No rally team can go maximum attack without an equally committed service crew behind them, constantly at the ready to do whatever it takes to get the car back out on stage. Many service crew members are volunteers, but we caught up with Damian Yearwood in Barbados, who is a professional rally crew chief, engineer, and number 1 tech.
What got you interested in rally?
I had always loved motorsport, but the thing that got me motivated to get involved was seeing the guys fix a car and get it back out into the rally.
How many events do you attend each year? What do you do at these events?
Well, here in Barbados, there are about 12-13 events on our calendar, but I do other rallies in the UK and Europe as well.
My duties range from number one mechanic, to just a mechanic, up to crew chief, and, sometimes, engineer on the older cars.
How did you get started as crew?
I first got started when I was working here in Barbados for a guy who builds engines for some of the race and rally cars, but I used to hang out with some other friends who worked for one of the top guys here in Barbados, I used to go to events with them and help out and eventually I was offered a job with them!
What’s the most challenging thing about being service crew for a rally team? The most rewarding?
The most challenging thing I would have to say is the late nights and the early mornings – getting little rest and still not making a mistake working on the cars.
The most rewarding is knowing that your driver is happy with the car and it reflects in his times!
Are you paid for your service? Is this the norm?
I get paid for my work. Yes this is the norm.
Walk our readers through what is involved in working as service crew for a rally team.
First of all, you have to find the service spot that is level and nice, set the tents up, ground sheets, run lights if you need to, take what you need out of the service truck, i.e., tools, jacks, jack stands, compressor, etc.. Then you find out what tires your driver wants to pick for the next run. Basically, you make yourself ready for anything that could happen; each individual should have his tools at each corner of the car so when it comes in you get straight to work.
For what are you responsible over the course of the event?
Basically, I am responsible for everything as the crew chief. I make sure the car is ready, I relay all info to the engineer, I speak to the driver with the engineer to see how the car is going, I make sure the driver is well watered and fed during the event, make sure the crew is happy and working as a team.
What’s the most critical part of service setup?
There is no one critical element to service setup; everything needs to work as a whole to get the job done.
You’re all setup and ready for the car. How long before it shows up? How do you fill that time?
It depends on the rally we are doing. In Barbados we are allowed to “chase” the car. This means we go to the end of the first stage and the beginning of the 2nd as we only run 3 stages then back 2 service. In the WRC you are not allowed to do chase so we have to stay in service unless there is a remote service. The time is passed by setting up your service area, cleaning and prepping parts. If we get a call that something needs to be changed, we get that part and make it ready to go onto the car when it comes in.
What is the atmosphere like between setup and first service?
For me it is filled with nervousness as I am very nervous whenever the car leaves service – things go through your mind and you question yourself even though you know things are done – but for the most part it is more relaxed.
How much interaction do you have with the other service crews? What’s that relationship like?
We do interact with the other crews. Sometimes we snoop on them to see what tire they are on (lol), but it is fun, whether it be here in Barbados or in Europe.
How many services are there at a rally?
It depends on the layout of the rally. Most have or run 6 -12 stages on the first leg. If they run 6 that is 3 services, if they run 12 it is like 5 services a leg.
How long do these services last?
In Barbados the services at the end of a 3 stage loop is for 20 minutes, then lunch is an hour. In the WRC it is three 20 minutes services then a 40 minute service at the end of the day.
What happens if you can’t get the car back together in time?
In rallying we never say “never,” but in a case that the car could not be fixed in time for it to get back its place in the rally, each car is allotted 15 minutes of lateness for the entire rally, so we use that. If we go over, you are basically out. In the WRC you can rejoin the next day under Super Rally rules.
Tell us about some “major” repairs you’ve managed in such a short amount of time.
WOW, some major repairs include a gearbox change in a Group N GC8 (he won his group), had to rearrange the front of a Group A car with zip ties, run over the sump guard with a truck to straighten it, nick someone’s radiator out of the stock Subaru as well to put in that (he finished 2nd), fix a power steering leak in one of the WRC cars, bleed the system, and pressurize it again (that was hard as we had to use a fitting we found off of a tractor to get it going again).
Can you tell us about a time when you did whatever it took to get the car back into the race and were surprised to see it actually finish?
Years ago, when I first started, I used to look after a little 12 valve Toyota Starlet turbo. Everything was good until the first stage, when it had no 3rd gear. We checked and it was a clip missing for the linkage. With nothing to work with, we zip tied the hell out of it and the car actually finished the rally! The driver said it never shifted so good! (LOL)
Another time was in Jamaica. When a friend of mine’s Subaru poked a hole through the gearbox in the penultimate stage, we broke a branch off in the hole of the gearbox and it finished! Did not even leak!
Can you share a time saving tip for other service crew members out there?
The only tip I would add is to be organized; know what tools are needed to spanner check your corner of the car and only take them to that corner. Always work calmly and try not to rush, but still have a sense of urgency about what you are doing. If you are finished doing what you are doing go help your mates with their task if they are not finished.
What’s the one thing you would never – ever – forget to bring to a rally?
I would never forget my tool box, without that you are useless!
How do service crews mitigate environmental concerns at rallies? What are those concerns?
Most of the newer WRC cars have catalytic converters on them so they burn fairly clean and all of our fuels are unleaded. The cars themselves burn fairly clean as well. We always take trash bags and have a designated trash can for our team so as not to litter on the premises we use for service.
What do you see is the most critical issue needing addressed by the rally community today?
How would you address that issue if you were in charge?
My main concern is for the smaller people in rallying who would like to rally on the top level, but the cars and the maintenance costs are so high. Something needs to be done, like a group where the cars are cost effective yet competitive. This, in turn, will attract manufacturers.
I would address this buy making it cheaper to build a car for a certain class, which would make it more affordable for both teams and manufacturers to afford.
Which WRC event is your favorite? Why?
My favorite WRC rally would have to be Finland. You have to have balls to be quick there, but yet still you have to respect the roads.
Your favorite Group B car?
Well I have 2 favorite GRP B cars, and those are the Audi Quattro S1 and the 205 T16 EVO 2.
We’ve all got a rally hero. Who’s yours?
My favorite drivers are Henri Toivinen and Juha Kankkunen, followed closely by Carlos Sainz.
Do you have a local rally club? Tell us about it! (If not, why not?)
We have two rally clubs here in Barbados; those are The Barbados Rally Club and the Barbados Motoring Club. The rally club is the oldest motorsport club in Barbados, founded over 50 years ago!
How often do you get together with other rallyistas to talk shop?
I sometimes do, but I hate to be the one in the crowd that is talking all of the time (lol).
How do you get other gearheads more involved in rally?
I have brought some guys into the team I used to work for and they have moved on to bigger things. The easiest way to get involved is just to show interest, be proactive, and get involved!
Tell us about some people who have made your rally dream a reality.
This is going to be a long list!
There are many more…
Thank someone who inspired you here.
I would have to say Erick Clark… If not for him, I would have never picked up a spanner. He got me into this mess!
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time in the rally community?
My lesson learnt is, never have brand loyalty or put all of your eggs in one basket. Do good work and it will reward you.
Thank you for sharing your unique perspective on rally with us, Damian! Press on regardless!