Bruce Keys is well known in motorsport circles, having spent 35 years working for the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport, many of those years as CAMS Rally Manager.
Now retired, Keys chatted to RallySport Magazine about his experiences working for CAMS, on changes made to rallying over the years, why it’s difficult to ignore technology, and how it’s impossible to turn back time (just ask Cher!).
Our Bruce Keys interview is a ‘must read’ for all motorsport people, and will undoubtedly generate hours of discussion in workshops around the country.
RSM: When did your involvement in motorsport begin, and was it as a competitor or as an administrator first?Bruce Keys:My earliest involvement with motor sport was when I was 9 years old, and my big brother Graham took me to Sandown, the race meeting that Norm Beechey won the 1965 Australian Touring Car Championship in his then new Mustang. I was hooked from that moment on.
As you know I also have a fair interest in photography and that was a great catalyst to go to motor races – I recall going to Winton and Sandown by train, just to get me there in the days before I could drive.
Then one day a fellow photographer, Geoff Selton, suggested that we go to the 1974 Akademos Rally to take a few pictures. So, armed with as many flash guns as I could fit into the boot of a Corolla (Geoff’s mum’s car) off we went.
I soon decided that rally organisation would be a cool thing to do, so under the wonderful guiding hand of Stuart Lister I started learning how to direct rallies. After the second event I directed it was all good. The first event – the 1977 Autumn Midnight Trial – was a disaster! I soon learnt about the art of delegation.
After that early disaster, it was time to become a rally driver, so I bought a pretty good Datsun 1600 – actually from Richard Power, who at the time was the PR Manager for Nissan – with a fair few of the infamous Nissan Motor Company “good bits” in it. It was a great car to drive and with Dick Denvil, and then Geoff Floyd in the left hand seat, we had a ball and finished up third in the 1979 Victorian Clubman Championship.
Bruce Keys was CAMS Rally Manager.
I directed my next event that year – which was also round of the Clubman Championship, so I missed out on some valuable points – and then I directed a string of Victorian Rally Championship status Blue Ribbon rallies for the Light Car Club of Australia.
I sold the 1600 to Bob Bousfield in WA and he then sold it to the one and only Ross Dunkerton. Ross ran a few ARCs and a Dunlop 2GO Rally in it. I still have a tear in my eye when I think of the last picture Ross sent me of the car – in the shape of a 1x1m cube outside Simsmetal!
In 1982 I lost my job as a professional photographic sales rep and worked for the Light Car Club of Australia for a couple of years, being the co-ordinator for all its sporting events. That included Sandown race meetings, several VRCs, lots of club events, and of course the 1981 and 1982 Alpine Rallies. Great days indeed!
I also did a bit of work for Alan “Swampy” Marsh, making the carcases of his wonderful fibreglass and lamb’s wool seats - so anyone who still has a Marsh seat, it was probably made by me! (Yep, I do! Ed.)
I worked with Tom Snooks at the LCCA and when he moved to CAMS he must have thought that I had something to offer, so he whispered into the ear of the CEO (John Keeffe at the time) and in May of 1983 I started working for CAMS as a glorified office boy!
Along the way I turned my hand to co-driving and had some memorable times with Bruce Robertson in his ex-Repco Commodore (the “girls” Kambrook car); Bob Buck (Escort), Steve Bartal (1600) and some very exciting, very quick and luckily successful rides with Peter “Pud” Thompson in several of his incredible Datsuns.
We won a VRC round, the North Eastern Rally, which helped Pud win the Victorian championship that year.
Best memory of those days? Going for a ride on a stage with Carlos Sainz in the 1990 WRC winning Celica GT4 – flat out for about 6 kilometres! Mind blowing.
Tom left CAMS in 1985 to set up the Australian Safari and I took over the role of Rally Manager at CAMS, to add to the other tasks I was doing there, including managing Technical, Off Road and Medical matters. Then came the Australian Grand Prix, of which I was Deputy Secretary of the Meeting for 21 years.
Looking back I really can’t believe that so much was accomplished by so few people at CAMS.
Bruce Keys punts his Escort Mk2 around an autocross track.
You held the position of CAMS Rally Manager for many years. What were some of the highlights and achievements from your years at the helm?
Without doubt the most memorable highlight of my time at CAMS was the gaining of sponsorship from a major multi-national company for the Australian Rally Championship in 1990 and 1991.
The sponsorship from BP Australia was the catalyst for a massive lift in the profile of rallying, at a time when the significant “factory” support of the early 1980s had disappeared and the move to PRC/Group A was really getting a head of steam.
The public announcement in 1990 was held at the Old Melbourne Motor Inn and we managed to have eight or so really smart looking cars as a backdrop, including a Lancia Delta Integrale, Subaru’s new Legacy RS, Dinta’s Mitubsihi Starion, a 4WD BMW 323’ a couple of VR4s and a few smaller Swifts, Corollas and Peugeot 205s.
An introduction by the one and only Harry Firth, and the equally one and only George Fury, set the scene. It was a real turning point for the sport.
Everyone who was involved, be they competitors, organisers, media and sponsors, really worked hard and under difficult circumstances for all of those two years. We were trying to show a “Champagne taste” to the world on a watered down “beer appetite”.
But we all pulled together and the results were really encouraging. Great times and it just goes to show what the sport can do when everyone is focused on a common goal.
I could go on for ages about those two years. Great times indeed. Pity about the co-efficient system, introduced for 1992, which BP did not agree with and we never saw them again …
A close second highlight was, of course, the gaining of a World Rally Championship round, Rally Australia. Few of us will ever appreciate just how much work and effort – and I might add, all on a voluntary basis – which the man behind the event, Garry Connelly, put in for all those years that event was in Perth.
It would not have happened without his drive and vision, and intellect and dedication. I went to Portugal with Garry in 1988 on what was a bit of a recce to see how the FIA expected a WRC should be run, and we were just two guys from Australia asking a lot of questions and doing a lot of looking.
Bruce Keys and Geoff Floyd in the 1979 Rich River Trial.
It was not long before the world realised who this Garry Connelly guy was and what he and his team could do!
Australian rallying owes Garry and his wonderful wife, Monique, a very deep debt of gratitude.
Another memorable episode was the mammoth change to the sport when it changed from a “run what ya brung” formula to a structured - and governmentally acceptable modification regime - for rally cars. The Group G vs PRC days.
Whist I would rather forget the arguments we had with competitors, vehicle builders and event organisers, and the struggles which we all went through to reach the goal which the National Rally Committee wanted to see, it does stand out as a memorable time.
All those arguments? Just one of the downsides of being an instrument of policy I guess …
During these years you were also a co-driver and a photographer. Did these roles help you in your decision making at CAMS, and helping to advance the sport?
Without doubt a grounding in club activities, driving, co-driving and most importantly, event organisation at all levels, helped create a great deal of empathy with the sports users for me.
CAMS has an unenviable job. It must advance the sport and keep it relevant and at the same time encourage the participation at all levels and in all disciplines.
The management of motor sport in Australia is an incredibly difficult thing to do successfully, not helped by our (relatively) tiny population and the incredible distances between our major cities.
The fact that CAMS is a model for which overseas ASNs aspire to is something that not too many of us realise. I say “good on them”. The sport needs a strong and well regarded (from outside as well as inside) governing body. I know that’s a pretty controversial subject at the moment. Time will tell how things pan out.
Then there is the vast differences between the levels of competition in each disciple of the sport. The breadth of rallying stretches from Sunday afternoon motorkhanas to World Rally Championship rallies.
Each event needs to have a standard of regulatory framework which is appropriate for the type and status of event. But often the competitors are the same, as are their cars. Striking a balance is nearly impossible. Certainly you’re not going to please all the people all the time!
This 1976 photo of Timo Makinen in the Southern Cross Rally is a Keys favourite. Photo: Bruce Keys
CAMS has a reputation among rally people of being disinterested in rallying. Is that something you experienced, or is there more dynamics at play?
During my 35 years at CAMS I was fortunate enough to build up a pretty good network of contacts with many of the FIA’s National Sporting Organisations – ASNs – and what happens in Australia to a large extent is echoed throughout most of the motor sporting countries.
Circuit Racing tends to get priority because it brings in the majority of dollars and it has the highest community and media profile.
That’s why the BP sponsorship of the early 1990s was just so important to rallying.
Look around at most of the Boards and Committees which manage the FIA’s ASNs. They are primarily comprised of circuit-racing centric people. Naturally the weight of knowledge will be biased towards racing, and voting tends to follow suite.
Change that situation over time to a more rally oriented membership and I would think that you will see some changes which would be beneficial for rallying. But that is not going to happen overnight and will take 10-15 years.
Isn’t that what Ari Vatanen tried to do when he stood for the position of FIA President?
We can all remember what happened when Bernie Eccelstone won the commercial rights for the WRC. Overnight revolutions just do not happen. They require the best people in the most appropriate places, with the right strategy and roll out plans and the will to fight on for a long time to achieve the set goals!
The sport continues to evolve in many ways, given that events are harder to organise and there are less of them. Do you see any parallels from when you were at CAMS?
Someone said to me in 1977: “Our little rally world is getting littler and littler”. It still is and it’s pretty damn small now!
In my opinion, one of the biggest bugbears in motor sport in the last 30 years has been the rapid acceleration of technology and its effect on the motor car.
Take the modern rally car. It has probably three times the power output of my old 1600 (which was pretty good in its day), that power is transmitted through 100% more wheels, the suspension technology today was simply unthinkable 30 years ago, tyre technology has improved to the stage where a well set up car just sticks to the road to such a greater extent than it used to, that its taken all the “wriggle room” out the question.
The limits of adhesion are now so much higher and when something goes wrong there is no correction time or space for the driver to do anything about it. And all that happens at a faster speed than before as well.
We cannot unlearn knowledge, so we can’t turn back the technology clock to the time when the cutting edge of technology was a pair of 40 DCOE Webers, a direct fifth gearbox and 4.9:1 LSD. We are experiencing an evolution which has accelerated massively in a very short space of time.
There is probably not a great deal that can be done to overcome the technology race.
Calling the corners for Pud Thompson in the 1983 Akademos Rally.
This is also having a massive effect on event organisers. Rallying costs a lot more – even in relation to weekly earnings – than it used to. That goes for everyone involved. That, in my opinion, is a big factor in fewer rallies now being held, because it takes so much more effort, time and money to participate at your chosen level and discipline - be it as an official or a Competitor.
Or even a photographer! I reckon I could sell my house to put a deposit on some of the camera equipment I see out there!
Environmental issues, or perceptions, are placing restrictions on road and forest usage. In Victoria, in the mid-1990s, nearly 75% of the roads used for rallying one year where simply not available the next year. And for what rational reason?
How that did not result in the permanent demise of rallying in Victoria is a testament to the resilience and dogged attitude of rally organisers. It’s also a good reason why the Victorian rally calendar shrunk from 80 or so events per year to what we have now.
It’s just too difficult and time consuming and labour intensive and financially debilitating to organise a rally these days, and as a consequence many clubs and organising teams have had to hang their hat on the wall or combine their resources with other clubs. And who could blame them?
But is there an answer? Probably not a silver bullet answer at any rate.
Interestingly, one partial answer may have been rallycross. Bob Watson and I worked pretty hard to re-introduce Rallycross a few years ago, but the stumbling block was that there were no suitable venues and the development of a suitable venue – even modification of an existing venue – proved to be a financial hurdle that was too high to jump.
Keys sliding his Datsun 1600 in the 1980 Begonia Rally.
For Rallycross to be successful, in my opinion at any rate, there needs to be a significant base of club level competitors to eventually support the top level or high profile competitors.
But before you start to play in the sandpit, a suitable sandbox needs to be available. And it wasn’t.
Justin Dowell did an admirable job at trying very hard to create a high profile rallycross series, and he chose to do it from the top down and put a considerable amount of his own money into it - and the result is that that series is now having a hiatus.
The advent of more rules and regulations to pacify the community standard expectations have been developing for many years. It’s a very complex issue.
Those who are privileged to guide the community – and for CAMS that generally means government legislation and, probably more importantly, the determinations and recommendations made by Coroners following fatal incidents – do so without the intricate knowledge and understanding of a specialised section of the community. Read our sport of rallying.
So what may seem simple for a Coroner to recommend, which it if had been implemented may have saved the life of the subject under investigation, may have far reaching negative consequences, most of which are not obvious to an outsider, and therefore are not taken into consideration when the recommendation is made.
Nevertheless, CAMS is obliged to consider very carefully the recommendations and to evaluate the risk of doing something (and potentially having a possibly negative effect on organisers or competitors), as opposed to the risk of disregarding the recommendation (and for organisers and CAMS to face the risk of significant criminal and civil liability actions if something similar happens).
CAMS insurers will cover your civil liability claims (when someone sues you), but they will not go to jail for you!
In my time at CAMS I never saw one instance where a new rule or regulation or organisation requirement was not implemented without a bloody good hard look at the ramifications vs the benefits.
I have written reams and reams of justification why something should be accepted or rejected, and to say finding a balance is complex is an understatement!
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