We started working on this interview in April of 2010. We ran the unfinished story a couple weeks ago, but we’re in the process of updating it this weekend. Get to know one of the organizers for the Corona Rallie Mexico.
Where are you located? What do you do for a living?
I was born and raised in Mexico City, and have lived here all my life. It’s a huge city – one of the largest on the planet, with more than 20 million people – right smack in the middle on the country. People tend to love it or hate it, but are never indifferent about it. Eyebrows are usually raised at this, due to Mexico’s portrayal in the press, but I really, really like it. I live in a very vibrant, family-friendly, walkable neighbourhood, with beautiful parks, great restaurants, bars, and lots of things going on, but I only moved here from the outskirts two years ago, so I’m still learning about the pedestrian lifestyle. It’s absolutely fantastic. I can’t believe I spent so many years stuck in a car in traffic.
I run an IT consultancy with a friend of mine. We design and build online applications for midsize and large companies, mainly in the financial sector. We’ve done loan application & management systems, risk analysis, logistics, operations management, you name it. Our focus is on business processes rather than technology per se, so we tend to have a very good relationship with our clients. I used to work for a large multinational corporation, but I wouldn’t go back to that kind of life.
What got you interested in organizing rally events?
I sort of fell into it as part of my general involvement in rallying. I began co-driving in 1991 and driving in 1993, and I’ve done quite a bit of both over the years, but our club was so small, it was common for everyone to do a bit of everything, so I’ve been spectator, service crew, organiser, marshall, time control and general enthusiast. Nowadays things have become more specialised, and people generally stay in one particular role, but pretty much everyone around my age has a similar history.
As the sport began to mature in Mexico, around the start of the century, the level of competition and the quality of cars began to rise dramatically, so driving began to get expensive very quickly and I had to give it up. After driving, nothing seemed to attract me very much, and hanging around rallies with nothing fun to do got boring fast, so when I was asked to help out in Rally Mexico I was happy to do it.
What event(s) do you organize? How long have you been running it/them?
My main involvement has been in Rally Mexico, since 2002. I’ve also helped out at the 24 Hour Rally a few times, and other local events throughout the years, but the WRC round is my main concern.
Why do people go rally?
Well, as with anything else, because they want to and because they can! Seriously, though, I think rallying attracts a very specific kind of person that shares certain values and appreciates certain things that other sports in general and other forms of motorsport don’t have.
First of all, rallying takes commitment.
Picture, if you will, the finish control of any night stage in Wales: the rain has been falling for the past 67 hours, the wind from the North Sea is so strong that it makes the rain go sideways and any exposed skin gets windburned within 15 minutes, and the freezing mud is a foot deep everywhere you look. Suddenly, a rally car swerves into view, lights blazing, exhaust roaring, oversteering in a mad, beautiful 4-wheel drift to fly by the stage finish sign, missing it by four inches.
As the car drives away and the noise dwindles in the fog, we must take stock of all the people involved in that moment. Should we stand in awe at the crew, who’ve been driving at an insane rate of speed for the past two days, without making a single mistake? Should we salute the time marshalls for their admirable devotion to duty? What about the spectators, who had to trek for two hours through the mud to watch their friends slide by for a split second? The medical crews, who pray constantly that their services will not be needed, are they not worthy of our admiration too? Any of those roles, and dozens more that are involved in this fantastic sport, would be impossible to fulfill without an iron will and absolute commitment to rallying.
Second, an appreciation of nature tends to be common.
Rally people are very aware of their surroundings and pay very close attention to road surfaces, weather patterns and natural features that might inform a recce, a tyre selection or the choice of gear when tackling a tricky, damp corner with a cover of a particularly slippery species of pine needles. Rallies tend to go deep into stunning areas of great natural beauty. That seems to keep people more down to earth.
Third, the fact that we don’t have wheel to wheel racing makes it easier for rally folk to develop much better relationships with their rivals.
In that sense, rallying is much more noble than circuit racing. Here, it’s everyone against the road and the clock. If someone beats you on a stage, it was because they did a better job, not because they cut you off or slammed into you. In fact, one of the unwritten rules of rallying is that if you see a fellow competitor stopped during a liaison stage, you must stop and offer assistance. There is a real sense of camaraderie throughout the world of rallying.
Fourth, the team element is crucial.
Sharing successes and failures with your co-driver or driver makes everything much better. It keeps one honest and humble, because you can’t lie about your mistakes when things go wrong and you can’t bask in individual glory when things go right.
Finally, where else can you just show up and sign up to compete against the best in the world, and get the chance to chat with them throughout the weekend as equals? That alone makes rallying fantastic.
All of these things make the experience of taking part in a rally a truly epic endeavour. You need only to step into the bar after the rally and listen to all the stories and look at all the joyful faces to realise they all feel as if they’ve just come back from fighting a great and arduous battle, and in many cases, they have.
What’s the best thing about being a rally organizer? The most challenging?
The best thing has been the satisfaction we get when we do something so well that people feel compelled to tell us about it. We’ve had competitors, media representatives, team personnel, FIA officials and tourists from all over the globe come up to us and praise things we’ve done. The feeling is indescribable.
The most challenging is all the time spent planning the event, far into the future, and trying to take into account all the things that may have a negative impact on our plans: last-minute changes in regulations, natural phenomena, political issues, etc.
There are so many things that can go wrong at so many points that plans have to be incredibly detailed, but very flexible.
How many entries did your event have last year? Is that trending up or down? Why?
In 2010 we had 40 entries, which was a lot less than we usually have. I can’t say if that dip represents a trend, because there were a lot of ouside factors that very probably brought that number down from where it should have been. For starters, Rally Mexico was not part of the WRC in 2009, due the FIA’s rotation experiment. While we did put on a great event that year with the Rally of Nations, it attracted less attention than previous editions. If that weren’t enough, we were still coming off the great influenza scare, and people were quite apprehensive about traveling to Mexico and the U.S.. Finally, and probably the greatest factor, the entire world was in the middle of the worst financial crisis we’ve had in 70 years. Things were so bad that the WRC lost half of the manufacturers competing. They even lost Subaru, that had built rallying into their marketing image for years. 2011 will probably still be different in that sense, but things seem to be gently getting better worldwide.
How much money should an organizer make?
As much as possible! That is, as much as their market can sustainably bear.
Should rallies be run as for-profit corporations?
In his 1776 masterpiece, “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith wrote: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”
In terms of quality, the show you put on, and the most bang for the buck of your spectators and competitors, you are constantly trying out new things and improving, or you’re quietly stagnating.
Self-interest as a very strong motivator, and an event that takes so much effort needs as much motivation as possible. They say competition improves the breed, and there is always competition between events. In terms of quality, the show you put on, and the most bang for the buck of your spectators and competitors, you are constantly trying out new things and improving, or you’re quietly stagnating. Doing this as part of a corporation that seeks profits is a very practical way of keeping you on your toes and having an easy way to evaluate your own performance.
I’ve no doubt that there are some fine events run with other goals in mind, but in the end we are a complex species and motivation is crucial.
How important are car classes?
As a mechanism for allowing a greater number and variety of competitors, and to make competition within classes as fair as possible, it’s a very good thing. As a possible source of confusion for fans and as a possible source of weakening of particular classes, it’s a very bad thing. Trying to strike a proper balance is where it gets interesting.
How involved is recce at your event? What percentage of the teams do recce?
How does your event handle stagenotes/pacenotes?
I’ll answer these two questions together, because they address the same thing and there’s no leeway in how we do things. Since we’re part of the WRC we have to do things exactly the way the FIA has set out in the the rules. In terms of pacenotes, each crew must prepare their own, and we provide no notes, as is common in the U.S. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen organiser-prepared pacenotes in Mexico, ever, regardless of event level. Recce is done at a certain date and time, under very specific circumstances regarding vehicles allowed, the paint job of said vehicles, the maximum speed allowed, the number of passages allowed, the equipment the crew must carry on board, GPS tracking of each car, and the order in which the recce is to be done. 100% of professional crews do recce, every time. Rookies sometimes miss recce for various reasons, from mechanical woes to paperwork issues, but it’s never more than 1 or 2 cases per rally. In my not even remotely humble opinion, not doing the recce classifies you as a Grade A Nimrod. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t allow them to take the start.
Differential pricing of entries/licenses: Why/Why not and what, if anything, does it achieve?
I think it’s meant to provide the same benefits as car classes, and my answer above would be echoed here. The only difference is the possibility of not wearing the rally sponsors’ decals, should they conflict with a competitor’s own sponsors, and paying a higher fee for that privilege. Pricing of entries represent a relatively minor percentage of rally expenses, so is of little concern to most people in the sport. I do think that rookies would benefit from waiving of entry fees for their first events, such as the recently published entry rules for the WRC Rally of Spain, where they have all sorts of schemes to encourage young Spanish drivers to take part, but even that carries all sorts of complications regarding value, motivation and subjects better left to an after-dinner, wine-infused discussion…which I’d be glad to have!
Your favorite Group B car?
Peugeot 205 T16. It is such a beautiful and purposeful car, it makes my heart skip beats. The Ford RS200 bears mentioning as well. I think it could have decimated the opposition after one more year of development, had Group B survived and Group S not been stopped. Still, Jean Todt has always been a master at this game, so perhaps it wouldn’t have been easy to unseat Peugeot. By the way, did you know that the engine block of the Peugeot 206 WRC was taken from the 205 T16? It was that good. Still, my admiration for the 205 pales in comparison to my absolute lust for the 1992 Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluizione II. Now THAT was a fucking rally car.
I had the fantastic opportunity to see and touch all the Group B cars in Spain in 2009. Alongside the WRC they put on a historic rally for those beasts and they attracted more than 20 of the original Group B factory cars. On one hand, they are more awesome in the flesh than on TV. On the other, after looking at the materials and build quality, I wouldn’t do a rally in one of those things if you paid me.
We’ve all got a rally hero. Who’s yours?
Juha Kankkunen, bar none. I had the chance to meet him in Finland a few years ago and I was so nervous that all I could do was mumble hello and run away. Of the current drivers, I’ve had the chance to interact with them quite a bit in Rally Mexico and it’s difficult to enshrine them much after you’ve shared a beer. Probably Grönholm was the last of the truly larger-than-life heroes for me. I’m hoping Kimi reaches that level.
Spectators: Dream come true or worst nightmare? Why?
Spectators are a fundamental part of motorsport, but they’re absolutely critical in rallying, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Think of all the rolled rally cars that have been pushed back onto their wheels by spectactors, or the Group B era videos of the fans in Italy and Portugal. They’re just as important as the teams! On the other hand, though, hours of boredom and drinking while waiting for the cars to arrive do tend to make for a slightly negative opportunity for casual mayhem. There have been famous cases of snow on Monte Carlo stages, butter thrown at windscreens in GB, logs placed mid-stage to hinder an unfavoured driver and everyone’s favourite: thrown rocks, our particular bête noire.
Sports in Mexico mean basically one thing: football. Soccer, that is. It permeates the entire culture and is played and fanatically followed by practically everyone. In that atmosphere, and in a country where rallying was not that big, we didn’t know what to expect when we started. To our great surprise, we had about 40,000 spectators the first year. That became 70,000 the following year and it’s been rising steadily every year since. We’re up to about 400,000 these days, which is a mind-boggling amount of anything, let alone people standing in the middle of an arid sierra at over 2 Km. of altitude, waiting for rally cars to show up! Such numbers have resulted in some problems in the past, but people were extremely well-behaved this year. Let’s hope that continues to be the case.
How do you plan to get the local community involved in your event next time around?
There is a constant and very large ‘hearts & minds’ campaign throughout the year, down to the level of individual hamlets and villages, conducted by rally personnel with the support of the State Government. Any opportunity we get to interact with the people along the route is pounced upon.
When rally time comes, we’re doing a couple of interesting things, chief among them is the Health Rally. A couple of weeks before the rally starts we send out a top-of-the-line medical convoy that tours the entire rally route for 15 days, providing medical care to the communities around the area. This is also done with the State Government. The Health Ministry helps us to offer general consult, dentistry, optometry, and health promotion. The sort of services that are provided include: screening for diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, cervical cancer, and breast cancer, as well as providing full dental and optical services. Much emphasis is placed on promotion of healthy habits and disease prevention.
We also have a program known as Responsible Spectator, where we invite hardcore, rabid rally fans to be an official part of the event. Anyone can sign up, but there’s a written test one must pass to be accepted into the program. Once in, they receive some training and are provided with an official tabard and other tools. They’re then let loose on the rally route to help with crowd control, to set a positive example for other spectators, and to alert us to any incident that may warrant the attention of Rally Control, Police or other officials.
Both programs have worked very well, but we’re always tweaking things to make them better. We’ll probably think of something new to add this year.
Social media: What are the measurable effects? What are the downsides?
I don’t think we’re using social media with an eye on ROI or cause and effect. It’s just a fantastic opportunity to interact with your audience without having to go through traditional media channels and other intermediaries. Anyone still on the fence regarding social media should read The Cluetrain Manifesto (affiliate link), by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger. It was written long before the rise of Facebook and Twitter, but the message has never been more relevant.
What do you see is the most critical issue needing addressed by the rally community today?
At the WRC level, it seems that the lack of manufacturers is the most serious problem we face. There are 20 countries fighting for a slot in the calendar and a dozen brilliant competitors sitting on the sidelines, waiting for a chance to dive back into the championsip, so it seems like a simple problem to solve, but that has sadly not been the case. Monte Carlo is staying with the IRC for another year, for example, and they had 63 entries this year. Things are far from clear.
At the regional, national and local levels, we all have our own particular issues to solve, and it would be impossible to issue a blanket statement that would apply everywhere. If you look at how things are working in Finland, Argentina, Mexico, the U.S., Japan, South Africa and Italy you’ll get 54 different stories and different passionate versions of what needs to be done. The reality is that rallying is a difficult and resource-intensive sport, and we could be doing a lot worse, especially in the economic climate we’re suffering through right now.
Rallying in the U.S. seems to be doing very well, though. Despite the very real challenges you face, in terms of geographical distance between events, the cultural distance from the FIA, the issue of public roads, competition tyres, competing sanctioning bodies, etc. Rally America has a very real presence in media outlets worldwide. Travis and Ken have definitely put the U.S. on the rally map, the X-Games have been a huge boost to the public image of the sport and you have a lot of very talented competitors. You’re doing all the things we in Mexico should have done years ago.
How would you address that issue if you were in charge?
It’s easy to put my feet up, grab a pint of Guinness and imagine a perfect rallying world, with seven equally-matched manufacturers with very exciting cars, 12 rallies in the championship with 100 cars each and all sorts of gorgeous fantasies, but the reality is that people like David Richards, Malcolm Wilson and Jean Todt are very, very smart, and know this sport inside-out. If they haven’t been able to sort it out, I very much doubt I would. We have to remember that, just like love and sexual attraction are just strategies that our genes employ to get us to replicate ourselves, our passion for this sport is just a very pleasant tool the manufacturers employ to get us to buy cars and/or enhance their brands. We know that and we’re fine with that, but we usually forget that the decisions don’t depend on our strongly-held beliefs, they depend on economic and financial goals….and that’s the way it should be. See my answer regarding profit above.
How do you mitigate environmental concerns about land use for rallies at your events?
Allow me to copy and paste our relevant press release:
02 March 2010 – RALLY MEXICO GOES GREEN – Putting our efforts right back into the Earth
Every person and human endeavour on the planet has a measurable impact on the composition of our atmosphere. Through normal, everyday activities -cooking, driving, watching TV- we produce greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide. This is known as our carbon footprint.
Rallying is not exempt. A leading European rally in the 2008 WRC measured their footprint: 4,300 tonnes. A large figure, made all the more surprising by the fact that only 5% came from the competing vehicles and only 5% came from the plane flights of those involved in the rally. An astounding 79% came from spectators and local rally personnel, travelling to the event. This is something we must address.
Starting in 2010, Rally Mexico has a permanent policy of social and environmental responsibility. Our objectives are two-fold: to help combat global warming through the complete elimination of our carbon footprint; and to do it through direct environmental actions that will benefit the communities the rally visits every year.
With help from Pantanal Asesoría, an environmental consultancy, we will do the following:
·Measure total greenhouse gas emissions produced by Rally Mexico 2010.
·Design, in collaboration with the Institute of Ecology and the Health Department of the State of Guanajuato, a comprehensive plan of action in the surrounding communities to offset the greenhouse gas emissions and neutralise the footprint of Rally Mexico 2011.
We are not content, however, to wait until 2011 to see the beneficial effects of our policy and actions. The semi-desert and mountainous terrain of Guanajuato can do with effective actions today. The fragile balance of the terrain needs vegetation cover, erosion control, sustainable use of fertile soil, proper management of waste and sewage, conservation of water, careful use of fuel and the rational use of natural resources.
To that end, we have joined forces with the Governments of the State of Guanajuato and the Cities of León, Silao and Guanajuato and with the National Forestry Commission. During 2010 we will implement a community and environmental development program in nine communities: Ibarrilla, Alfaro, San Antonio del Gigante, Sauz Seco, La Laborcita, Las Coloradas, Vaquerías, Derramadero, Nuevo Valle de Moreno, and surrounding areas of particular environmental value. Our 2010 program will focus on:
·Toilets with biodigesters in homes and schools
·Wood-saving stoves, reducing the use of wood as fuel by 70%
·Rainwater storage for household use
·Laundry sinks with absorption wells for greywater treatment
·Solid waste management
·“Living fences” around homes and fields – magueys, nopals, bushes and native trees
·Fruit trees and family allotments
These actions will put us well on the way to ensuring that Rally Mexico leaves no environmental footprint, and that CO2 emissions are completely offset. We invite all interested parties to learn more about our program and join us at www.rallymexico.com.
How do you help out at other rallies during the year?
Sadly, I don’t. Mexican rallying is in a sad state of disrepair and I no longer enjoy attending local rallies. I do dream about fixing the whole thing, though, but Real Life ™ has gotten in the way quite a bit over the past years.
Which WRC event is most like your rally?
That is a particularly difficult question to answer, because each rally is different things to different people. The nature of the stages, the atmosphere, the terrain, the vegetation, the organisers, etc. all make up small parts of what a rally turns out to be. I really don’t think you can compare us to any other event on the calendar.
Do you have a local rally club? Tell us about it! (If not, why not?)
My club is the Club Automovilístico Francés de México, the French Auto Club of Mexico. It was founded in 1956 by five young Mexican guys of French descent. Their first event was the 24 Hour Rally, which was designed to emulate the Monte Carlo Rally. We just had the 51st edition last week-end, by the way. It’s usually run in July to make the weather conditions as horrid as possible, but we were forced to reduce the hours of non-stop rallying from 24 to two blocks of 12 for safety reasons a few years ago. A lot of U.S. competitors have come down to do the 24H over the years, and they can attest to the fact that finishing it is a lifelong source of pride.
How often do you get together with other rallyistas to talk shop?
We used to get together every week, but the rise of the Internet changed that. The club still has weekly sessions, but I haven’t been there for a couple of years. Nowadays I talk shop over IM, Facebook, Twitter, or when I run into rally people, which is quite frequently.
Tell us about some people who have made your rally dream a reality.
I am decidedly NOT going to gush about my friends on the Internet! I would never live it down!
Thank a volunteer (or group of them) here.
There are over 3,000 volunteers in Rally Mexico. In them, I’ve seen the most amazing feats of courage, commitment, and passion. I wouldn’t dare place one individual or group above the others, except to say this: the little people are always more important to the success of a rally than the big bosses. My heartfelt thanks go to all those who directly or indirectly have helped me not to screw up royally, year after year.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time in the rally community?
You’re nothing without your friends.
Well, folks, it looks like we finally wrapped this one up. Hope you enjoyed the insight shared by our friend Eugenio at Rally Mexico. As we go to press, Rally Mexico is only a few short weeks away, so we really appreciate his taking the time to share so much with us. You can get to know Eugenio by following him on Twitter (@eperea), and you can learn more about Rally Mexico on the official website and Twitter (@rallymexico)
If you liked the pictures, there’s a lot more where these came from! Check out Jo Lillini’s website and Marcos Rodriguez’s website to see more. You can view some of Ralph Hardwick’s work on Sutton-Images.
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