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.
This is Part 2 of our in-depth interview. Read Part 1 HERE.
With your administrator hat on, what are the major areas you see as being of great importance from a rallying perspective in 2019?
Rallying must be careful that it does not lose its identity. It’s easy to spend all your money on television coverage, but why bother if there is no one looking?
Rallying will probably never be a significant spectator sport in Australia – we are just too big a country with too few people in it and our major cities too far apart – but that does not stop it from being spectacular and developing a reasonable television following.
But the big question is who gets the TV coverage? There are not enough minutes for each competitor to have their 15 minutes of fame, and it’s not fair to ask those back in the field to pay for someone else’s television production.
Rallying’s identity is, to my mind, a participant funded activity. So why spend massive dollars on chasing the mighty media and catering for spectators who don’t exist in any significant numbers?
I counted 43 spectators at a recent VRC event (most of whom were service crews), so the provision of a single spectator point was probably appropriate. More would have been a consumption of valuable and scarce resources for not much in return.
Why spend $$$ on publicising an event to the public when they will not provide a return?
This is where social media seems to be making great positive inroads for rallying. “Advertising” an event is free and there can be a great feeling of togetherness between those who interact with the organisers (those who “like” the event or post on the Facebook page).
Now retired, Bruce Keys is enjoying some well deserved R&R.
For example, the Victorian Rally Championship has a strong profile and presence on Facebook and is used to good advantage. And it’s free!
Another important issue at the moment is the previous lack of stability of vehicle and event regulations for our highest level of domestic rallying. It must be a priority for the sport to create long term stability with regard to the vehicle regulations – don’t keep chopping and changing to suit a sponsor or a manufacturer.
It takes a good while for a competitor to get the wherewithal to build/import a car these days, and that cost can only be justified by amortizing it over a number of years, and then having a solid base so the car can be then sold on to the next guys, and so on. That has not existed in top level rallying in Australia for a while.
Look back at the heydays of the Production Rally Car. The Technical Regulations stayed pretty stable for about 10 years, so that meant that a driver knew what car he was going to build and what he could do, and more importantly, what he could afford.
I agree, the same driver in those days may have yearned for more horsepower via a different manufacturer’s engine and a 6-speed gearbox, but at least they knew where the limits were and they could be pretty confident that things weren’t going to change radically each year.
It’s great to see now that some stability appears to be returning to the top levels. I hope that will build confidence.
It’s my opinion that in motorsport, things go pretty well when rules don’t change. In general, people in the sport don’t spend all day pouring over a rule book trying to find a crack in the rules. They build up their knowledge of rules by experience.
If those rules don’t change, then they can “bank” each year of experience and after a few years have a pretty good “bank account” and become pretty knowledgeable and confident. This confidence is just so important for people to commit dollars to a project.
Same applies to organisers of rallies. Don’t change event formats radically, and keep in mind the people who finance rallying are the competitors themselves. The customer is usually right (with some exceptions, of course!), so give the customer what they want (within reason) and they will come back.
A good example here is the recent Rally of the Heartland. Yep, is was an expensive event to run, but it was very enjoyable and dollar for kilometre, pretty reasonable. The organisers gave the competitors what they wanted – a good wholesome event where they could have a real go, with no dramas and not too much inconvenience, and a friendly attitude. And everyone I spoke to seemed to be pretty happy.
Geoff Portman and his Datsun Bluebird at the 1984 Bathurst Rally. Photo: Bruce Keys
The Alpine is another example. Incredibly, this event attracts a good 150 prospective entrants each biennial time it is run. Although I have to admit that the Alpine does have a deal of mystique surrounding it. It’s sort of like the girl we saw at a dance and always wanted to go home with, but we didn’t, so we all kept on trying …
I even did a couple of Alpines. One of Victorian rallying’s great disappointments is that the Alpine can no longer be based in Bright, due to the forest restrictions.
Each type of event has its place, but at the moment it’s a pity that there is not enough dollars for each event to get full fields. But it’s better than it was a few years ago. And that’s a good thing.
Probably here is a good opportunity to talk about the elephant in the room. Well, at least the elephant in my old office … Risk Management and Health and Safety, and my role in it when I was at CAMS.
Again, it’s a very complicated situation, but when it’s all boiled down, one has to move with the times.
In 2004, CAMS was hit with a fine of $80,000 by NSW Work Cover for something that it did not have an opportunity to prevent. It’s a long story, but in order to reduce the risk of a similar breech of OH&S regulations, CAMS needed to introduce formalised risk management processes.
But CAMS does not run events (save for the Australian Grand Prix) as events are run by Clubs or other Organisers. Therefore the last thing that CAMS wanted to see was a Club breeching such a sensitive law as is OH&S (not many clubs could afford such a fine and CAMS insurers would not cover OH&S fines).
So CAMS considered that the best thing to do was to assist Clubs and Organisers by creating a process by which an Organiser could assess their risks and use the benefit the collective knowledge of the sport in creating a common systematic process of managing and controlling risks.
From my background in rallying, I knew that the sport had some really great safety processes that had been learned over the years and passed on from Clerk of Course to Clerk of Couse. There was never ever anyone who devised a regulation or a process to purposely harm someone. The processes (which we would now call Risk Controls) generally saw that things resulted in great outcomes.
But the problem from a formalised Risk Management point of view was that the method or reasoning by which those requirements were devised and discussed and implemented was never formally recorded. Therefore it was assumed by the authorities that it did not exist.
The process of assessment, determination, consultation and communication (and the recording of that process) is an integral and essential part of formal risk management.
So CAMS needed to introduce a process whereby each event organiser could show that they used a systematic approach to risk management, and that they did what they said they would do.
The simplest way that could be achieved was by developing a series of simple checklists and for an organiser to tick things off as they were planned, and again as they were actually done or carried out on the event.
Unfortunately, that was not looked at in a positive light by the majority of rally organisers. The checklists – which really only formally recorded what an organiser did anyway (however, they were in terms which were commonly used by Risk Managers and Civil Authorities, which was admittedly somewhat foreign to rally organisers at the time) were considered to be a significant imposition on organisers.
1980 Begonia Rally: Bruce Keys / Geoff Floyd, Datsun 1600.
In fact most of the checklists we devised for rallying risk management were not new at all and they were based on an “Organisers Check List” that was developed and implemented by Ian McKnight when he was the General Manager of the Light Car Club of Australia – in 1977.
I don’t understand the apparent disdain some motorsport organisers hold for a checklist. I reckon they help you sleep at night!
While CAMS took the point of view that it should do everything possible to create an environment where an organiser could build up a defence against something going wrong, some of the components of that process simply had to be completed by the Organiser, not CAMS.
And not all organisers saw it that way. So the process became watered down to the extent where I believe it has lost a lot of its value.
Having said all that, it is very satisfying to see that many of the risk management processes that were introduced in the mid-2000s are now de-rigour.
I have seen several occasions (particularly in the NT and Victoria) where there has been a serious or even fatal incident, and the ability for an organiser to simply pull a stack of documents out of a drawer to prove that they had a systematic approach to foreseeing risk, to documenting it and putting in place processes to minimise (not eliminate!) that risk, has stopped Police and Workcover investigations, and possible criminal charges being laid, in the early stages.
There are many grumblings about the need for competitors to use HANS devices now, but surely that was the case back in your day when roll cages became mandatory. And then safety harnesses, helmets, etc.
On the subject of risk, I have to say there is a fundamental difference between Frontal Head Restraints (FHR) of today and other safety devices such as roll cages and helmets of years gone by. It can be summed up in one word. Research.
It has been proved without doubt that FHR save lives, and of course neck and head injury, but as we all know, in order for those specialised devices to work properly and do the job they were designed to do, they need to be part of a managed, engineered safety system, one which is very carefully and exactingly fitted to specific equipment.
In the case of FHR the margin for error in the fitment stakes is narrow, as proper fitment and alignment is critical to the performance of not only the FHR device, but the whole system.
Therefore a total systematic (there’s that word again!) approach to risk management (and injury minimisation) is required, which includes seats, mounting points, seat belts, anchorage points, helmets and, of course, the actual restraining device that attaches to the helmet.
All that adds up to a lot of money.
With camera back in hand, Keys attended this year's Otago Rally and took this ripping shot of Hayden Paddon.
It’s not like a helmet which we used to go down to Rallyquip or Autosport or Opposite Lock and hand over 50 bucks, and all you had to do was tighten it up around your chin, and “look at me, I am safe now!”
Same applies to roll cages. 400 bucks gave you a full roll cage (well, a 6 point cage at any rate, but that was cutting edge in those days!) which was not engineered in any way other than someone from Fred’s Roll Bars thought it would be OK for your car.
What a difference to today when most cars are fitted with roll over protection systems which are subject to computer aided engineering and computational structural analysis. And all that comes at a cost.
FHRs are an expensive and complex system which has many benefits, and without doubt the cost of a good system is far better than spending a lifetime in a wheelchair.
But the cost of these devices, and the inconvenience of fitting them, and the restrictions of horizontal head rotation movement they provide, particularly for novice/introductory and navigational events, is certainly something which needs to be taken into consideration.
Sounds like a complex risk assessment coming up!
On one hand you have the benefits of reducing injury and saving life, and on the other hand there is the question of keeping the lower status of the sport going and financially viable.
It’s all very well to simply say that “it’s my neck and I’ll do what I want with it” but unless there is some well thought out, rational and well documented rationale – which provides some engineering control alternatives, and not simply a stack of administrative controls, to minimise the effects of a car hitting a hard object head-on at speed, I don’t see that there is much choice at the moment.
But that’s where one great disappointment in motor sport and its people lie – at least to my mind anyway – and that is that we don’t get together and rationally - and without malice and pre-judgement - discuss and debate and resolve and document a systematic approach to a way forward on many important matters. And they don’t have to be just safety related.
It seems to me as if there are always too many conflicting opinions and spurious issues and not enough facts and hard data, all of which conspire to prevent a common and united front being presented (for example to a Coroner) to a way forward.
Let’s go back to something I said before. You just cannot unlearn knowledge. Once it’s discovered, it’s there for all time. Once the genie is out of the bottle it’s bloody hard to get him back in!
And when you discover something that is beneficial to saving life, well, that tends to win out every time.
On a personal front, now that you're retired, you've picked up the camera again. What is it about the sport that keeps you involved?
I have been incredibly privileged to be involved in a very exciting time in motor sport when so many positive developments in motor sport occurred during my time as an administrator.
From running the first “special stage” VRC; the introduction of Group A to racing; the victory of the right of our officials verses the might of the Ford Motor Company at Bathurst in 1987, where I actually wrote the text of the protest which Frank Gardner doggedly stood behind, and which gave Peter Brock his last Bathurst 1000 victory after the Eggenbeger factory Ford Sierras were found by the FIA to have illegal bodywork (a bit of a highlight of my career, I have to say!).
The development and implementation of PRC regulations to Australia; working with Michael Bailey to realise a dream of bringing the BP sponsorship to the ARC; being there at the commencement of the Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide and holding the role of Deputy Secretary of the Meeting for the next 21 years; representing CAMS on several FIA Commissions and Committees.
Being a Steward at WRC events: being involved with the introduction and development of WRC and Rally Australia; the introduction of formalised risk management to motor sport; the development of safety of race tracks in Australia to the stage that the majority of them now meet the stringent FIA licensing standards… and of course being honoured with Life Membership of CAMS in 2011. All are wonderful memories.
I’ll never forget that privilege offered to me and I can be confident in saying that I don’t recall any time when I took advantage of the situation.
Like rallying, camera technology has come a long way in 30 years. Photo: Bruce Keys
That’s in fact one reason why I put down my camera for a while. The temptation to simply walk out to where the properly accredited photographers were standing would have been too much to resist!
The best part is, of course, all the wonderful people I have met and became friends with along the way. The camaraderie which can exist in motor sport, and particularly rallying, is second to none.
When all said and done, that’s probably the principal reason why most of us go out there and do it!
I am fortunate that I can now stay involved in the sport and with the people, by again taking the odd picture of two.
It’s interesting - and amusing - to see how one is looked upon when in a so-called position of authority. I recently went to a rally and whilst walking through the service area, old mate came up and said something like “Ah, Bruce Keys. I suppose you are going to give us a hard time and tell us why we can’t do this”.
Where upon I explained that I had retired from CAMS a few months ago and was just having a pleasant day enjoying a look around and a chat to a few old mates.
“I suppose you had better come in and have a beer with us, then” was his response!
Sunraysia Safari 2018. Photo: Bruce Keys
Do you have a desire to co-driver again, or are you happy on the outside of the car?
I take my hat off to all co-drivers these days! I get a severe case of dyslexia every time I see a set of pace notes! I see the immense amount of time and effort which goes into making those notes and I am glad that someone else does it.
The last event I co-drove in was a Tasmanian Rally Championship event, with Guy Dunstan in 1984. No pace notes then, it was a bling event. Guy had a pretty good 180B SSS and drove it well.
The roads used in that event were big and fast, and while traversing a ridge at about 150km/h for about 12 kilometres, I spent most of that 12 kilometres trying to crawl under the dashboard. Then, while Guy was happily enjoying himself and working pretty hard at about 150km/h, with a flash of headlights and spray of stones, David Officer passed us just like we were going backwards.
So, if that’s what it takes, I’ll leave it to someone else, thank you!
If you could make one change to rallying in Australia, what would it be?
Here is a very controversial idea.
I would introduce a class, based on every car in that class, using 15 x 6 inch wheels and a single size, single compound and single tread pattern tyre. The tyres would be rally tyres, but would be durable and relatively inexpensive.
The reasons? It’s about the only thing I can think of which would dramatically slow down the technological race (as I have said before our greatest enemy is technology), and curtail costs to some extent and could fit most cars – probably Minis are the exception.
The contact patch between car and road would be the same for each car, reducing the dependence on suspension, chassis, drive train and engine development. Some cars would need to reduce their braking capacity (to fit the wheels), effectively creating a handicap for the bigger, more powerful cars.
It would even out the field to an extent. And it would slow down that ever increasing speed of technical evolution. And if they tyres could be used for several events (just like the old days!), there is a benefit in cost, particularly to the lower level crews.
And there is at least one company who are interested to talk …
But, as always, a better driver in a better prepared car will always win over a lesser quality driver in a badly prepared car. Greg Carr is always going to beat Bruce Keys!
Don’t expect too many people to agree, but you did ask!
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