[featured image: KDMrally.be, Koen De Meyere]
One of our goals here at GBXM is to share stories of people doing things right. When we heard one of the rallies Kristof Denaeghel organizes had a record 183 entries this year and had to turn competitors away, we knew we had to talk to him.
Where are you located? What do you do for a living?
I was born in Ypres, Belgium and have no reason to leave this great historic city. Ypres is well known for the WW1 battlefields. And maybe also for hosting one the greatest IRC rallies of the series… More info on ieper.be and ypresrally.com
Professionally, I work as a technician for Hypercom, installing and repairing credit card terminals. On the road all day! 100,000 kms a year. Apart from this, I’m self-employed, running a model car business called Narton Kits and a small design office, specialising in pre-print and signmaking, mainly for rally cars.
What got you interested in organizing rally events?
At the age of almost 40 now, I have about 25 years “experience” as a spectator. Mainly rally, varying from local events to IRC/ERC/WRC abroad, but also GT, rallycross, autocross and even banger racing…
Organising an event gives you the chance to experience a rally from a different view, and inside out. Most clubs lack staff, so when I was asked for ORC-rally five years ago, I simply said yes because I wanted to support my favourite sport.
Organising is usually very stressfull, but someone has to do it, so you could consider it as taking some responsability. But the ORC team is great, we get along very well and never forget the fun part. Later, in 2010, firc.be was created, and I have difficulties pronouncing the word “no”. Another reason was I’m the only one who speaks english and french…
What event(s) do you organize? How long have you been running it/them?
See above. I started at ORC designing their prints (posters, flyers, rally documents, banners, stickers, et al.), the year after I became press officer, and since last year also FIRC officer, which was way too much work. Now I returned to the printing stuff and concentrate on FIRC, my collegue Stefan replaces me as the new press officer. For firc.be, I run the website, promote the series abroad, answer the mails, etc. All this with my friend Ward and some more mates who support us if necessary.
Many organisers wonder how we arrange this financially, the answer is: beer.
Share a bit of trivia about your event? Something interesting not everyone would know?
To meet up to all the necessary regulations and law bollocks, you need to be creative sometimes. No, I’m sorry, no details. :-) However ORC Rally is the only event in Flanders with free entrance to all stages. Many organisers wonder how we arrange this financially, the answer is: beer. Free entrance means a lot more spectators, who all are thirsty. Another proof that beer is good for many things, this is Belgium!
Why do people go rally? Why do they stop?
Usually it is because of a childhood dream. Rally is very popular in Belgium, with about 12 events per year, only in our County. The rally driving dream usually falls into pieces after too many invoices, leading to an empty bank account. Which sometimes causes a divorce… or drivers who have to sell their house. Drama is always involved in rallying, in many ways…
What’s the most challenging part of being a rally organizer? The most rewarding?
Cope with the stress, try to keep calm and carry on. A million things have to be arranged – nothing is ever perfect – this means improvising – always last minute. The reward is simple: a good rally. Crashing down after some intense weeks and some sleepless days during the event, and say: Yes, we did it! Again!
Tell us about a time something went wrong during the rally and how you resolved the issue.
At this year’s edition of ORC Canal Rally, a big crash occurred in the second stage, with a car smashing down an electricity pole, blocking the whole road. We moved the start line a couple of miles further, and the stage could go on, just a bit shorter. Last minute improvisation again… FIRC is easier, it’s a championship.
We had a record-breaking 183 entries, with only a timing for 140 cars. We let 150 teams start, but had to disappoint 30 teams who booked late.
How many entries did your event have last year? Is that trending up or down? Why?
We had a record-breaking 183 entries, with only a timing for 140 cars. We let 150 teams start, but had to disappoint 30 teams who booked late. We expect even more teams next year. We have international top drivers like Freddy Loix and Thierry Neuville, this boosts the media return and encourages new sponsors to invest in the sport. The last years, more and more money is put in, the cars are getting nicer every season, and this gives a lot of media return. Belgian Rally Championshipship counts several WRC and S2000, along with a lot of fast group N’s and spectacular GT cars, like the Nissan 370Z, the M3’s, Porsche GT3, … The driving level is very high too. All this has a positive impact on local rallies. Nobody seems to care about the economy crisis.
However, rallying is in a downward spiral in the Netherlands, with a federation that is doing very difficult about every single technical detail on the rallycars, expensive licenses, boring stages at industrial estates, due to severe laws, decibel limits, ecologists. Also in the UK things are bad, where impossible insurance fees killed almost all the road rallies. The forest events are still there, but if you do not like gravel rallying, the only option left are airfields and tracks, boring again… Due to this, FIRC attracted many Dutch and UK teams, way more than expected. Thanks to Belgium’s geographical position, foreign teams do not have to travel too far to compete in our rallies. This raises the number of foreign teams to about 25 to 30 per rally.
Do you limit the number of entries? Why?
The number of entries is limited, because we have to make a strict timing months before the event. This timing has to be approved by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the County Council and the Mayor of the City hosting the event. This is only a formality, but police, firemen and medical teams use this timing to get organised and make sure the event goes as planned: Who does what, where and for how long? How is the trafic flow? In case of an incident: Which roads are closed, where is the traffic busy? At what point can the rally be stopped in case of a disaster? (Big car or train crash, a big fire…. unpredictable stuff, unlikely to happen, but one never knows.)
How might a change of +/-5 entries affect your event? What about +/-10 entries?
Not. It is a tradition that about 10 teams cancel their entry before the event: car not ready, no money, family issue, illness… Then we have another average of about 10 cars that not pass scrutineering, usually newly built machinery with some ‘forgotten’ aspects, or badly repaired cars after a big hit, or missing documents. This usual margin of 20 cars allows an organiser to play a bit with the timing, that can be stretched with some 10 to 20 minutes for only the first leg, usually 3 to 4 stages. After the first leg, at least 15 cars are already out of the rally due to mechanical problems or crashes, this means the timing is only a bit tense in the beginning of the event, after that all is ok.
Should rallies be run as for-profit corporations? How much money should an organizer make?
Yes. No money, no event. Some events switch from bad years to good years. Still, they lack a budget reserve, so sooner or later, they are forced to stop with an empty bank account. Many events came and went the last 20 years, [only] the strong survived. All event organisers work for free, the only reward you get are some food & drink tickets during the event, a good afterparty a couple of months afterwards, and the respect of many people involved. Thats it.
Aside from entry fees, do you have any other means of funding the event? (Merchandising, advertising, etc.)
Both ORC Canal Rally and FIRC are pretty local events, only our big brothers like Ypres Rally earn on merchandising. Main incomes are the entry fees of the teams, entry cards of the spectators (or in our case the drink and food sales at the stages and the service park). In addition to that, we have some good and loyal sponsors, plus VIP packages.
How important are [vehicle] classes?
Very important, teams want to battle each other. This happens on every level; WRC vs WRC or standard 1600cc vs standard1600cc, everyone on his own big or small car and budget.
How does (or might) recce affect your event?
The wild days, where drivers did recce with prepared cars at night, including some locals who pretend to be a rally driver, are long gone. This is not socially accepted anymore. There is no point too, recce is always organised in such a way that a team can do 2 to 3 runs on each stage. This must be enough. Even rally fans are taking a piss with teams that do illegal recce weeks before the event. Good teams come, race and have a top score, easy and fair.
The crazy period with people watching alongside the road, some even try to touch the cars while they were passing by, are far behind us.
What are your thoughts on spectators?
The crazy period with people watching alongside the road, some even try to touch the cars while they were passing by, are far behind us. Rally always attracts a big crowd, after a few deadly crashes with spectators a long time ago, they seem to have learned. Discipline is very much ok now, despite some exceptions you always find on big events. Police is there too if necessary.
Does your event provide for organized spectating? Why/Why not?
We organised a free shuttle bus this year, to all the stages. This much appreciated by people who do not have a car, or elderly, or locals who want to see some action but don’t have a clue about the timing and the stages. This shuttle system was highly appreciated.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone looking to get into rally?
As a driver: do not spend your own money, unless you are really rich. I’m not rich and I never found enough sponsors to drive rally myself, so I didn’t. Now I have a beautiful house, two beautiful classic cars, a great girlfriend and no financial worries. Happy life. As a spectator: respect the stewards and safety regulations. Do not leave litter, respect the farmers’ land and the crops.
What’s the biggest problem with rally today and how would you solve it?
In Belgium, all is really fine for the moment, although there are way too many rules and regulations. But this is a problem for any organiser, doing big sports or cultural events, and not only in Belgium. The biggest problem in the future years will be committment: everyone wants to enjoy an event, but hardly anyone wants to help to organise, reasons enough.
Another problem is selfishness. Everyone likes everything, but not in my backyard. It’s terrible how people can make a problem if they can not park their car in front of their house for just one day, or have to cope with some busy traffic or road blocks or some noise or whatever. Even people who organise flea markets have opponents nowadays.
How do you mitigate environmental concerns about land use for rallies at your events?
Ecowarriors are everywhere, but they usually live in apartments in a city centre. Not many on the countryside. Public opinion does not support ecologists too much in Belgium. We are a pretty green country, we respect the environment a lot more than in other countries, some people always exaggerate and do net much support. Banning rallysport will not save the rainforest. All farmers get a refund for caused damage at fair prices. Damage is quite limited however.
How do you build/maintain a relationship with local land use authorities (city/state/national)?
In Belgium, all depends on the Mayor, the boss of the Community or City, so if it is ok for him or her, you can start to organise. Governments only look at the legal aspects, so if this is ok, there are no worries (hopefully).
How do you involve the local community with your event?
Open-minded Mayors know a rally is a big event that not only attracts a lot of guests to the area, but also local people, not necessarely fans of the sport, enjoy the athmosphere, meet some friends and have a laugh and a pint toghether. Just a nice afternoon out. Pubs and restaurants do a very good business. We also need a lot of volunteers to support the event: occasional stewards, guys who help to build the podium, the tents, the servicepark, who clean all afterwards. Usually, this is done by the local sports and/or cultural clubs. In return, they get a drink or food stall. The usual rule is that half of the income goes to the rally, the other half is for the club. Everybody happy!
How do you involve the global rally community online?
The traditional forums always are pretty active, we also update our website on a very regular base and have strict mail traffic: all questions are answered immediately, without exception. This is highly appreciated.
Which WRC event is most like your rally?
None. Belgian country roads are unique in the world. In IRC-series Ypres off course, and also Barum Rally in Czech Republic comes very near: very narrow roads, superfast, bumpy, tricky. First-timers in Belgium always crash, or have a poor result. The exceptions who come and win are real top drivers: in the past Röhrl, Biasion, Toivonen and more recently Rosetti, Basso and Meeke (in Ypres, not ORC unfortunately).
Your favorite Group B car?
Audi S1 off course, what else? Metro 6R4 makes a good second. More recent: Porsche GT3.
We’ve all got a rally hero. Who’s yours?
Walter Röhrl and Colin McRae RIP.
Do you have a local rally club? Tell us about it! (If not, why not?)
In Belgium, rally clubs are there for the drivers. Organisations stand by themselves, but get supported by the clubs of course. Our country is very small, there are only about 5 or 6 clubs.
Tell us about some people who have made your rally dream a reality.
There are many: organisers who gave me their confidence, some rallydriving friends who took me or my girlfriend for a demo run in their car. Good fun. But I prefer reality…
Who are your sponsors and how have they helped rally in your region?
I only have one personal sponsor and that is Domino.be, one of Europe’s biggest modelling shops and one of my best clients. Owner Patrick is a good friend. A big part of the FIRC budget was provided by him, in return he gets international advertising. Win-Win as we call it.
What’s your favorite memory, looking back at the time you’ve spent organizing this event?
Without any doubt the big number of people I got to know. Sometimes it’s a hell of a job, but you make many new friends and that is great.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time in the rally community?
You can never make everybody happy, now matter how hard you try. Even when all is perfect, you make can people unhappy: jealousy is the appropriate word. Welcome to the school of life! Luckily these are exceptions, but you learn very quickly who to trust and who not to, who are your real friends and those who pretend to. Who to rely on and who not. This might sound bitter, but it makes you stronger. Better prepared, call it an egoboost? In brief: organising is good for you! A free lesson in life.
THANK YOU to Kristof for sharing such an EPIC story with us this week. As you might imagine, organizing multiple, record-setting international rallies takes a bit of time, so we really appreciate this. In a way, that last picture speaks volumes about the state of rally in Belgium (at least FIRC, ORC, and Ypres) – tarmac *and* gravel, fans lining the stages, and competitors having to race each other every step of the way – including to the entry form!
We try our best to find stories like this for you, the next level gearheads of the world. It would mean a lot to us to get your feedback on this story. What did you like best about it? Did anything surprise you? What was that and why? Thanks for stopping by. Press on regardless.