Sunday, April 24, 2011

Chapter 12: Nit-picking

A recent comment on the blog grabbed my attention:

"Doesn't sound too flash Antony. However as a privateer surely you would not expect all the very latest gear as per the Works cars. Having said that was there any discussion of equipment vs $$ eg if you pay $X you get this old pus bucket, if "you pay $XX you get this slightly better car, if you want one level behind the works you pay $XXXXXXX?"

I can understand where the question comes from.  It could be easy to think: "Boy, was this guy stupid or what?"  The answer is not so simple.  There are facts that have to be taken into account:

First of all it's important to understand that, as a privateer, you don't know what the works cars have.  They don't tell you, period.  There is a politic of silence, aimed at keeping their secrets safe.  We were not dealing with a production class Mitsubishi, here, with over the shelf parts put together by a random tuner.  A WRC team like Ford runs a "military style confidentiality" operation.  Nobody tells you what is really on the works cars.  I mean, lets face it, these guys have been spending millions on developing all their technology with the objective of winning the World Championship. They are not going to have a sit down with a potential customer and lay down all the differences between the works and private cars.    

When I asked questions like : "hey do the works cars have more power?" the answer was: "the engines are the same"  Then if I said :"ok...what about the maps?"  you would get: silence, and "let me get back to you on this one", or "...ah...yes, now that I remember...they just developed's brand wonder no one told you..."  Eventually there was always some good and believable answer, explaining why there was a difference, if you managed to notice it first.    

You also need to remember that back in 2003, I was their first customer ever to make a deal like that with them.  Nobody had ever done a multiple rally season, under their supervision, where they manage the car.  There were no precedents to look at and perhaps conclude from : "hey wait a minute, these previous privateers got crap cars and complained about it... let's look elsewhere."    

In fact it was like an endless "three or four steps behind race" to keep up with it.  Except they played it so that I thought every time : "Ok, now I have the same car."  

Their approach was a simple marketing strategy.  They sold off their old technology one little bit at a time, to maximize the profits, never selling away their latest developments so as to keep something at hand for the next deal.  Many of you would think that's ok, sure, me too.  Except in my case there is one big difference:  We told the boss very clearly, right from the very first meeting, that our intentions were serious.  

We wanted to pay for the opportunity to get proper results and have a fair shot at the top.  We asked him if that was possible, he said yes, did not object and spoke about the "three year plan".  He clearly told me that I would need to learn the stages on the first year, acquire some experience, consolidate it on the second year and go for it on the third.  The ambiance of the discussion was friendly and we felt invited to trust him as an "old fellow rally driver who had been there before".  We sincerely felt that a gentleman's agreement in all trust was good enough.  Big mistake to trust that and very naive, looking back at it now.   

The third year of the plan was for being fast and reliable.  Therefore he integrated me as part of the official four car team (we were usually four and I was supposed to be third or fourth driver).  Our car harboured the official Ford colours.  It turns out, as I see it now, his plan was simply to squeeze us dry over three years until we could not fund anymore, then move on to someone else.

Great system for his enterprise.

So how should I have done it?  

I should have showed up for the deal with a nit-picking, technical, public relations and judicial expert.  Someone with up to date knowledge of the technical, business and political aspects of the sport.  Someone able to discuss and have every possible relevant detail written down on paper.  A gentleman's agreement is a thing of the past, old school material that holds little ethical value in today's world.  The world I plunged in was just a pool of sharks waiting for the next victim, regardless of the spirit of sport.  The fair play notion, is but a long gone memory whispered by fools in the shadows.  So don't be like me and think people will give you a fair chance if you simply ask and pay for it.

Once all the basics taken care of, we would need to make sure the team holds their side of the deal.  Tricky part.  Sure, sometimes parts can break.  How do you know if the stuff on your car is really new?  How do you know if your engine map or diff map is really the same?  I don't have a sure answer to that. 

Or maybe I do... Another strategy:  Tell them if the car is good there will be more business to come, lots more.  By more business I mean more drivers to be funded.  Tell them if you get a hint of being screwed with, you'll take your millions elsewhere and make it public.  There is competition in the customer car business, new business emerging even as you are reading this... Only thing is you really need deep pockets, on a whole other scale.  


  1. "I should have showed up for the deal with a nit-picking, technical, public relations and judicial expert."

    You didn't need one of those, just someone who knew him from old. They would have told you what was likely to go down.

  2. Lets face it. There are some things you just can't buy - no matter how much money you throw at them.

    i.e.: granny's homemade cake. The secret recipe is either buried with her or passed on to her daughter,
    the manufacturers newest technology,
    and even their newly manufacturers parts.

    I guess the only valid way to get something from them is if they get something in return they can't pay for either. (e.g. manufacturers points, unwanted publicity...)

  3. Hi Anthony

    We know of similar stories like yours. Thanks to you, we clearly understand why a privateer's performance is generally stunted.

    Recently I was at a South African rally. The championship has about 20 S2000 cars. Four of them are Fords. Charl Wilken's and Conrad Rautenbach's cars were delivered early 2010. Mark Cronje's and Jon William's cars were delivered early 2011.

    Throughout the rally we were puzzled by the distinct difference in exhaust note of one of the 2010 cars vs. the other Fords. The car was abit louder than the rest. I assumed that maybe its because African rallies do not enforce noise regulations.

    However in the stages, the car seemed abit slower. To end the usual spectator arguments, we bribed a traffic policeman, 'borrowed' his speed gun and carried out a speed test on several long straights.

    We were shocked by the lack of pace of the Ford that had a different exhaust note. The car belonged to Charl Wilken. We assumed that maybe his car in a differnt homologation, or maybe its exhaust was simply broken...

    However its important to note that Wilken's Ford is a hurried replacement of his previous Ford that was burnt to ashes last year.

    We shall not speculate. We shall 'investigate' as best as spectators can.

  4. Guys, have you seen last year's Monza Rally Show?? I noticed that of all the Ford Fiesta WRCars competing, Rossi's car stands out. His car is very loud compared to the Fiestas driven by Block, Kubica, Galli etc...Obviously he has a different engine map. Maybe the same engine map as the official works cars are using.