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It’s been almost two years since Scott Pedder’s last Q&A interview, and with a raft of changes both within the sport and with Scott’s role, the ARC website, www.rally.com.au, spoke with Pedder about the progression of the championship.

RCA: Your last Q&A interview on rally.com.au was in your capacity as CEO of the ARC, how has your role changed between now and then?

SP: The simple answer is it’s changed a lot! At that stage, as you say, I was CEO of the ARC. These days I’m the Commercial  Director of the ARC, still involved with the commercial direction of the sport, and while I have some oversight of the ARC, my decision to become a driver again meant that to avoid any obvious conflicts of interest I’m not involved in the day-to-day running of things.

RCA: As a Director of the ARC what areas are you involved with?

SP: My primary focus is on sponsorship, marketing and a heavy involvement in the television and promotion of the championship generally. We are very fortunate to have a great core group of people who do a fantastic job within their different roles within the ARC.  We also currently have a strong group of event organisers that whilst rightly have their event as a priority but understand and assist in the direction and operations of the ARC.  All of this has meant a reasonably seamless step back for me.

RCA: When you took on the role of ARC CEO the sport was in a pretty weakened state, is that a fair comment?

SP: The outlook was quite bleak; let’s put it that way! When I chose to focus a lot of my time and attention on the ARC I wanted to see it turn itself around, to refind it’s direction and to use it to showcase what we do best – exciting, challenging motorsport action!

RCA: And three years on from taking on that role, how do you think things are looking right now?

SP: The ARC has a future! Two to three years ago the ARC was taking on water and sinking fast. That was no ones fault though and that’s the most important thing to stress. The ARC had been through some great times with massive manufacturer support, from the likes of Subaru, Toyota and Mitsubishi. Those manufacturers had left, and with it the sport had lost some credibility as a promotional tool. Professional sport moves so quickly these days and if you stay in the same place for too long without change then you’re losing ground every year.

RCA: Following the departure of Subaru, Toyota and Mitsubishi there were some great privateer battles though.

SP: That’s true, and it has been asked why can’t rallying just live as a privateer sport. The reality is without manufacturer involvement the commercial side of the sport ends up lacking. So we knew we had to make massive changes because, to be brutally honest, if things had stayed the way they were we would have lost television coverage and that would have had a devastating effect! It would be an injustice to have a great sporting contest and not have the promotion to show the world.

RCA: And by massive changes you mean the decision to move the outright category from a four-wheel drive to two-wheel drive focus?

SP: Absolutely, the decision was a massive one, turbo four-wheel drive cars had played a leading role in the sport for over two decades, but it was a decision that wasn’t taken lightly. If I had to rate that decision I’d say we’d currently be scoring an 8 out of 10.

RCA: Are you pleased with how the move to front-wheel drive has unfolded?

SP: When we first made the announcement there were a lot of mumbles and groans, and understandably so, a lot of people had invested in four-wheel drive rally cars over the years. But to have three manufacturers involved this year, that’s an incredible turn around for the ARC, it adds massive credibility to the rule changes and the sport as a whole.

RCA: And the privateers have joined the two-wheel drive move too.

SP: I think that’s the thing I’m most excited about, we’ve seen privateer entries swell, and these are guys with a realistic chance of winning, not just guys there to make up the numbers like it has been for many years.

RCA: And what is the outlook for further manufacturers to be involved in the ARC?

SP: I would be 75% sure that next year there will be another manufacturer, and there is a lot of people looking on with renewed interest in rallying too. The one thing we can’t predict is the global influence on car manufacturers; things that affect budgets and can either make or break a manufacturers decision to get involved with motorsport.

RCA: Having four manufacturers would be a fantastic result for the rejuvenation of the ARC though.

SP: If we have four manufacturers lining up for the ARC next season then I’ll be ecstatic. It’ll be a terrific result for everyone who has worked so hard over the past couple of years to forge a new direction for rallying in Australia, and above all else it gives young drivers and mechanics a career path in our sport, creating opportunities where previously there had been few if any.

RCA: How much influence does manufacturer involvement play in inspiring privateer involvement?

SP: Manufacturer involvement definitely gives everyone an aspiration to get involved. When I look back at the early 2000’s manufacturer entries brought competition, it gave state level privateers something to aim for, to enter a rally and try to knock off a factory driver. I know as a driver that was something that inspired me. In turn it gave privateer drivers opportunities to drive for a manufacturer, to follow in the footsteps of guys like Neal Bates and Possum Bourne and make a strong career out of your passion.

RCA: The move to two-wheel drive appears to have leveled the playing field somewhat for privateers too, is that a fair assessment?

SP: I think so, look at the different options now. You’ve got guys like Jack Monkhouse and Will Orders being ultra competitive in rear-wheel drive cars. You’ve got privateers investing in front-wheel drive cars, guys like Michael Boaden and Mick Patton. And you’ve got factory involvement from Honda, Renault and Ford. I think that diversity is terrific, it’s what rallying has always been about – variety.

RCA: And so far this year, even after only two Rounds, the competition has been fierce.

SP: I think that’s the most exciting thing; it has validated the decision to go to two-wheel drive. I can’t think the last time you had multiple drivers all within a handful of seconds of each other on every stage. And the other impressive thing about the two wheel drives which hasn’t really been publicized is that, despite the presence of some good four wheel drive cars and drivers at the first two events, the fastest car in the overall event at both the National Capital Rally and Quit Forest Rally has been an outright ECB ARC two wheel drive car.

RCA: If I can change the topic slightly, to perhaps some more controversial questions, can I ask about the future of a single tyre supplier in the ARC?

SP: I believe the use of a single tyre supplier is here to stay. I say that because everyone being on the one tyre has added to the closeness of competition this year. I remember the days when the manufacturer cars had exclusive access to tyres, that wasn’t fair for everyone else and that alone helped to widen the gap in competition. I have experienced this from both the privateer and factory side of things and it is a very big difference. I think for the overall good of both the sport and the commercial running of the ARC it’s a good thing.

RCA: A number of drivers point out that tyre sponsorship was the privateer equivalent of manufacturer support, do you agree?

SP: I understand the desire to get a tyre supplier support for teams, but when you look back to the support that actually was given in the past I honestly don’t think it made a huge difference to enough teams. My view is that the benefits of a single tyre supplier helps everyone far more than a very small few getting a little support.

RCA: The calendar is the next question, the ARC has remained fairly consistent as a five or six Round series over the past decade, and do you see future growth in the number of Rounds?

SP: I think the number one consideration is the cost to everyone, not only the drivers and teams, but also the sport, the television and the events, if we started adding more Rounds. From a purely commercial point of view more Rounds means more exposure, and we’re up against sports like V8’s with 15 or so Rounds, AFL with 22 Rounds, Formula 1 with 20 Rounds etc.

RCA: So it would appear undesirable to expand over the existing six Round calendar?

SP: I think there might be room at some stage in the future to add 1 or 2 more Rounds, but not now. It’d be great to have some more diverse Rounds, visiting places like Tasmania again like we did in the past, or the Northern Territory. The biggest draw back, and this is no disrespect to everyone involved in rallying, but it’s also hard to find the talent to run new events.

RCA: Can you elaborate on that last point?

SP: The simple truth is no one involved in running rallies is getting any younger, we have an aging pool of staff involved in running events, so the prospect of adding new Rounds means you need to identify and work with talent that perhaps isn’t currently involved in the ARC, and that takes time. We live in a world where people are less likely to volunteer their time, so it is getting harder and harder to find the right people to stage and run events. Having said that supporting events from a commercial point of view is massively important to me, and we will do whatever we can to continue to help our events be the best events possible.

RCA: Apart from the two-wheel drive outright category the sport has diversified over the last couple of years and added some interesting new categories. Some have been hugely popular and successful, and some not so. If we can perhaps talk about the SUV category and where you see it heading?

SP: I wouldn’t be scoring the success of the SUV category very highly, for obvious reasons. We’ve had great support from Brett Middleton, but so far he’s been the only entry. We went into the SUV category because the manufacturers we were speaking with wanted to showcase this segment of the market to buyers. Unfortunately the attractiveness of the outright category, and the move to two-wheel drive, has blunted their interest in a second tier category like the SUV’s. I am confident that Brett will have some competition from at least one other crew this year.

RCA: Will the SUV class continue? And if so what can be done to make it more enticing?

SP: We definitely see a future in the SUV category, I believe to showcase that class of cars the ARC represents the best possible scenario. If a manufacturer wanted to show off that class of car taking it tarmac racing wouldn’t make sense, and at the other end off-road racing is too punishing and extreme. We are looking at ways to make the category more attractive, and one way we are considering is making it open to score manufacturer points.

RCA: And at the other end of the scale the Side-by-Side category has been both exciting for spectators and popular entrants.

SP: When we first proposed the addition of the Side-by-Side I recall a lot of people within the sport struggling to see the purpose, but I think now it’s proven to be an incredibly attractive addition to the sport. We’ve had amazing support from Polaris and Can-Am and I think it proves that the ARC has to always be looking for new and different ways to promote different options to competitors and fans.

RCA: And lastly the Classic category remains a strong draw card, particularly amongst the spectators.

SP: The ARC definitely has a place for the Classic category, it reminds us all why we love rallying so much! Anyone passionate about rallying is passionate about seeing these cars, and again it shows that the ARC can cater for a huge diversity of cars and competitors, we want to give everyone something that ticks all the boxes.

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