30 years in the making: RallySport Magazine – a brief history - RallySport Magazine
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30 years in the making: RallySport Magazine – a brief history

12 issues of the digital version of RallySport Magazine were produced from 2016 to 2017.

It’s 30 years since Rally Australia was first held as a round of the World Rally Championship in September 1989, which also means it’s our 30th birthday!

We take a look back over the past 30 years, and how we’ve continued to provide unrivalled coverage of rallying to Australia and the world.

* * * * *

It was August 1989 and Australian Rallysport News had just been launched on the market, coinciding with the inaugural running of Rally Australia as a round of the World Rally Championship.

Twelve months earlier, Rally Australia had been run in Perth as a candidate round of the WRC and was being evaluated for inclusion in the Championship.

On the strength of that first event’s success, ARN (as it soon became known) hit the market to fill a need that the editors at that time (and currently) perceived existed in bringing rallying news to the public. The release of that first, 20 page, newsprint tabloid publication was a bold step.

In our first editorial we said that “we believed there was a chronic need for a concise and accurate publication dealing solely with rallying in all its forms.”

We went on to say that “rallying is largely ignored by radio, television and the vast majority of the print media and has become the poor second cousin of motor racing for far too long. Even though it has enjoyed brief periods when it was running on a high, our sport has usually been relegated to the back seat by most sections of the media, but we firmly believe that rallying is about to come out of hiding.”

Prophetic words, perhaps, in hindsight.

Looking back over that first issue, in many respects things have changed only slightly. There have been highs and lows in our sport of rallying, and we have seen events and competitors come and go. Some of the same problems we spoke about in our first issue still exist, while in other areas there has been significant change for the better, particularly concerning issues of safety.

The front pages of Australian Rallysport News evolved as technology improved. September 1989 (left) and March 2002.

Comparing our first issue of Australian Rallysport News with the issues of the glossy A4-size RallySport Magazine that followed, there have been some huge improvements in content, presentation and reproduction, a result of changing technology and production methods.

Placed side by side, the resemblance is like the proverbial chalk and cheese.

Our first tentative issue contained columns by two of Australia’s leading drivers at that time – Greg Carr and Geoff Portman, who went on to provide readers with an insight into international rallying for quite some time.

Our initial state columnist was Mike Cains, who become our longest-serving (and most controversial) columnist, reporting on the rally scene in Victoria. Cains was with us for a record 16 years, longer than any of our other columnists.

Our feature articles included a story on young Eric Pietila, one of the sport’s brightest stars at the time in his Mazda 323 4WD turbo. Although extremely talented, Pietila graduated to a Mitsubishi Galant VR4 before disappearing from the rally scene altogether.

Another of our articles reviewed the 1980 Castrol International Rally, one of Australia’s most memorable events, which was won by Greg Carr and Fred Gocentas in a BDA Escort in the Canberra forests. The pair beat international star Ari Vatanen and co-driver Dave Richards by 40 seconds after the Finn left the road.

Juha Kankknune won the first WRC Rally Australia in WA in September 1989. Photo: Rally Australia

That first issue also had a 4-page Rally Australia feature, a spread that was to continue every year for the following 16 years. Looking back now with the benefit of hindsight, that inaugural issue was the catalyst for the 202 issues that followed.

By 2004, the production of Australian Rallysport News had become more professional, thanks to improved printing techniques, and our December 2004 edition, the last in the newsprint format, was all color, unlike our first issue which was mainly black and white.

Rally Australia was the big ticket item, and our 32 page December issue featured a 4-page feature on Rally Australia. We celebrated Carlos Sainz’ retirement just prior to his record-breaking 195 World Championship starts, while regular international columnist, Martin Holmes, interviewed a rising rally star, Sebastien Loeb, who had already started to set the WRC on fire with his Citroen Xsara.

A young Peter Whitten interviews Lancia great, Markku Alen, at Rally Australia in 1989. Photo: Jeff Whitten

Realising that our readers were interested in technical articles, we featured a story on our project Datsun 260Z, a subject which we’d serialise over a number of issues.

However, by this time we felt that we needed to re-invent ourselves and take on a fresh new look that could embrace the fast-growing tarmac rallying phenomenon and the classic/historic movement.

So we bid goodbye to the newsprint years and set our sights on a re-birthed ARN – RallySport Magazine.

The first A4 glossy edition of RallySport Magazine had Keith Callinan’s awesome 520hp Holden Monaro on the cover, a car that the Queenslander used regularly in both gravel and tarmac events.

We launched in December 2004 with reports of both Rally Australia and Classic Adelaide, something for fans of both disciplines. Also in that first issue we featured Jeff Beaumont’s Porsche 911, a wicked Peugeot Cosworth from the UK, and spent 5 minutes talking to the up-and-coming privateer, Brad Goldsbrough.

We’d spent many hours researching articles for that first issue in the new format, and our readers told us they liked what they saw. It was to be the first of a further 22 issues that we put our heart and soul into.

It’s worthwhile mentioning some of the statistics that accumulated over the years.

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For instance, we churned out a grand total of 203 issues, laid out 7810 pages and typed millions of words into our computers. In addition, there were thousands of photos to be scanned prior to the introduction of digital photography and the internet, two marvels of technology that made a journalist’s life (a little) easier.

This reminds us just how time consuming production was in the early days. Fortunately, we launched in the time shortly after fax machines were introduced, but as all our stories arrived either in handwritten or typed format, every news item and story had to be typed onto our Apple Mac computers, bromides made of every photo we wanted to use, and the whole lot burnt on to aluminium plates ready to place on the printing press.

Martin Holmes, seen here with Juha Kankkunen, has been a long time contributor. Photo: Jeff Whitten

Later, when the internet revolutionised communication, preparing each page became a great deal simpler. However, readers’ expectations increased at the same rate and where a simple black and white publication was once acceptable, spot color, full color and then a glossy product was expected.

The industry standard for publishing is the reliable Apple Mac computer, and we have been using a constantly-upgraded stream of Macs. Looking back at our early computers with their limited features and bare minimum of memory, it’s a wonder that we were able to get anything meaningful out of them in time, but we managed to get by.

Of course the advent of Broadband internet was the icing on the cake – until that arrived we would take hours to download dozens of Martin Holmes’ photos on a Monday morning after a World Rally Championship round.

In the beginning, the publication of RallySport News was a one person, part time affair, the work load only being shared several years later by Jeff when things began to get too busy.

Later still, Carolyn (daughter and sister) joined us on a part time basis to look after the paperwork and to be our ‘Girl Friday’, motivator and backstop. While there were the usual quiet periods each month, the inevitable deadlines kept coming around at an alarming rate, and for the last two weeks before printing, the office was a-buzz.

How tough did we do it in the early days? Initially the editor, Peter Whitten, who had served his apprenticeship at the local newspaper, worked only part time on Australian Rallysport News, after hours spending the day at his regular job.

This jump and the subsequent heavy landing ended Colin McRae’s Rally Australia at Muresk in 2002. Photo: Peter Whitten

Wishing to get properly established as a respected publication, the decision was made to attend all rounds of the Australian Rally Championship. To do this meant a big commitment, particularly when there were ARC rounds in Western Australia and Queensland.

A typical scenario, repeated over and over again, would see Peter knocking off his day job at 3pm on a Friday afternoon, drive the 250km to Melbourne where he’d board a flight to Perth. Having landed, he’d pick up a hire car and head out to where the rally was to start the next morning and sign up for his media accreditation.

The next two days would be spent following the event around to gather a story and take photos for the paper. Late on Sunday afternoon, he’d board a late flight home from Perth to Melbourne (losing two or three hours along the way), to arrive in Melbourne in the early hours of the morning.

Barely managing to stay awake after such a hectic weekend, it would be back into the car for the 250km drive back home up the Hume freeway, ready to be at his ‘day job’ at 7.30am.

After work that night it would be back to the office to type out his story on the event, ready for the next edition. All in the interests of bringing the latest news to our readers.

The final print issue of RSM in October 2006 featured a young Molly Taylor on the cover.

Near the end of 2006, however, the printing game was getting tougher and the internet was become everyone’s news source. Advertisers were cutting back on their monthly spending, and the thousands of dollars it took to produce RallySport Magazine each month became unsustainable.

We embraced the digital age as best we could, and for the past 13 years we have continually improved the product and technology evolved.

From 2016 to 2017 Peter surged ahead, re-inventing the wheel somewhat to produce a new digital version of RallySport Magazine. While it wasn’t available in printed form, readers could get their rally magazine fix online via a PDF version.

It filled a gap in the market and the 12 issues were well received, but the internet age and social media had developed further still, resulting in much of the market looking for short, sharp news features that they could browse on their smart phones.

In September 2017 the guys at R6 Digital built a brand-new website, and that has been built upon in the ensuing two years.

Incredibly, the website now includes over 14,000 articles, and is the Southern Hemisphere’s leading rally website, if not the world’s.

Jeff Whitten, Carolyn Schonafinger and Peter Whitten sign off from the printed magazine in 2006.

The site evolved into a subscriber only publication earlier this year, and while that hasn’t been popular with many who would prefer all their news to be free, that simply wasn’t possible if the site was to survive.

The site is updated multiple times each day, and many of rallying’s leading players, including WRC commentator Colin Clark, have it bookmarked as their go-to rally news site each day.

Over the past 30 years we’ve attended hundreds of events, including over 40 World Rally Championship rounds. Plus, we’ve competed in all sorts of events from bitumen classics to ARC events, zeroed, swept and acted as officials at many, many more. And, hopefully, there will be plenty more to keep us occupied in the future.

Although our founder, Jeff Whitten, has retired to a quieter life now, his son Peter still works daily on the site, with grandsons Luke and Matt becoming a third generation of Whittens doing their utmost to provide rally fans with the world’s best rally coverage.

What does the future hold? It’s hard to know, as technology continues to move a record pace.

But while rallying is around, we hope to be too, and we look forward to bringing you the sport’s best coverage for many years to come.

– The RSM team

Luke, Peter and Matt Whitten plan to push RallySport Magazine into the future via the website.

Read the RallySport eMagazine 2016 – 2017.

Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media.

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