thing really is we have taken the step of off-setting all of the activities associated with our event - including spectator travel from both overseas and nationally. In effect you can come and visit our event and go home with a very clear conscience.

Crash.net:
How exactly is this carbon off-setting going to be achieved?

AC:
We have been working with a company called the CarbonNeutral Company and they are authorities in this particular area. We have done a thorough research programme into what the emissions are for our event - literally from the ground upwards. What we have done this year is in invest in a number of programmes that are designed to reduce carbon emissions - and these are projects that we will be talking about more over the coming weeks and months, some of which are based here in Wales, which is obviously a positive. But it is a matter of also embarking on a cultural change as a company and an event to adopt measures that are going to reduce our carbon emissions over the next few years. We are also working closely obviously with the automotive sector and car manufacturers to look at the rally cars themselves. Although the rally cars, and this was quite a pleasant surprise for us, but they only constitute a very small percentage, less than 5 per cent, of the total emissions of our event. You can imagine the important factor is actually the spectator visits to the event. That is what generates the largest part of our Carbon footprint. But as I say we are working with various projects around the world now to off set our carbon emissions and hopefully also embark on internal measures to make sure we gradually reduce our emissions year-by-year.

Crash.net:
Some experts say that carbon off-setting doesn't work and that it doesn't actually address the root cause. How would you respond to that?

AC:
I think it does as long as it is in conjunction with a series of management initiatives and programmes to reduce the carbon emissions over time. In that case the two can then go very much hand-in-hand. We have obviously taken a lot of advice and soundings on this. But the position is none of us can afford to wait. We really need to use the platform of our event and our sport to showcase the technology that is actually starting to contribute towards the car technology of the future, which will obviously involve higher compression engines and perhaps lower capacity engines, but higher power engines. That is probably the direction all of us will need to go in, in the very near future.

Crash.net:
Rally Norway did this last year with carbon off-setting. Is this where Rally GB has got the inspiration from?

AC:
Not really. We have been looking at this for some time and obviously we have, as our title sponsors, the Welsh Assembly Government and a number of government agencies based down here in Wales that support us. They are obviously very keen to see us go down this particular route because most government agencies are very sensitive to this issue and have been for some time. We have been thinking about this and working with our title sponsor for some time to see how best we can address this issue. A lot of thought has gone into it and we believe this is the best way forward for us. As long as we are raising awareness and hopefully encouraging people to take full responsibility for their emissions then we can all start talking about this in a more positive light.

Crash.net:
Now the other big announcement was the fact the tickets have gone on sale and related to that is the news that the event will have a 'kid for a quid' initiative.

AC:
We have been very proud that the spectator stages we host in the Cardiff Millennium stadium have had about 75,000 people come along over the last three years. About half of which we know from our ticket sales are people that don't necessarily consider going to other parts of the rally and in the more adventurous way go out into the forests. A lot of children are brought along to experience rallying in the raw, for the first time perhaps, and hopefully some will become rally fans. We are building on that for this year and this is the fourth year we will be back in the Millennium Stadium and for this year, as the name suggests - 'kid for a quid' - you can take children along to the event for the princely sum of a pound. That offer also applies for access to the service park. In effect for £2 you can spend four hours in a world class sports facility and see world class entertainment. Then the following day you can spend a day in the service park and get perhaps closer to the action than you can in any other form of motorsport. We are very keen and eager to encourage and use the platform of the Wales Rally GB to introduce children, and build rally fans for the future - and that is what we intend to do. It is very exciting and there are lots of other initiatives on ticketing designed to reduce the cost of attending the event. We hope people will support us.

Crash.net:
What are the other main changes for this year's edition?

AC:
The route is changing quite significantly. For this year, leg 1, the Friday stages, will for the first time in ten years, see us going back to some very iconic tests. The Hafren Forest, which incorporates the Sweet Lamb Rally Complex, is by common accord one of the best places to watch rallying anywhere in the world. We haven't been able to incorporate that into the route the last few years because of FIA regulations. But that has been relaxed a bit this year and so we are back in the Hafren Forest and the Myherin Forest in Mid-Wales. That takes us within striking distance - or 1.5 hours drive - from Birmingham and the population centres in the North West of the UK. We are hoping that the route will be much more spectator friendly and we are hoping people will come and see the rally and support us.

Crash.net:
Night stages were re-introduction last year, will we see them again?

AC:
We are going to have them again. This year on leg 1 again, we will be using the Walters Arena, which most people that visit the event will be very familiar with. It is a fantastic spot to come and watch the rally - where you can see the cars for about a mile. That stage, a shortened test - a mile and a half long - will be used in the dark. Furthermore the leading drivers will be fed back into the convoy and so in effect you can come along to Walters Arena and see the leading drivers in the WRC twice within the space of about an hour. It will be a night test, so it will be very spectacular, there will be lots of lights and glowing brake discs. Hopefully rally fans and families will come along and enjoy themselves.

Crash.net:
Last year the service park moved from Felindre to the SA1 Swansea Waterfront development. Were you pleased with that change?

AC:
It was okay. I have to say the weather last year, if anyone remembers it, was absolutely atrocious and being that we were on the waterfront we took the fall wrath of it down there. It gave us some problems with the surface. But this year we have had a bit more time to prepare it and some of the building work that has been going on in that area has now been completed. We have got a larger area to use as well. I think it will be, weather permitting, much better than last year and we have got a big programme of entertainment going in there as well. Hopefully we will attract the populous of Swansea and its environs. They can come along and enjoy a full day out for, as I say, 'kids for a quid' and adults from £5. It is a very good value for money day out.

Crash.net:
The WRC will be introducing rotation soon for events, how is that influencing your plans for the future?

AC:
It is an interesting and very fluid situation. At the moment I think the calendar for 2009 is set in stone and the WRC will reduce from what is a 15-round championship this year down to 12 rounds. Wales Rally GB does form part of that championship and so we are fine for next year.

2010 is interesting because despite the fact a schedule of events has been published there is a certain amount of disquiet being voiced by some of the manufacturer teams - particularly because once people see things on paper they see that some of the major events and probably more importantly some of the major car markets, are missing. That whole area of 2010 is possibly subject to review. We don't know what is going to happen frankly. But from what has been said we may see some changes for 2010. Certainly from our point of view we would be more than delighted to retain our place in the WRC. We are working towards that end.

Crash.net:
As an organiser how difficult does it make it if they bring in rotation and you are on one year and off the next?

AC:
I have been consistent in the public domain by saying it is a bad idea. Obviously I would say that. But it is now becoming more and more apparent for everybody that is concerned with the WRC that you really need in any championship to have some level of consistency and more importantly a degree of heritage and history. Our event is one of only four that still exists from when the WRC was first created back in 1973, and we are the second oldest event in the WRC after Rallye Monte Carlo - we go back to 1932. I think we are in a very strong position, given the fact everyone seems to be of the view now - media, manufacturers', certainly the organisers and so on - that you need a level of consistency. The championship needs to be built on good sound foundations - namely strong events that are well organised, events that are important to the manufacturers' in terms of car markets and events that have a history and heritage. All that is now starting to be recognised and hopefully we will see some good progress in the next few months. If we were to miss 2010 it is going to be very, very difficult. To hold together a team of marshals and 3500 volunteers that we have on our event will be increasingly difficult if we are on a bi-annual rota. We have made that all very clear and plain to the FIA and the decision makers. Hopefully the messages are getting through and hopefully we will have some positive developments in the near future.

Crash.net:
It is interesting what you say, because for anyone looking in from the outside, any championship that strikes off its most historic events isn't doing itself any favours.

AC:
That's right and that message seems to be getting through now. Probably a decision was taken a little bit in haste. But we are part of a championship and we have to go along with what the championship dictates. I think 2009 is all looking very positive. But for 2010 we are fighting behind the scenes to make sure people recognise that to have a championship without the likes of ourselves, Finland and the Monte Carlo's of this world is not going to be the same. At the moment any sport - and particularly the World Rally Championship, needs as many friends as it can get. We need to start building this championship up into the spectacle and the great appeal that it has. We need to start building rather than taking things down.

Crash.net:
Final question, going back to this year, how are you going to make sure this year's event is bigger and better than before?

AC:
I think really it is largely about the route. There are lots of innovations. But the whole rally route has been designed this year to make it as accessible as possible to the spectator. We have Sweet Lamb coming back and the Walters Arena still there, as I mentioned, and on the Sunday we have reduced ticket prices. Leg 3 will consist of the Rheola and Port Talbot stages, which are again very close to the M4. The whole thing is designed to make it accessible and get people coming along. Hopefully it will be, as you said, bigger and better than before.


TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL WITH ANDREW COE: CLICK HERE


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