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In 2010, twenty-two year old Brendan Reeves won the Asia Pacific region’s Pirelli Star Driver title.  This earned him a place in the worldwide Pirelli Star Driver shootout in Spain in October against 17 other Pirelli Star Driver winners from around the world. Reeves took outright honours in the Shootout, earning him a fully-funded drive in the 2011 World Rally Championship (WRC) Academy. The championship includes six European events, with all competitors driving identical left-hand drive Ford Fiesta R2s.  Reeves has his sister and regular co-driver, Rhianon Smyth, alongside him for the championship, and with two rounds under their belts, we asked Reeves for his impression on the series so far.

RSM: With two events completed, is the WRC Academy what you expected? The WRC Academy so far has been an amazing experience.

Brendan: The first two rallies we have done are probably the toughest on the calendar so it hasn’t been easy with many ups and downs but we are happy with our position so far. I think it’s a big improvement from the Junior World Rally Championship and it will certainly develop into something very special in the future.

What have you found the most difficult in the first two events?

The WRC Academy is a brand new formula this year so that means we are the guinea  pigs trying the Championship out as they develop it and try new things all the time. Sometimes they get it wrong and sometimes they get it right but I think as a whole package, the WRC Academy is really where any aspiring junior needs to be.

How important is preparation for each event, both in terms of physical preparation and actual competition preparation?

You can never do enough preparation for an event and especially a fresh event that you have never competed in before. WRC events are so tough and gruelling that it’s a lot easier if you know what to expect before you head out on your recce for the first time or into SS1. The roads are badly damaged by the time we (the Academy crews) come along in our Fiestas, so they are nothing like what we drove on recce. Most of the time we do two passes over the stages so just keeping the car on the road and out of the ruts is a task in itself.

Physical preparation is very important for not just in the car but for outside of the car as well. Just getting to the event is a massive journey and then you have a week full of mental and physically demanding tasks. 

The WRC Academy involves more than just turning up at events and competing.  What are some of the other aspects of the WRC Academy?

The WRC Academy is designed to develop you as whole package not just a driver. Before Rally Portugal we all went to M-Sport and did a three day training camp. We went through all the different aspects there are to our amazing sport. Some of the most important being goal setting, mental and physical training and giving us a test opportunity behind the wheel of a Fiesta with a very experienced instructor. We have guest speakers prior to events such as Petter Solberg, Michele Mouton and Mikko Hirvonen. They are able to give us an inside on their careers and allow us to ask questions. We also have pre and post event briefings to help us narrow down important aspects of each event.

After the first two WRC rallies, you’ve returned to Australia each time to go back to work. Aside from the travel time involved, this must take a lot out of you. How difficult is it living on the opposite side of the world to most of the other competitors?

It’s obviously a lot easier for someone living in Europe as all of our events are in Europe but that doesn’t mean we aren’t as prepared as they are. We get to Europe nice and early and drive our recce car to the event. This allows us to settle into the different time zone and get used to the different seasons.

At your next WRC event, Rally Finland, you’ll have a group of family, friends and supporters there to watch you and support you. How important will that support be to Rhianon and yourself?

It’s really going to be great having some support at Rally Finland. We both are very focused and switched on when at each event but to see the Aussie flags flying and our Supporters Club t-shirts around will make a big difference. We have had some support at each event which is really nice and helps as we are a bit disadvantaged in that area compared to the other competitors.
 
What differences do you notice about the European competitors in the Academy as opposed to the non-Europeans?

There is really no difference at all. We are all there to learn and compete and we have the same goals and objectives. We all have different ways of dealing with certain situations but that is the same with people wherever you are in the world.

How do you like driving the Fiesta R2?

Driving the Fiesta R2 has been a fun experience so far. The cars are fast and agile making the competition fierce. We don’t get many freedoms when it comes to setting the cars up. We are given a base setting with the suspension settings and can adjust them but when it comes to wheel alignments, ride heights and cambers, it’s set exactly the same for every driver. Before this year I hadn’t driven front wheel drive cars much on gravel but they are certainly a great package for a development series.

Rhianon plays a huge role in your partnership, not only co-driving on the rallies but also organising all the logistics and travel arrangements to get you to and from each event. How important is it to have her alongside you?

Rhianon and I have been a very strong team since I turned 18 and she got in the ‘silly seat’ beside me. It was interesting how we came from different sporting backgrounds but work so well together in the car. Also having a family member such as my sister to spend this amazing experience with makes it even better and drives us to want to achieve higher and higher goals all the time on every event we do together.

Can you tell us about the logistics involved in getting to Rally Finland?

We will be competing at Rally Whangarei just before Finland so we will be flying from New Zealand to London and on to Brussels. We keep our recce car in Brussels which we will be driving to Finland. It is a bit of a trip (three days) to get there but another WRC Academy crew is making the trip across Europe and over on the ferry with us, so that will make the trip easier and more fun.

All of our cars and the big transporters will be coming from Poland and they will arrive in Finland for us ready to test our cars. The mechanics and engineers are a mix of different nationalities but the majority of them are from Poland and the UK.

You’ve got four events remaining in this year’s WRC Academy and you’re currently sitting in third outright in the Championship, just two points off second place.  What are your expectations for the remaining events?

The main thing I want to keep doing is improving. I have been given this amazing opportunity by Pirelli and they have invested a lot of money in helping me develop as a driver this year and we have been showing signs of what we have to offer but all the little bits and pieces haven’t quite fallen into place yet. I want to keep getting top results and aim at winning the Championship come the end of the year. There is a big change after Finland with our first of two tarmac rallies, Germany and then France, so I think this will bring a change in who has the speed as well, with some of the drivers being mainly of a tarmac-experience background.

The winner of the WRC Academy will take home €500,000 to put towards their 2012 WRC program.  How much would that mean to you and how would you use the money?

The money would mean everything to me as I believe I have the skills but it’s the budget we really lack as a team. Having that amount of money to put into 2012 would allow me to make another big step up and keep in the WRC for the future. A lot of the WRC Academy teams have big budgets behind them but for me, without the Pirelli Star Driver award, I would have never been in the WRC Academy this year. The €500,000 would do similar things to what it has allowed me to achieve so far and hopefully build on bigger and better results.

Do you think the fact that Chris Atkinson was an important part of the Subaru World Rally Team has made the manufacturers more aware of the talent in Australia?

I think Chris having been in one of the top teams of the sport has definitely helped but it certainly doesn’t mean that teams are lined up waiting for the next Aussie kid to come along. There are many talented drivers out there and a lot who also have big budgets to bring to a manufacturer team so it’s never going to be easy, but that’s part of our sport. The rallying scene is really gaining momentum at the moment with manufacturer interest and things are on the up so we just have to keep working hard and believe that anything is possible.

You’ve obviously had a number of mentors in your career to date in Australia. Now that you’re competing in Europe in the World Championship, what sort of support and advice have you received?

Being a part of the WRC Academy has really allowed us to see and be involved with the top teams at the highest level. We get to race along side them and also be given advice by them. Throughout the year we have guest speakers at each event and this allows us to really get an insight in to the reality of being a WRC driver and how easy or tough it is from the drivers’ seat.

The most inspirational talk I have had so far was at the last round in Sardinia with the Petter Solberg WRC Team being our hosts for a night at the service park. This was really something else - getting to see the passion that the whole team puts into just getting to each event and competing for stage wins against other teams with budgets ten times what they have. I saw this as a huge benefit and took the time to ask as many questions as possible to Petter and his team to really help with my career.

What are your goals for the next few years?

I have big dreams and goals for the future but if I really work hard and there is some luck on our side, I believe anything is achievable. For this year, it’s to win the WRC Academy and use the prize money to make the step up into a Super 2000 car.

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