Future Auto Rally: Behind the Scenes

John Keen Farkeen fantastic...Photo Nicole Jenkins
John Keen Farkeen fantastic…Photo Nicole Jenkins

With the Future Auto Rally Experience Day coming up fast, I spoke with the Farkeen rally team and Clerk of Course John Keen, to gain some insight in to what goes into preparing for a rally like this one, and their expectations for the upcoming event.

In preparation for the rally, to be held at Jimna on the 20th, more than twenty people have worked tirelessly to ensure everything falls into place. The Farkeen Rally team have driven over 2,000km’s so far, with drivers returning this weekend to again ensure the stages are still maintained. This event has been four months in the making, including some rushed last-minute extensions when interest exceeded expectations.

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John Keen explained the process of finding a rally stage as a long and arduous task, involving applications to police and forestry departments for permits, and submitting paperwork to CAMS to ensure all safety standards are met and signed off on.

“HQ Plantations are just wonderful to deal with, they go out of their way to help us. QPS are great to deal with too. We supply them safety plans, we supply them all the information they require, they might come back to us with a bit of advisement or something, but otherwise that’s all a fairly seamless process, but that has to be done. There’s also the CAMS paperwork compliance and checking that needs to be done. We have to put an event application in to CAMS, then CAMS look at that application and either advise on changes that they want for it to be approved, or they approve it. Once they’ve approved it, you can then go ahead and start putting the event into place. But until you actually get those approvals, from the police, from the forestry, from CAMS, and this has happened to me before, where you’ve spent a couple of thousand dollars on checking the recceing the roads and getting it all set up and everything, and then all of it falls over”

Alongside obtaining permits, officials are responsible for notifying those in the area of the event. Letters are often sent to landholders to advise of road closures that may affect their properties at certain times, and any interest groups who have used forestry permits in the last twelve months are also notified, such as motorcycle adventure clubs, endurance horse riders, or even bee keepers.

“Bee keepers we like to try and catch up with because rally cars can affect bees, and bees can affect rally car drivers, so we don’t need the two of them to come together.”

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Another important aspect of setting up a rally such as the Future Auto Experience Rally Day is ensuring the times all run seamlessly and without a hitch. Without a workable timetable and roads within an adequate distance of each other and service park, a rally stands very little chance of going ahead.

“Not only do you have to put a road together, you’ve actually got to put a timetable together to make sure that everyone gets through the stage. If you had 2 stages and they were 3 minutes apart, you would actually have people banking up at the start of the stage, because the stage wouldn’t have cleared. And some of the bigger rallies like World Rally, we spend an enormous amount of time working out how to run the rally to make it actually run by itinerary and make the times work.”

Each stage for the upcoming Jimna event are only 7 minutes from service park, containing everything into a workable area that suits officials and drivers alike.

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In preparing and deciding on roads for rally stages, teams drive the course and generate a setup book on the basis of the road. Closer to the event date, the Farkeen team will drive the finished road-book and ensure it all runs smooth. On the morning of an event, the course checker drives the course and notes any changes to the road-book. Those changes are then given out to the drivers in the morning briefing, and co-drivers are given the opportunity to note all changes in their road-books before the event.

John spoke of the trouble with finding the right roads for an event. “I’ve had people come up to me and say that they expected that we would just use Google maps, to set the road out, and they were quite serious about that, they actually thought Google maps were good enough… With all the cameras and all that, they actually though that they mapped every road in the world. These forestry roads, they don’t even have a name or show on any satnav, so you have to physically go up there and physically drive those roads and work out the features, work out where the dangers are, and go through them, and then you’ve got to put a plan together.”

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When talking about the upcoming Future Auto Experience, John pointed out that the event had initially been set up to only accommodate up to 26 cars, with no expectations of filling all positions. Overwhelming responses to the advertising has forced organisers to push for extra stages, bringing the total to three, with a maximum of 44 cars able to rally. To everyone’s surprise, provisional entries are still pouring in, hoping to reserve a place in case an entrant has to withdraw prior to the event. This follows with the trend of increasing spectator numbers at events towards the end of last year, and points towards a hope for 2016 to be the biggest year for the QRC in a decade.

Events such as the Future Auto Rally Experience Day require many weeks of hard work behind the scenes by willing volunteers; who have to cover everything from choosing roads, submitting permits, testing and driving the stages to ensure all times fit perfectly into place, and setting up the course on the morning of the rally. Without the hard work of the volunteers, rally would face a very grim future.