555 Subaru World Rally Team's Phil Keed - Senior rally engineer, and Tommi Makinen's engineer - talks about the Safari Rally, working with Makinen, and the forthcoming Rally Finland:

Q:
Phil (Keed), we're used to seeing you on the TV deep in conversation with Tommi in the Subaru service area, but in Kenya the service looked a right mess, with dust everywhere, was it as bad as it looked?

Phil Keed:
It was the worst I've known since I moved to a team with proper service trucks. It really was a hopeless place to work, dust got absolutely everywhere. I even got lost in the car park trying to find the service area, it was about 200metres away, but was completely obscured by the clouds of dust. Being an Aussie though I guess I'm a bit adapted to heat and dust, so I coped ok, we just needed a few flies to make it more like home.

Q:
A tough event in Kenya, what have you been up to since then?

PK:
I flew back on the Tuesday after the rally, and was back in the office the next day. There's been a lot of work to do, it certainly was a difficult rally for us, and as you'd expect I've been busy following up investigations into the damper and suspension problems we encountered on Tommi's car. Neither of them had occurred before on any of our pre-event testing so there's a lot of work to do, but we're making progress. At the same time I've been involved in planning for the Finland rally which starts in a couple of weeks time (8 August).

Q:
What do you have to do for that?

PK:
Pierre Genon (the team's principal engineer) and I share responsibility for the cars on each event. We alternate rally by rally and in Finland it's my turn to ensure that the cars are built and tested correctly. It's my responsibility to prepare the build specification, damper and suspension set-ups. Basically, I give the technicians a clear description of the car they have to build. The two rally cars are being assembled right now in the rally workshop, and today I've been at MIRA (the motor industry research association's test track near Leicester) running checks on our Finland pre-event test car. That'll be taken out next week, ready for Tommi's first test day on Friday.

Q:
What's involved at a MIRA test day?

PK:
We'll take each car up there after it's finished in the workshop, but before it leaves the country for a rally. It's the first time that the car will turn a wheel, and the main opportunity to check that things work correctly. We have two test drivers, Dave Maslam and Terry Kaby, and they take it in turns to do the driving work. It's quite a long process - a full day for each car. We've a six or seven page check-list that we go through with each one, and we'll also put some miles on the spare parts too, so that means a gearbox, three or four turbo's and a rear diff per car, we have to check that these work well too. After that we'll run it along a rough cobbled section of track just to check that nothing falls off, then, all being well we'll bring it back to Banbury and prepare for the freight.

Q:
Rally Finland starts on the 9th August. Any predictions?

PK:
Tommi and Petter (Solberg) first and second. It's got to be. But Marcus (Gronholm) is quick too, the Finns at home is a tricky call.

Q:
Tempted to put a bet on the result?

PK:
Maybe. I am a betting man, but usually just on the rugby and so on, but I've built the cars for the rally and they can definitely do the job. If I was to bet it'd be on Tommi. He came so close in Argentina - I think it's about his time now.

Q:
We often get e-mails from people wanting advice on how to get a job working for a WRC team. What was your career path?

PK:
I'm originally from Sydney, Australia and stayed on there to study mechanical engineering at University. After that I started looking for a job, and decided that as the engineering aspects of rally cars were less conventional than those on circuit cars I would try to work in the sport - you can't beat the challenge and variation that you get with rallying. I started working for Ralliart Australia preparing Group N Mitsubishis for the Australian Championship and got introduced to David Lapworth during Rally Australia in 1998. A few weeks later I got a call from David Campion from the Subaru Allstars team and in January 1999 I packed up, moved to Banbury and started working for Prodrive. I started by running customer Subaru's for Jean-Joseph, and Andreucci and last year made the switch to the Rally Team running cars for Toshi and Markko Martin. Then at the start of this season I started working for Tommi.

Q:
Tommi's won four world championship titles, and for many WRC fans he's the best rally driver ever. Does that put a lot of pressure on you?

PK:
Yes you feel the pressure. Tommi pushes himself and everyone around him very hard. He's been in the business a long time and he's good at getting the most out of everybody. But that's what the sport's all about. It's a good challenge and there's a lot of pressure but as far as an experience is concerned you really can't beat it.