To some of us Rally is life, but to 200,000 people the Dakar Rally will bring life. What began as a dream for one man (Mark Jennings) will in 2011 become an answered prayers to hundreds of thousands of people.Some call him a philanthropist other refer to him as a activist. If you ask him he is just a man doing his part. What’s your name?
Mark Jennings-Bates and Mick Extance
Where are you located?
Canada and the UK
What do you do for a living? (How do you pay for rally?)
Real Estate agent
How long have you been into rally?
How did you first get started in the rally community?
1990 Eagle Talon. Grew up in the UK near the Talbot factory and always spectated rally on TV. Moved to Canada in 1988 and believed there must be rally here, it was not until 2001 that I saw a poster for the Rocky Mountain Rally in Calgary. I went to the stages and first car over a crest and jump was Pat Richard. He landed next to us on the road and stopped for [the] marshalls… that was it I was hooked. Purchased the Talon in 2005 and came across Wynne Jenkins, a former WRC fabricator and rally driver/co-driver from the UK. He grew up racing in Wales with people like Nicky Grist and Phil Mills was his co-driver!!! Great start. With Wynne’s driving talent and co driving skills, we got up to speed quickly.
What class/region do you run in?
Open class in Western Canada and the occasional National event.
How many events do you run each year? Any awards?
5-6 events annually. Open class champ in 2006 and 2008, runner up in 2007 and 2009. Novice champ in 2006. Now entering the Dakar in 2011 and training for that.
Tell us about your rally car/truck. How long have you had it?
In Canada I drive a 2004 STi with very few modifications, but in open class because of brake down sizing. In the UK for the Dakar we will be driving a Bowler Nemesis… likely a version 3, still in development.
Did you buy your rally car/truck or build it?
Partial build of the car in Canada, formerly a circuit racer. For the Dakar, Bowler will be designing and building a Version 3 Nemesis.
I chose the partial build for simplicity and budget for the Canadian Car. For the Dakar, Bowler will attempting to build a car for the Production class but FIA regs currently prevent them from using a current diesel engine in that class, so we have to wait for the 2010 rule set.
How did this decision work well for you?
In Canada, that decision has worked well 3 times for me. I am not a car builder, although I am capable of fixing anything on the car.
How did it backfire?
So far it hasn’t.
Tell us about a time when you stuffed the rally car (or maybe had a nasty off).
We have only rolled the car once and it was pathetically slowly. We were on the last few stages of the day when the radiator hose mount broke. Thankfully we stopped near a small creek, filled up the rad and jury rigged the hose. We could not drive at race pace after that but wanted to finish the event. The ditch snake had other plans for us.
A relatively tame corner that we had previously been through twice at race speed, unsettled the car sending us in to some mud and rocks which subsequently spun us around very slowly and into the ditch on our roof. When I commented to my co-driver that the good news was that we had only damaged two sides of the car, the car groaned and slowly rolled on to the undamaged side and finally on to it’s wheels. We could have finished had a small stone not found it’s way between the sump guard and the oil filter and ruptured the oil filter! That is rally.
You guys are racing for a charity. Can you tell us more about that?
Yep. The goal for the past three years was to design a package that had a good deal of commercial appeal. The Dakar creates that but on it’s own is tough for an amateur to finance. So we approached two charities after ascertaining that we would support causes that would provide aid with the provision of clean water and sanitation as well as other basic requirements. In the process, we have developed a cutting edge sponsor package that has a philanthropic side to it as well as a very commercially viable project. In the process a TV production company has approached us and liked the idea so much that they are now producing 6 one hour TV shows about the training, charities and rally. Our goal of raising $4 Million can be achieved quite easily if we successfully engage the TV audiences and the $4 million translates in to saving 200,000 lives.
What do they do with the donations?
We chose them because they are grass roots. Neither of them have big administrative structures and we felt that the money that could be raised would be spent wisely. Each of them has presented us with a business plan of what they would do with $2 Million each and the focus of the TV show will also be to show the viewers what tangible work they are doing.
To that extent, my wife who is heading up the charity side will be flying out to Sudan with a film crew and both the charities early in 2010 to evaluate a project near Darfur. The TV show will then follow the work on that project and of course, the end objective is to have us cross the finish line at the Dakar at the same time as a community cuts the ribbon on an irrigation project that will bring a new lease of life to them.
Too often we give money to charities and never see what is done with it. Our team really wants to tell another story, about how lives are changing with small donations. We really need 200,000 people to give up four lattes in the next twelve months and we have raised the money.
How can our readers help the cause?
First is to get the word out. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, we are on there very regularly. Secondly, consider making that pledge. $20 saves a life. $5 per quarter is all it would take. Sure times are tough, but for a refugee family returning back to a village where a blade of grass no longer grows, life is tougher. People can visit our site at www.Rally4Life.org where they can make Paypal secure donations or check out the contact page and mail us a cheque. At the end of the day, none of the donations are used to fund the rally. All donations will be flowed through to the charities.
In your opinion, has rally gotten better or worse in recent years?
Better for sure. Having lived in the UK for the first part of my life, the “clubman” level of the sport is much more advanced over there than here, with geography it is tough to do that. For example in Canada, as in the US, we can be faced with a 4 day tow to an event. That costs us about $10,000 up here. If you have to do that 3 times a year, that is more than most clubman entries budget in the UK for a year’s worth of rallying where they can compete every other weekend.
The marketable stars like Block/Pastrana/Richard/ACP and L’Estage have all helped put the sport into the living rooms of many armchair fans and that helps us because they watch advertising. The FIA is struggling to bring down the costs of motorsports and eventually that will catch up with rally here in North America. It is still a case of the team with the biggest budget winning, but that is the same in the UK where you show up to compete at a clubman level and someone shows up in a three year old WRC car!!
What do you see is the most critical issue needing addressed by the rally community today?
Marketing. Same story as I had. Many people still do not know that rally is a great spectator sport and is happening close to them. What you are doing with a new rally publication will help that. We have a really exciting story to tell. Interestingly, as we do presentations and events with the Dakar, it is teenagers who come up to us and recognise the Bowler because they have watched it on YouTube… that is the world we live in now and sponsors like engaging teenagers… just look at who is putting money into the sport today.
How would you address that issue if you were in charge?
Organizers are burdened with a lot of work in organizing events. Sometimes, the marketing side of events plays second fiddle to logistics, yet if local media were given the chance to ride along/participate in someway, I believe you would see even more stories being written about the sport we all love.
Your favorite WRC event? Why?
Dakar (I know it is not WRC) because it it the ultimate test. The WRC events are cool and participating in one in the future would be a big goal, but the Dakar goes that one step further. The mental and physical stamina required is astounding and the strategy compared to a regular rally is very different. I have been training physically now for 7 months at a 6 day a week program, now getting close to 2 hours per day. I have another 12 months left at which point I should know that I will not be the weak link in getting the car to the finish. I could not let myself be the challenge. We came out and said we would save 200,000 lives in this process, that makes it really hard to wimp out because the going gets a little tough!
Your favorite regional rally event? Why?
Recently we just held the inaugural Big White winter rally. A true winter rally in Western Canada, snow banks, night stages and located at a ski hill. It was awesome, a real challenge, and technical. I think it is going to be a very popular event. To be truthful all of the regional and national events in Western Canada have their very enjoyable nuances and challenges that make them unique and interesting.
Your favorite Group B car?
Audi Quattro – the sound.
We’ve all got a rally hero. Who’s yours? (First name that comes to mind is usually the best bet.) Why?
Petter Solberg…. he oozes enthusiasm and in a tough year, he did not quit, he funded his own team and decided to carry on competing at the highest level of the sport…. a real hero in my mind.
Tell us about a time when a volunteer (or group of volunteers) went above and beyond the call of duty and saved the day.
It happens all the time here. Our service crew who volunteer their time always pull off amazing things for an amateur team. Full of enthusiasm, we have come back in with a wrecked front end and they excitedly jump in change some parts and get us out again. When we win championships it is because of them.
When I first met the Bowler Offroad team earlier this year after getting an invite to visit and drive a factory car, I had exactly the same feeling. There is a tremendous camaraderie and a determination to get to the finish. You can tell that Drew Bowler is a very respected team owner.
Where do you go for your rally tech online?
Usually scour some specialist forums, but it is tough in rally because you are often filtering through Autocross or circuit racing forums, it is not all applicable.
To someone just getting into rally what would your advice be?
Don’t spend a lot of money on a car. Buy the best value for money car you can within your budget and race as much as possible. One thing for sure is you are going to hit the ditch.
My first car was $7,500 I think and so I had a ton of fun, didn’t mind visiting the ditch now and again and could most often compete against much more expensive cars because of the drivers desire to look after his/her investment. If you have $60k into a car and you go in the ditch on your second event and hit a tree, who know’s you may never compete again and that is tough ‘cos it is a great sport. We need more people to commit to a series or championship not just blow a wad of cash for one or two events.
Tell us about some people who have made your rally dream a reality. Family? Friends? Competitors? Mentors? Sponsors?
Man, that is hard. My wife and family have all been huge supporters. They come to an occasional race and see the highs and the lows of the sport but they see the competitive side and the camaraderie. It is good and thanks to them.
There are two key mentors, firstly Wynne Jenkins, my first co-driver who imparted a lot of information in a very short time at a sacrifice to his family. Without him, I would not have been able to secure the Open Class championship and Novice championship in that first year. Secondly, Drew Bowler who I am relying on heavily for advice as we get into the Rally Raid world. Drew is one of those calm seemingly unflappable characters who you know could get into the seat of his own car and blow most drivers out of the water. I take his advice seriously. So many people are keen to give advice on what to do and how to train and strategy for the Dakar, but at the end of the day, Drew is the barometer to check that advice against.
My brother, Pete Jennings-Bates in the UK is constant source of inspiration. He has a young family and several businesses to run and yet, every time I am in the UK, he shows up at the airport and seems to simply drive for a week. These are the people for whom we need to do well in the Dakar for.
In terms of sponsorship, there have been three companies that have been with us since day one, Valley Mitsubishi in Kelowna, AGAR Paint and Autobody in Kelowna and BigO Tires in Westbank here in BC. They supported a guy with a dream several years ago. The only reason Valley Mitsubishi cannot support us now is because we drive a Subaru, but they are huge supporters of the sport and recently helped the Big White Rally get off the ground here in Canada.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time in the rally community?
NEVER GIVE UP. There is nearly always a solution. The only time you don’t find it is when you throw the towel in before you are max late.
Fun little fact.
This Bowler that we tested is now available in Dirt2 as a skin.
We would like to thank Mark for his time. Please check out Rally4Life.org!