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Q&A: Chatsworth Rally Show organiser - Malcolm Neill

28 May 2010

Q:
The Rally Show is next weekend, the 5/6 June, can you tell us what the main attractions are?

Malcolm Neill:
The headline news is that Jari-Matti Latvala will be appearing at the show, driving his WRC09 Focus. Malcolm Wilson and M-Sport have been strong supporters of the show since day one. On top of the 2009 car, four of the top competitors from the Fiesta Sporting Trophy are participating in a Nations' Cup run off, the winner of which will get to drive a WRC02. M-Sport is also bringing the Monte Carlo-winning Fiesta S2000 and the latest R2. Their service park will be quite a sight.

The other top news is the celebration of the Audi Quattro's 30th birthday. We will have six genuine works cars and two pristine tribute cars at the show, on-and-off the special stage. Also, the Audi Quattro owners club will be out in full force; they have over 60 cars on display.

Q:
What changes have you made from previous years?

MN:
We've cut down the number of rallies at the show; there will be five this year. Each rally will be run over each day; we believe it will intensify the competition for spectators and competitors alike. We're adding one new event category, Baja Chatsworth, where off-road vehicles (Bowler Nemesis, Milner R5, RX150 buggies) will pit their wits against each other.

We have compacted the event and are running a new end to end stage going one way only. This has three major plus points, no crossing points, viewing will be closer to the stage and cars can go off at 30-second intervals. Constant and quick-fire action, exactly what we want the show to be about.

Q:
The weather last year was unforgettable, how did that affect you?

MN:
The weather wasn't the only major problem last year. The Horse Trials at Chatsworth three weeks previously had to be cancelled due to their batch of bad weather; in the process the ground we'd planned to use for our show was ruined. We had to re-design our site lay-out five days before the event; it's a miracle we made it in time for the weekend.

As for the weather, like most people in attendance we're trying to forget about it. But, in fairness, we learnt an awful lot that weekend. All of the changes we've made this year are because of the problems that the rain compounded. We've got to thank all those that braved it still, only rally fans are hardy enough for that sort of experience. On a positive note, the wet weather rallying was awesome!

Q:
Malcolm, you've been involved in motorsport for a long time, tell us a bit about your history?

MN:
I was brought up in a motorsport family in Northern Ireland. My father used to race Bugattis in the great Irish Road races between the wars and then he went on to organise the Circuit of Ireland and the famous RAC Tourist Trophy Races at Dundrod between 1951 and 1955. My mother used to arrange all the driver collections for the airport to Belfast and in 1955 she collected [Juan-Manuel] Fangio from Belfast Airport to the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast. If I ever write a book it will be titled, 'My mother was Fangio's driver'!

Having lived the sport as a child, an involvement was inevitable – I rallied and raced in Ireland for about ten years, and my highlights were winning the Gold Leaf Trophy at Phoenix Park in 1969 and the Donegal Rally co-driving for Brian Nelson in a thunderous Porsche Carrera in 1976. I was also involved in event organisation running the Circuit of Ireland from 1973 to 1975 and a general involvement in club motor sport in NI.

Q:
You're most well-known for your management of events in the WRC, tell us about that?

MN:
The family moved to England in 1983 and I was appointed Manager of the Lombard RAC Rally in 1986. I had 14 wonderful years with the event and after leaving the MSA in early 2003 I spent the next few years travelling the world as a consultant. Canada, Mexico, Turkey, Jordan and then Qatar all of which were my homes during those years until 2005 when I decided that travel was not at all glamorous. Looking for something to do I came up with the Rally Show and here we are at our fourth event.

Q:
The Rally Show lasts for two days, what other activities are on offer for spectators?

MN:
Obviously the main attraction is the motorsport, beyond that we try to bring in new and exciting activities wherever possible. Spectators can visit our exhibitors and traders, have a good up close look round the service park and have a look round the car club cars. We try to promote the family aspect; children are free in to the event and we have loads for them to do. This year we've got an interactive circus, quad bikes, a fairground, and bouncy castles. For the adults, you can try your hand at driving a sporting trials car, this has become really popular over the last couple of years. We are blessed to hold our event at one of the finest stately homes in England, it adds such an amazing dimension to the show.

Q:
Steve Perez has become a familiar figure in previous shows, will he be back again this year?

MN:
Our sponsors, Kick Energy, have really taken things to a new level with their involvement this year. Obviously the man behind the company, Steve Perez, will feature on-and-off the stage. Expect to see a flurry of his wonderful cars flying around! But beyond that they're providing a band stage, where local bands will be performing for the crowds all day, this being mixed with interviews from the rally stars at the show should be quite a hive of activity. They have also set up the Kick Energy Zone where you can come and play computer games. The main part of the zone is an attempt at the world record for the furthest remote controlled car jump... I can't wait to see if they break it!

Q:
What are you looking forward to most at this year's show?

MN:
Horsepower. We have focussed on attracting really spectacular cars. As well as bringing the crowd pleasing Group N and WRC Cars to Chatsworth, we have also sourced a number of other awesome breeds of car for this year. Whilst the M Sport car and drivers are at the top of the bill we have Ferrari, Aston Martin, a bevy of Quattros, Mick Strafford's amazing Firenza Canam all of which are a demonstration of 'power against road-holding'. We are celebrating 30 years of the Quattro and my first memory of one of these cars was something I will never forget – all of a sudden rallying had moved into a new era that in many ways was the peak of the sport as most of my generation may remember.


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