Questions with...

Questions with: Alan Baker

Alan Baker was the COT 2014 roving reporter and master of ceremonies – a he’s coming to do it again in Alice Springs! Let’s meet Alan and get his story…

What’s your usual role on the COT? What do you do?

My role – it’s dubbed “Media” though I don’t work in the media otherwise. The 2014 event was the first one I’d been on, though I’d been keen on it since the first one in 2009 and its’ father, the Red Centre to Gold Coast in 2008.

Bob Watson, Alan Baker and Geoff Hale at Silverton on COT2014

Alan interviewing Bob Watson at Silverton on COT 2014. Geoff Hale doing the camera, err phone work.

The original brief was to MC the Welcome and Presentation functions, do the introductions of the crews in Parkes and to write a daily report for the website. Ian Smith and Chris Brown were dragged in at the same time, to record the event with their stunning photography. I’d gather snippets of info at the start, at the service point and the end of the day and combine them with the results to write the daily report for the website.

The role is really a ticket to “access all areas”. The crews were very willing to talk about their day and by day 3, even the service crews were directing us to where a story might be. Then of course we could get with the organisers and get the background to some incident and be first to see the results. How good is that?

The idea to create ‘the book’ to commemorate the COT grew out of a meeting we had at Phil’s one afternoon with Ian and Chris. We wanted to create something that would be more memorable, more versatile and more durable than a 4 hour DVD that nobody would sit and watch. None of us had done it before but we all knew that there would be plenty of stories to fill it and lots of good photo opportunities. Little did I know just how many stories there would be and the 4000 great photos we had to sort through! The book has but of fraction of the material we gathered, but I think it’s a wonderful keepsake. The saucy stuff will be published if you’re not careful.

Then there were the daily Video’s on facebook. To be honest, they were just on the wish list. I’d heard a podcast interview with NSW’s Charlie Drake on Rallysport News, talking about how he did the social media coverage of the 2014 National Capital Rally which went over really well. I took on a lot of what Charlie Drake had ‘pioneered’ and it came in handy when asked to help at the COT. So I knew what I wanted but had no idea if we actually could do it. I bought an iPhone and an $80 microphone for it and had a training session with my 12 year old daughter just before we left for Parkes.

Alan has  thing for Minis... here at Winton.

Alan has thing for Minis… here at Winton.

Never used one before. Some people thought the microphone was a fake which I thought was hilarious. The daily interviews with Ralf Christensson (The rugged good- looking looking Swede from the service crew of the Swan’s, Rayner’s and Briggs/deVaus) went over really well. He’s such a consummate professional and I reckon we knocked cute kittens off the top of the facebook feeds for a few days. I’m over my man-crush by the way Val!

Who will be traveling with you? What’s your history as a team?

Not sure who will be with me for 2016 but I can tell you that my sidekick for 2014 was Geoff Hale whom I have known since I turned 18, through owning and racing Mini’s. Geoff and I both lived in the Dandenongs so I’d always be at his place listening to him talk about making them go faster. That is until one night in March 1983 when I stood on Avon Road Avonsleigh and looked down to Rainy Hill in Cockatoo and watched the fires rip through it – razing Geoff and Lynne’s house. We caught up again in about 2006 to find he was building a VW Golf rally car. I’d done a bit of Rally Navigation in the 1980’s so we teamed up to rally it in the HRA and had a lot of fun honing our skills and meeting wonderful rally people.

Geoff and Alan - and Geoff's Golf.

Geoff and Alan – and Geoff’s Golf. Pic by John Doutch

You’ve been an official on the COT before… what do you like about the event – what has bought you back?

What do I like about the COT? I’d like to say the event, the format, the scenery, the challenge of such a long event with long stages but you know what? As great as all that is, world class for sure, the best thing is the people. Fun, friendly, down to Earth, generous. Quality people. Talented and passionate about their motorsport yes, but rally people are just the best, officials and competitors alike. It was a privilege to spend a week with them as they enjoyed their chosen sport in a remarkable event.

What are your expecting from the 2016 COT; what are you looking forward to?

Expecting? As we are not moving accommodation each night I’m expecting our room to be very messy by the end of the week and all the little packets of freeze dried coffee will be gone.

Looking forward to? 2016 will be incredible. Alice Springs right! The centre of our beautiful Australia. Looking forward to rugged scenery. I am fascinated by its harshness yet its fragility. I’ve been there before (drove my 1971 Mini K there one summer) and nothing prepares you for the colours of the landscape. I am grateful that the 2016 COT is July not January that’s for sure. Boy that was a hot trip in the Mini – but I was privileged to see a rainbow over Uluru..

The Mini K at Uluru

The Mini K at Uluru…

Are you planning a bit of a Red Centre holiday as part of your rally? Will your partner, family or friends be joining you? 

You know, that’s very tempting. My daughter hasn’t seen ‘the outback’ and it’s something we should do if we can arrange it. Visiting Alice, Uluru and Kata-Tjuta are something like a rite of passage for an Australian, but not in the way that drinking 28 cans of Foster’s on the plane to London is.

I once hosted an important delegation from Japan at our factory in South Dandenong. All went well until the interpreter said to me: “Mr Yukozumi’s schedule has 2 hours free time before we must leave for the airport. Mr. Yukozumi (not his real name) would like to see ‘The Outback’!” Awkward moment trying not to laugh. I only mention that to illustrate how difficult it is to comprehend the vastness and the distances involved in visiting country Australia. You have to see it to understand. I wonder if Mr. Yukozumi has a rally car. A 710 Violet will be just fine thank-you.

What is your rallying and officiating background?

I was always a navigator only because I never did prepare a rally car. I went as far as buying a sump guard for my Mini but never installed it. Would love to drive but I quickly realized that others are better drivers than I’d ever be, so felt happy to contribute on the maps. Did a quite a few club level rallies in the 1980’s in Mini’s and then in a Cordia Turbo. Did 2 Alpine’s in that, finished last in both but did set fastest time at the Hume Weir Circuit on one of them. Still surprised there was no trophy for that. Since 2007 I’ve been navigating for Geoff Hale in his Golf in the Historic Rally Association.

A team on Minis for teh 6 hour race

The 6 hour team

Rally officiating is something I’ve come late to. I did help direct 2 Mini Club rallies in the 1980’s in the Wombat State Forest, having only ever done a few controls before that. I know my first rally control was at Mt. Dissapointment. We were the first competitive start and then we were supposed to go up the hill to do a late control. Trouble was, 2 crews got lost on the first transport and thus we were running very late. The director took us up to our 2nd control at rally car speed and the Mini in front of me hit a bank and was destroyed. So THAT was a fun night – not. I did get heavily involved with running things in the Mini Car Club of Victoria, even being President for 3 years. I have directed a lot of Victorian Championship Motorkhana’s, 2 Australian Championship Motorkhana’s, sprint meetings and hillclimbs and was event secretary for a few Mini Club Six Hour Relay races held at Winton. I also competed in 3 Six Hour’s and managed the winning team one year. One year I was a competitor AND event secretary. The CAMS state manager spotted that, fortunately after the race and I had some explaining to do. But I was only trying to help…. I did quite a few open circuit races in the Super Mini Series in my road reg Mini.

Naturally since 2007 we do a few controls through the year to help out and they are always great fun. November this year I will be Chief Spectator Marshal at the Alpine which will be fantastic. Since September 2008 I’ve been honoured with the job of producing the HRA news magazine for the Historic Rally Association too.

What is your most memorable COT moment – what sticks in your mind?

My most memorable moment was in COT 2014, seeing Pat and Brad Cole start in Ivanhoe after destroying the driveline in the Mercedes the morning before. I could not believe the work they had to do to get it mobile and then drive it from Cobar to Ivanhoe in time for the 8 a.m. start. Fabricating new selector forks for the gearbox too? Wow.

What is/was your favourite rally car?

A group 4 Mark 1 Ford Escort is hard to go past for pure rally-sex appeal. Forest flares, round headlights and that wonderful Coca-Cola hip line of the Fords of the mid 60’s. Yes please. Geoff’s Golf has a spot in my heart after taking 7 years of ridiculous pounding and not leaving us stranded once. And it’s front wheel drive, so I understand how it works.

Alan and two Elvis Presley impersonators

Alan with some friends at the Parkes Welcome Function on COT2014. Thank you very much…

What is your most memorable rallying moment?

Getting to the finish of the first Rich River Trial that Steuart Snooks ran in 2007. It was about 3 am, first rally in the HRA, first rally for the Golf and our first rally together. We’d been driving since Noon, seen sand and mud and rivers, Forests and fences and gates. Got smashed with the the navigation (especially the daylight section) and yet we made it. We were pleased to hear some other HRA stalwarts commenting it was pretty tough. Thank goodness for that because we were completely spent! If they were all as big as that, we might have to retire.

Number 2 would have to be……Geoff and I passed Dinta (David Officer, 1984 Australian Rally Champion) one night on a rally in Heathcote. In fact, we caught up to him and he pulled over for us. We both turned to each other and said: “that’ll never happen again!” Of course, it was a novice event and his daughter was having a go in Kate’s seat and they were taking it easy and probably checking the map when he pulled over. But still, it happened!

What will you be doing to get ready for the 2016 COT? 

Just like last time, I’ll be waiting by the phone. I’ll have to get a new joke book before the presentation function should the organisers be left no other choice than to ask me to MC it again. Did I tell you about the time when I asked my neighbour to look after our pet octopus…

Where are you, and what are you doing as you answer these questions?

Mate, I’ve just finished the Summer 2016 edition of the HRA magazine and I’m all fired up for some rally action. How soon can you get me to Alice Springs?

Wow Alan – that’s War and Peace! But a great story… We’re very pleased that Alan will be with us in Alice – look for him around the event and and tell him your story! And check out some of the interviews from COT 2014 on our Youtube channel – or take a look at Alan and Geoff’s bloopers reel below!