2007 was the first year of the Silverstone Tyres Pocket Rocket Rally Series in Queensland. Over the preceding 18 months, Craig and Linda Newell were two of the people who put in a tremendous effort to get the new series, which is a new concept in Australian rallying, up and running.  The interview, whilst light hearted in nature, and occurring on a relaxing afternoon in the off season, is a serious look at the effort that went into the 2007 season.

Gideon Street: Firstly, I’d like to congratulate you both on the inaugural win of the 2007 Silverstone Tyres Pocket Rocket Rally series.  Both you and the car had a very consistent year with few problems and a very good finishing record, which is a testament to the hard work you’ve put into what you do.

Obviously the new Honda Civic has a bit more power than the previous car, how did that impact what you had to do?

Linda: Apart from feeling sick more often, the notes became more complex because they had to include braking markers, as well as everything else. Craig had a tendency to drive the car off the side of hills if there was a turn just after a crest, unless I tell him to brake.

GS: Having gone through a full season could you give examples of what the new series now means to you?  Has your view of rallying changed?

Linda: Rallying used to be for a giggle, whereas now more has been invested, both in time and money, so we have to take it a bit more seriously, although there are limits.  The most important thing was to be out there.

GS: What would you say to a rally newbie if they came to you and said they’re interested in becoming a navigator, and how is it different from completing a season in the Pocket Rocket Rally Series to a season in the Gemini?

Linda: The only difference from a navigator’s perspective is the speed of the car; there is less difference in the navigator’s role than the driver’s.  I still tell the driver when to get in the car, when he’s driving slow etc.  For a newbie I would say there are a lot more Gemini competitors in the field who are seeded in a similar manner, so there would be more support around you, but as more Pocket Rocket crews join the field we’ll create our own support base within the series as well.

GS: “Seat of Your Pants Motorsport”, could you elaborate on the naming of your team?

Linda: it came about because Craig wanted a serious name, and I knew if Craig had a serious name he would take rallying too seriously, so we went with his nickname, Pants.  This came from a friend of mine who found Craig in her bathroom with a hair dryer directed at his crutch after a mishap with a bottle of scotch.  After my friend said she was glad she couldn’t see Craig’s Y-fronts, he declared himself a Pants boy.

GS: What was the highlight of the year for you?

Linda: Getting to the end of Gallangowan in one piece.  It was long and hard, half the field’s navigators were ill.

GS:  We hear, through various media outlets, that with a change of car you have to pick up the slack around the house?

Linda: At first, the rally car build was an all-consuming obsession.  Craig didn’t eat, drink or sleep unless I dragged him out of the garage.  So initially, I did pick up a lot of the slack around the house.  Eventually though, I got sick of being the wench and declared that the rally car was not a household chore.  Once I got that part to sink in things improved.  He now does his fair share of the chores.

GS: Lastly, what does it mean to you to take out the inaugural series win?

Linda: Basically it’s not so much a personal sense of achievement in how we performed during the year, more so after two years work the series is up and running in Queensland and recognised as part of the grass roots of the sport.  What started as a dream for some of us, to have a new series, has now come to fruition.

Now some questions for Craig:

GS: Being a seasoned Gemini series driver, what did you see as the biggest challenge in going from RWD to FWD?

Craig: The main challenge was… there were two things: one was getting my head around the fact that more throttle in the Civic means less sideways, whereas more throttle in the Gemini meant more sideways; the other challenge was a psychological one, learning to commit as much as we used to in the Gemini

GS: What was the biggest hurdle you faced when deciding to build a new car, especially one that hasn’t been through years of testing and refinement?

Craig: That’s an interesting question, but I’m not sure our choice of car was wholly untested, because Civics have been run in Europe and down south, so I knew it would work.  The concept of the series was probably the untested bit rather than the choice of cars.  We know all of the cars can work, it’s more a question of having faith in the series rather than the different cars.  The biggest hurdle was the budget and trying to stick to it.

GS: How do you feel about your performance in 2007, and what sort of insights has it provided for 2008?  

Craig: In terms of outright performance I didn’t really feel that pressured into driving at 10/10th’s due to a number of factors, but namely not wanting to bend the car in the first season.  Aside from one driver error where we got beached, we’ve finished every event we’ve entered and that’s confirmed that our choice of car was pretty sound, and everyone involved in the preparation did a good job.

I think technically speaking, from a car set-up and preparation point of view, things are pretty sorted now since we’ve resolved a braking issue from the start of the year.  The biggest thing we have to work on is psychological preparation and fitness.

The biggest insight is probably that the new Excels coming through will prove very competitive and they will set the bar pretty high for the PRRS next year.

GS: You’ve been studying to advance your non-rally career.  Apparently the rally car build was used as a practical assignment for your studies. Can you tell us whether you learned more about Project Management or creative accounting when you were putting everything down on paper?

Craig: It was useful to use the rally build project as part of my PM studies as it forced me to keep a more accurate track of what we’d spent.  It was good until the co-financier had a melt down in the kitchen with a cordless drill in her hand, which forced an emergency weekend at the Hyatt Regency in Coolum.  However, this unplanned vacation seemed to get the project back on track….

GS: What was your highlight of the year?

Craig: From a series point of view, getting three cars starting the event at Gallangowan was excellent to see, and I felt that justified the effort put in during the year.

From a personal point of view, it would have to be at Border Ranges, when Linda said 4.7km to finish and turned off the map light, leaving me to drive on those glorious shire roads through the night.

GS: There has been some impressive results this year - one in particular that wasn’t a part of the PRRS series was winning the PRC Class at the GCTMC Classic Rally (and 8th outright). Is this a sign of wha’ts to come from you both?
Craig: We can only hope so.  When the car was working well there were some positive aspects, but coupled with that were some negative experiences.  We’d like to think we’d be competitive this year. It would be good to have some close competitiveness.

Linda: Despite being cheap and controlled, the cars can be competitive with people with greater budgets.

GS: As a part of the core group of co-founders and being on the committee of the PRRS, how important was it to you to get out there and prove what these cars are capable of?  And did that change your focus or ambitions for the year?

Craig: It was important to be out there at all the events and remind people that this new series is going to gather force.  Although the idea has copped some criticism, we have tried to make rallying accessible, relevant to the youth of today and most importantly, at the end of the day the series gives people a choice, so we think that’s a good thing.

Linda: We’d like to thank everyone involved in getting the series off the ground and also those who were enthusiastic about what we are trying to do.  A special thanks to Alan Stean from Silverstone Tyres for his support of the series, the Queensland Rally Panel who have worked hard with us to get the regulations finalized, and the competitors who are currently preparing cars and have shown their faith in the concept.

For more information on the series, check out: http://www.pocketrocketrally.com

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