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Q&A: John Millington (Ford) - EXCLUSIVE

30 December 2006

by Rob Wilkins


John Millington is the logistics manager at M-Sport and his job is to ensure the BP Ford World Rally team and the Stobart VK squad arrive at each event suitably equipped and stocked-up for each round in the FIA World Rally Championship.

We caught up with John back in September and here he speaks exclusively to Rallycourse and Crash.net Radio about his role and precisely what it involves...



Q:
John, during the season the FIA World Rally Championship goes all round the globe. Just how big a challenge is this for the teams in terms of logistics?

John Millington:
This year has been an extra big challenge to be fair because of having the back-to-backs in Germany and Finland.

Plus obviously moving items around the world now takes a lot more paper work and effort with the current situation - even flying people around the world is no longer easy. So, we have had a few new challenges this year, which we have not had in previous years.

Q:
I assume the long-haul events in Japan, NZ, Australia, Mexico and Argentina present the biggest test?

JM:
Yes they are, but they tend to have different requirements – in so far as once the containers are packed up and depart at the start of the year [by sea] that is one door that is closed, if you like, on that actual unit of spares and parts. We don't have to worry about it anymore then, it is down to our shipping agent.

The airfreight as I said a moment ago becomes more complicated every month with the current situation, but again we have got good shipping agents and as long as we work with them, then everything works OK.

Q:
Is one event in particular more difficult than the rest in terms of logistics?

JM:
For the long haul events, Japan is normally the most difficult because their rules and regulations are a lot stricter than most of the other countries.

Australia is catching them up fast though. For example, in Japan we had to fly an Australian customs officer over to Japan, to oversee the washing of the cars and containers etc, to make sure they were up to the stringent requirements now required to prevent diseases and things like that coming into the country.

Q:
Likewise is there one event that is easier than the rest in terms of logistics, assume it is Rally GB?

JM:
It is in one aspect. It is easy in that they speak the same language as us and they are obviously on the same wavelength. But the difficulty is, as it is so close, we turn into 'last-minute.com', in so far as everything has to go at the last minute as it is so easy to get there. A long-haul event, particularly in New Zealand, where it is a three-day flight, once everybody leaves here, you know they are gone for three-days until they touch down again. So there is no possibility of sending anything there late.

Q:
How much kit is moved around?

JM:
For long-hauls we have six forty foot containers, plus approximately six thousand kilos of spare which are air-freighted. That is to cover two teams of course, not just one - it is to cover the BP Ford WRT and the Stobart VK team as well. For European events, again for both teams, we have a fleet of seven trucks and one transit van - within that fleet there is a transporter, which carries eight cars, plus trailers that carry mini-buses etc, etc.

Q:
What is the 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?

JM:
That is a full-time job, because if we are not packing up airfreight, we are unpacking it and putting it into our vehicles to use on the European events. Basically the amount of specialist equipment and spares we have, plus the cost of them is so high, it is more cost effective to have one item and airfreight it to all the different events, as opposed to having two items - one European and one long haul. So a lot of time is taken up off-loading and re-loading parts either onto trucks or airfreight pallets.

Q:
What are the potential issues or pitfalls that Ford have - and have to try and avoid?

JM:
It is the same as the other teams to be fair. We have got to make sure we stick to all local rules and regulations in each country, which, as I said before, get stricter every year. We have to be very, very careful that our paperwork is correct, because being an American owned company we are open to litigation normally to a lot higher degree, than say a French team is or a Japanese team.

Q:
How exactly does that apply?

JM:
Well you need to have certain paper work in place - certain signatures and certain stamps. For example all the wood that goes in the containers now, all the pallets, boxes, things like that, they all now have to be specially heat treated. So it meant we had to bring them back from Argentina, get them treated in the UK, get them stamped and certified before we could send them off to Australia.

Q:
Lots of work then by the sound of it…

JM:
Yeah, there is quite a lot of work involved with it - from closing the container doors and opening them at the other end. There is quite a lot of work. But we have a good team. I have a good team of people that work here with me, so it is not just me that does all this work.

Q:
What problems have Ford and the other teams had - obviously Cyprus was one of the more noticeable ones in recent years when the boat was delayed?

JM:
That was probably the classic one, basically all our eggs are in one basket, all the teams stuff is in one vessel and when that was delayed for several reasons, it put everybody under a lot of strain. But we are an adaptable championship - we thrive on change and we thrive on adaptability. So basically everybody just got down to it and covered the shortfall, which meant renting cars locally for recce cars and getting the mechanics to go to bed early, because once the ship actually docked, they were working 24 hours non-stop.

Q:
This year of course, Germany and Finland took place on back-to-back weekends, how big a strain was this for Ford?

JM:
The big problem there was that there are certain aspects of that, the movement of vehicles, which was out of our control - which was predominantly the ferries and when you hand that control to someone else then you are nervous. Now as it happened there was only one ferry that operated between those two parts, so everybody was on that one ship. It meant we had to fly in extra drivers to get the trucks up to dock in time etc. But they all managed it just about, but it wasn't a comfortable situation.

Q:
The idea of pairing events is something that seems to have been mentioned a lot in recent months/years to try and cut costs. Obviously pairing is something that needs to be considered quite carefully though. It seems to be the case that events need to be paired not only in terms of geographical proximity to each other, but also in terms of surface too doesn't it as Germany and Finland showed this year? Pairing them didn't actually save any money did it?

JM:
Yes, you are quite right in what you are saying. Pairing is a cost effective solution, but only in certain instances. Pairing Corsica and Spain together is an ideal solution, like you already said, because it is the same surface, same part of the world - it all works. We hope next year the pairing of Sweden and Norway will work equally well. But with the surface change and the geographical location of the two events in Germany and Finland, it was not a good solution. But in fairness to the FIA, you have got to try these things to see - nobody can sit down and says it doesn't work. We have got to go through the exercise. We have tried it and we have proved now that certain things work and certain things don't work, which is the way to go forward.

Q:
Rally GB looks set to be paired with Rally Ireland in 2007, again like Germany and Finland, the two events are different, one is on gravel and one is on tarmac. Is this likely to be a problem too?

JM:
Yes, but you shouldn't get carried away with the pairing side of it. Ireland that time of year is going to be wet and possibly very cold. The surface in Ireland is going to be bumpy, so the car spec is going to be different too a degree in the size of brakes and so on. But a lot of the other spec will be similar. The pairing exercise means we can't change cars in-between and that is where we save the money, in that we don't have to prepare two cars to do two events. So, it is not just the pairing as in components. It is the actual cars that have to remain and do more than one event. Plus you have got to remember next year, the idea at the moment is that we will do three events on one engine, so that is going to have an effect on how the events are actually slotted together.

Q:
When events take place back-to-back do you have to have more kit in transit than you would for one?

JM:
We have to take more re-stock items, more consumables, than we would do for one. Or we have to run a re-stock truck, which we tend to do, that goes to the second event with top-up items. It is mainly consumables - things like, we take pallets of water from here, as it is more cost effective than having to buy it locally. And we take other items that we use a lot of.

Q:
Historically speaking, how has the logistical challenge changed over the years - with the calendar expanding has it got more difficult?

JM:
It has changed dramatically over the years, I have to say. When I started doing this job originally, a lot of the work was focused on rally routes and map work and service points and things like this. All that has gone now and I find myself booking toilets in most places of the world! So if you need a good port-a-loo, then I am the person to find one for you!

Q:
When did you start at Ford then, focusing on the logistical side of things?

JM:
I have been doing the logistics at Ford since the early 1990's. I think I started in 1992, but I had been doing that with a private team, called RED, before that.

Q:
There is going to be some new events next year, with Norway, Ireland and Portugal joining the fold - that will obviously affect the logistical challenge wont it?

JM:
That will put a different twist on a few things. We are looking forward to the new events, as it is nice to have something different and something new. Obviously with the new events come new ideas - for example Portugal is offering the teams' a package which includes hotels and flights. That may take away some of our work and it would be nice in the long-term to see some of the other events doing something similar. Overall though, we are really looking forward to going to these new rallies.

Q:
Is that something that might catch on in the future then?

JM:
We would like to think so - we think that is the way it should be. At the end of the day we are a customer of the organisers'. It would be nice if they were in a situation or if they were in a position to be able to offer a package to the teams. Most other sports do this already. Obviously it is not a requirement, but it would be a nice way to go forward.

Q:
In Formula One they put on flights to take kit out for the teams, I think it is for the top ten in the constructors' - that is quite a good way forward too isn't it?

JM:
I am not 100 per cent familiar with their terms - but I do believe there are chartered flights and packages and things like this, which ultimately is the goal that rallying is aiming for.

Q:
Final question: can you give us any figures on how many people are needed at each event by Ford, how much is needed to feed them and of course how many tins of baked beans do Ford ship around the world to ensure the 'legendary' Ford fry-up is available all season?

JM:
[laughs] Well I couldn't give you the baked beans total - but I know it is a lot and I know they are big tins!

As far as personnel goes - and this again is for two teams together - we average 65-70 people. That goes up dramatically if it is a tarmac event because we have got safety crews and more weather crews. And it comes down a bit for long-haul events as we try to use local people, but 65 is an average number.

Q:
Thanks for your time, John. We will let you get back to it…




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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