INTERVIEW: John Allen
- 26th January 2009, 8:55pm
Well-known Queensland co-driver, John Allen, spent much of last year travelling back and forth to China to compete with rookie driver, Tony Green, in the Chinese Rally Championship. The pair finished the season with the international drivers championship and have now secured a full-time contract with the FCACA team to contest the 2009 season.
Carolyn Schonafinger spoke to John Allen about the upcoming season and the differences between rallying in China and Australia.
Congratulations on securing a full-time contract with FCACA. How did the association between Tony and yourself and the Chinese team come about in 2008?
Tony was noticed by FCACA at the end of 2006 when he was demonstrating a Prodrive car to potential clients. Our boss Mr Chen invited Tony back to China late in 2007 for a chat about what he recommended to do about setting up a Shanghai based rally team to take on the Chinese championship. After four hours of talks Mr Chen came straight out and asked if Tony would be the Team Consultant and No 1 driver. It was totally unexpected as at that stage he had only completed 10 rallies in his life, but Mr Chen could see Tonyâ€™s passion and potential. Thankfully we paid him back with the International drivers championship in the first year.
What does your Chinese program for 2009 entail? As well as the Chinese Rally Championship do you have a busy schedule for testing, promotion/media days, etc?
The promotion of this team is extraordinary. There would be a team of six to eight people involved on the media and development of the website. Last year there was over three hours of television documenting specifically FCACA on major TV programs such as Motor World, Top Engine etc and four to six pages in each of the major motoring magazines per month. In 2009 this will be even bigger. In fact I will go as far as to say that the television and magazine exposure team would exceed the whole of the Australian Rally Championship just for our team. FCACA offers a fantastic opportunity for sponsors that want huge exposure to the most populated country in the world.
Will there be time for other events like Repco Rally Australia or other Asia Pacific Championship events?
The priority for the team for 2009 is to win the Teams Championship for the Chinese Rally Championship and this year FCACA has employed two very good Chinese drivers to back Tony and I up. At the moment we are still waiting on the Chinese calendar to be announced. Once we know the dates we can prioritise. Rally Australia is the top of the list for me and FCACA as it is close to where I live in Brisbane as well as being a rally no one has prior experience of so it will be an even playing field. The Asia Pacific championship is also a strong possibility
Youâ€™re off to Finland in a couple of weeks. What will you be doing there?
Looking for more speed!!!! Tony and I won the championship by consistent finishes and we never bent a panel all year but we never had that elusive rally win. The Finnish boys were kicking our butts on the high speed stages so we decided we would go to the spiritual home of rallying to find how they are so fast. Juha Salo who is the current Finnish rally champion invited us over to drive snowmobiles and test with him before the next round of the Finnish Championship. After that we are going to Norway to do three days of ice driving on a frozen lake with 2003 PWRC champion Martin Rowe. We are hoping that is going to give us that extra edge to be taking regular stage wins.
With so much time spent in China, will you set up a base there or come home between events?
It is easy to base yourself in Australia with the internet and skype so I can work on logistics and website development between rallies. FCACA look after me very well with accommodation in China, but between rallies I will be making every effort to get back to Australia to see my wife Kathryn and spend some time at the beach and the golf course to recharge. I am very lucky Kathryn is so supportive of what I am doing. I expect she will be joining me at a couple of rallies overseas to keep an eye on me!
How do the Chinese public take to rallying?
We have been up to the border of Russia and North Korea for rallies this year and it is the first time that some people have seen a rally car. Testing rally cars is so different from Australia. Instead of paying $400 to share a test road, our team decides that bit of dirt road looks good, places a few mechanics at junctions and we have the road to ourselves. The locals donâ€™t even get angry we have closed their road and instead watch bemused on the side of the road. The TV coverage is huge so it is becoming well known alongside Formula 1. At the last rally in Shao Wu we couldnâ€™t even get into our hotel as we were swamped by 500 kids in the car park. There were kids on the bonnet and roof of the car as soon as we parked it clamouring for autographs and we had to be escorted by the police inside the lobby. It was a crazy experience!
What are the difficulties in working with a Chinese team?
The hardest things are getting parts and equipment for the rally car into China. Often you have to allow at least 3 months to get the parts you need from overseas and through customs so preplanning is important. Language is the obvious difficulty, but that said most of our Chinese team speak good English, it is my poor grasp of the Chinese language is the problem. One day I thought I was asking for a banana in Chinese but what came out in translation was I was asking â€œto make loveâ€. It wouldnâ€™t have been so bad if I asked one of our Pirelli umbrella girls, but instead I directed my question to the Manager. They are still laughing at me and reminding me three months later if I still want to make love!
How did you originally team up with Tony?
I sent an email to Adrian Bukmanis at Prodrive to keep a look out for any chances of overseas opportunities. In November I received an email from an â€œunknown Tony Greenâ€ wanting to know if I wanted to compete in the Chinese Championship. I actually thought it was a hoax as it was too good to be trueâ€¦kind of like a Nigerian money scam! Iâ€™m glad now I said yes to the offer!!
What improvements are you hoping for this year?
FCACA have ordered three N14 Prodrive STiâ€™s to replace our Prodrive N12b STiâ€™s. I think Subaru have made this into a very quick car now. As I said previously, Tony has only done 16 rallies yet has won the championship and matches times with some of the best professional drivers in the world. He is a freakish natural talent and we hope that some professional training in Norway with Martin Rowe can find that extra speed we are looking for.
Also Tony and I have competed in six rallies together. We gelled perfectly as a team and each rally we seem to find more and more speed. There is more to come from us yet!
What are your goals for 2009 and beyond?
There is no question FCACA want to add the Chinese teams championship to their trophy cabinet and then go all the way to the WRC. That also is my ultimate goal but firstly I just work as hard as I can on getting my pacenotes for each rally 100% spot on and making sure I get Tony to the finish of every rally as fast as we can. I figure if I keep doing that the rest will take care of itself.
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