We continue to turn the spotlight inwards on our own staff which has already revealed some extraordinary characters with great motor sport experience such as Guy Woodcock. His competition experience alone qualifies him for the role of Competition Director, but the role demands much more than that as we delve deep into this demanding multi skilled job. Part two of this Spotlight feature tracks Guy’s journey to the top and what it takes to organise international events for the world’s foremost historic motoring events company.
We learn how Guy fell into his first regularity event and made the transition to HERO ERA Competition Director after a chance meeting in a snow bound ditch in the North East! As he opens up on his leadership style, Guy also gives his views on the future of the sport.
Years of planning, seeking permissions, permits and endless detailed recces with liaison across the biggest landmass between two cities for the 2019 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, hangs by a thread. The Chinese Police Chief in Beijng is pressuring organisers before the group briefing to say that anyone failing to attend will not get a licence. The tonnes of Peking bound sea freight might not be allowed to land as the fire extinguishers fitted to the 110 rally cars on board suddenly don’t comply with Chinese law. Oh and the Mongolian border is closed due to an outbreak of bubonic plague after a group of Nomads ate their favourite delicacy of Marmots which are banned from consumption.
This could mean a massive re-route for the event, but only if a solution to the fire extinguisher problem can be found and rally cars can land, otherwise no P2P!
There is a weight of responsibility. Urgent council, judgements to be made. Safety first all the time but there are still the satellite and radio controls, the medics, marshals and mechanical assistance crews to coordinate. The fuelling, remote camps and supplies plus the pressure of delicate border crossings via 12 countries, the crisis management plan is in place. A small international army is ready to move but hold steady, decisions have to be made – by the Competition Director, Guy Woodcock.
“He has the qualities to lead and make those sort of decisions”, said Deputy Clerk of the Course Chris Elkins who is from the original ERA and has been involved in the organisation of every Peking to Paris bar one since 1997. “You need to be calm in a crisis and make good quick decisions including sporting decisions.” Added Chris. At the same time Guy ensures he has the best, most experienced team around him who play to their strengths.
Although the issues are polarised with the P2P being the huge jewel in the HERO ERA rally crown that runs every three years, each event has it’s challenges and problems to be overcome to ensure a successful outcome.
In his first ERA event as Competition Director, Guy along with his Clerk of the Course John Spiller were faced with creating an evacuation plan out of the freak monsoon conditions on the Himalayan Challenge 2018 which had washed away bridges, roads and created landslides that trapped the rally. Snow blocked the roads to the North.
The audacious plan that was hatched started on foot with teams being escorted across the only narrow ribbon of tarmac road left across a gaping chasm. Once reunited with their rally cars, the convoy did a moonlight flit. Escape was coordinated in the dead of night to beat any traffic and flee across the last bridge standing.
In the middle of the night, official crews had gone ahead to secure the narrow, precarious Raison suspension bridge for which each vehicle had to be measured against the bridges dimensions to ensure they squeezed over. There was no turning back, no space to even reverse as each of the 33 cars was somehow guided to safety and rally freedom. The adventure continued thanks to ingenuity, planning and bold decisions that sometimes have to be taken by the Competition Director.
From the first event he organised in 1983 to now, Guy has worked hard in his day job whilst his hobby turned into a profession through a series of occurrences over time. He is a qualified Chartered Surveyor who initially worked both for the WDA and as an independent for another body for 3 years. After nearly 30 years in the profession he is still utilising his qualification. This time as a benefit to HERO ERA in their various properties which will soon be galvanised under one roof at Bicester Heritage. His vast property experience has saved the company money whilst bringing the best building skills together using all his contractual skills to ensure the right result for the group.
A Chartered Surveyor since 1986, Guy set up his own practice in 1991 after being made redundant during the recession of the early 90’s. That launch of his own company set him up for approaching 30 years of the business. “I started on my own working in the kitchen and on the dining room table with two small kids running round. We built it up to four offices and 25 staff at one point. Now because of my other job as Competition Director of HERO ERA it’s much smaller, back down to reality because it’s just me and my daughter Claire running things, doing what we want to do really.”
Commercial acumen is also important when heading up the competition front line of such a large and successful motoring events company. From customers, clients, partners, sponsors and governing bodies, an event has to work financially as well as creating a great experience for the teams and partners.
Another of his early successes was setting up a car preparation business with a friend in the late eighties called GTB Motorsport developing the Titan Rear Wheel Drive Conversions, which is exactly what it did for Ford Escort Mk 4 and Mk 5’s.” There’s still a couple of them about today!” said Guy proudly.
An early indicator of his sponsorship nous was a commercial agreement with a global tyre company which endures to this day. It survives as an example of how to create and nurture a commercial partnership vital in such an expensive sport.
Kumho Tyre were looking for a new sporting relationship after failure with a manufacturer team. Guy; “I got the opportunity to present a proposal but was warned that previous partners had promised much, delivering early on then fading. ‘Whatever you propose you have to carry out’ I was told. But that’s part of my ethos, if I say I’m going to do something then I deliver.” Part of the early success on the Manx International was not just the top six result with ensuing publicity but they got their names with Kumho alongside up on Ceefax, the major communication tool of the day. Guy and his crew members have consistently delivered, the commercial relationship enduring to this day, over 20 years! This included sending special calendars featuring the car each year to Korea.
Successes with Kumho includes fifth overall on the Roger Albert Clark in 2011, sixth overall in 2014, the company still supporting him last year on the 2019 Roger Albert Clark when he and Will Rutherford finished 15th overall after a new suspension component failed on the RS2000. Pace notes rather than maps have also been introduced which Guy quite enjoyed. “We were OK, I still enjoyed it, I’m better at driving on sight, I don’t think I was committed enough on the notes – I’m not brave enough Tony!”
How did Guy make the transition from stage to regularity rallying? “ As a surveyor I did a lot of work for Charles Colton and Howard Warren with their property company CES. I was in their office one day when Howard said ‘you do a lot of this map stuff, do you fancy doing this Le Jog thing?’ It was my first regularity rally, December 2008. It was snow, ice and fog it was horrible. We ended up in a snowy ditch in Teesdale when this Porsche 911 with two mad Italians in it came hairing over the hill, nearly running me over, going straight off into the same ditch alongside us! That’s how I met Tomas de Vargas Machuca for the first time, which eventually developed into the successful relationship it is today.
“We got out of the ditch and I thought this is good fun. We did Le Jog again in 2009 and then with Howard’s business partner, Chas and I competed on a number of events culminating in winning the 25th Classic Marathon which finished in Cortina. I was also competing in the HRCR Championship and thought I can organise these now, I was getting a bit bored with surveying by then!
“I got involved with organising the RAC Rally of the Tests and other events for Jeremy Dickson. In 2012 Jeremy was looking to sell his business, I had agreed to buy Rally of the Tests, The Poppy Rally and Three Legs of Mann, and I understand Philip Young had agreed to buy the Classic Marathon at the same time from him. However for some reason Philip Young pulled out at the very last minute. This prompted Jeremy to open discussions for the whole Classic Rally Association with Tomas and Patrick, I agreed step away on the basis that Tomas asked me to run the Rally of the Tests for three years. That quickly turned into other events, so much more work until I said I’ll have to give up surveying and you’d better take me on full time”
2020 is turning into a tough year for everybody but the HERO ERA team are working hard to be ready for when the curtain comes up again. Their revised 2020 calendar though to 2023 was announced on the 27th April. Guy is as excited as the rest of the team about getting back into action.
“I like being hands on, I enjoy getting out there. We had a drop out from the Hero Challenge planning team so I went to do the recce, I loved it, and although I am aware I have a big team to manage, I will always be involved. But I know we cannot rely on one person as in the past.
“We aim to deliver events and I am passionate about keeping each event’s originality, which means the planning has to be top notch, even before you get out on the road for the recce. It has to be deliverable.
“I say let’s not make it simple but make it achievable, but it has to deliver the brief from the management. What I have found in some cases is that until you have been in the situation of trying to plan an event such as we have in the calendar, we want to make it as tough as possible, but what you need is an event that anyone in the top 20 can win if they don’t make mistakes. Yes the top crews will nearly always rise to the top but it should be possible for the a mid-fielder to enjoy success as well.
“Nick Reeves and I have said one day we will put on the ‘Grumpy Old Man Rally ’ which has got every kind of trick in it and will be so difficult, even the distances will be in chains and fathoms, but you will know what you are in for when you enter, so no complaints!
“Attention to detail is vital. You have to make sure it works on paper before it is all printed out. This is one of the challenges with the younger generation, they think it looks OK on the computer screen so I say ‘yes but have you tried it on paper?’ You have to read it through very carefully”.
How would Guy describe his leadership style? “Intense! I feel I interfere too much but it’s only for the right reasons. The job has to be right, but I say it’s not really interference it’s guidance. But you’d better ask my senior staff like George, Nick or Chris Elkins!”
So we did. Chris Elkins, Route Planner, Deputy Clerk of the Course, Peking to Paris Motor Challenge said; “We call his guidance, Guydance! Yes, Guy does interfere at times but it’s normally for a good reason. He knows there is a lot of experience amongst us all on the planning teams, each brings their respective strengths but he uses his experience to be objective. For example, I was having a real issue with a Mongolian ‘selective’ that I couldn’t quite sort out. Guy helped and identified some key areas and between us we got it right.”
So what qualities does Guy look for in his route planners? “All three, George Mullins, Nick Reeves and Chris Elkins are experienced senior staff, they have been involved from the early Philip Young days, they always go that extra mile, nothing is too much trouble. They will work 24/7 to get the job done with a smile and are part of a great team which is so important. But I won’t ask anyone to do anything that I won’t try to do myself.
“Attention to detail, and creativity are also important as each event needs to go well but also we try to make each event different, in some cases unique.”
As for the attributes required for a top Competition Director, it includes sound commercial understanding, being fully conversant with rules and regulations plus a good technical understanding. Leadership and the ability to make key decisions even if they are sometimes unpopular. Planning and organisation skills combined with the knowledge of what will work and what customers want form a big part of the successful mix. The role demands many skills.
Relationships have to be nurtured. Motor clubs, governing bodies, Motorsport UK and FIVA. Guy cites his relationship with the MS UK Authorisation department as very important but feels that the volunteers are vital to keep the sport running.
Guy; “Volunteers are the backbone of the sport and always have been. Many would love to compete but don’t have the funds, they are real enthusiasts who want to remain close to the sport and we always try to look after them. We are a commercial organisation which is why we will look at all avenues to assist the volunteers, individuals and clubs where possible, for example, the teams who perform the vital PR work going from door to door giving up their time dropping off letters at 300 houses, it’s a thankless task.
“There are key ‘go to’ people whose help is invaluable all over the UK, too many to mention but it’s all about building the contact base and who you can call for advice on a particular road, junction and ultimately that job of PR and then marshalling in the cold dead of night. We have 700 marshals on RAC Rally of the Tests and 350 on Le Jog alone! We couldn’t run without them.”
As for the future Guy fully supports the Hero2Zero green initiative which he feels everyone will need to follow as we respect the environment and endeavour to make ourselves carbon neutral within a couple of years. Guy; “ I feel it may take 2 or 3 years for the sport to fully recover post virus, the way we run events, particularly international rallies, may change although nobody really knows where it is going yet. But It is important to ensure sustainability.
“I see city centres becoming more difficult, unless it is a very special event. Bristol and other cities already ban cars period, so despite the attraction do we really want the hassle? We have many areas to consider in the future such as continued permissions for MOD land use and running at night which can cause some issues which we need to stay on top of.
“We have to look to the future, particularly the succession. I am always looking for new blood, as they are the future of the sport. My key team are all of a certain age, I am in my late fifties so we need to be bringing in the future talent soon to be able to carry this great sport on.
Finally, Guy Woodcock believes the sport is in good hands. “We have got the right person in DR, David Richards, as the Chairman of Motorsport UK, he has the right approach. He listens and works positively for many branches of motor sport including ours.”
HERO ERA also has the right person in the role of Competition Director. He has all the credentials, from an impressive motor sport competition record and organisational experience to all the leadership qualities required to enable continued success for the world’s foremost motoring events platform.