Just a rally simple interview with Joseph Keen.

Aspiring Rally Driver, Joseph Keen, has had the rally bug since he was 12. “I wanted to be a World Rally Champion after wanting to be an F1 World Champion before this.”  Now at the age of 23, Joe is back into the sport with a fiery need for success after an unsuccessful yet educating race at Brands Hatch on February 8, 2013.

Volkswagen had a strong team debut in the Polo R WRC on Rallye Monte-Carlo when Sebastien Ogier gave Polo a win on the opening stage of Monte and even finished the rally second overall. Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito said: “After a good start to the season, the entire team now heads to the next challenge fully motivated and full of confidence. However, everyone in the team is well aware that the good result achieved in Monte Carlos is not yet a true indication of where we lie compared to the opposition.”

After Ogier’s Polo debut, Joe tells of his icons amongst the rallying world: “I am a big fan of Sebastien Ogier who has a similar style, but is a bit more ragged, should I say.”

“I grew up watching Colin McRae and Richard Burns, but also grew a liking or Sebastien Loeb when he first burst on the scene as a youngster.”

When asked the mundane and predictable question ‘Who do you aspire to be?’, he doesn’t just reply like he’s heard the question every day since he was 12. This wasn’t a face to face interview, having to interpret someone’s lust for such a sport from an e-mail has to be imagined and assumed, but it’s obvious that Joe’s involvement isn’t just physically sitting in the driver’s seat. “Well, it has to be the great Sebastien Loeb. It’s incredible how he can be so fast yet incredibly smooth and rarely puts a foot wrong.” It should be noted that Joe is a fellow Journalist, taking pride of place at Radio Jackie as a Freelance Broadcast Journo. He has a way with words. And considering Loeb is still on top in this year’s Monte Carlo rally, it would seem he picked a decent icon.

“I went off the sport for a while, but in my second year of University I got back into it and became mad about rallying again.”

But why rallying? The future of WRC seems risky and unstable. England has no TV coverage and younger generations are not as interested. It’s becoming a niche. So surely aiming for F1 would be more reliable, even with Sky stealing TV coverage, it’s still watched by a fair few people. “I chose rallying over racing because I love the mixtures of different surfaces you can drive on; gravel, snow and asphalt. It’s exhilarating and requires a lot of skill.”

But to have the skill you need the car. ‘Give me your car in 10 words’: “Fun, fast, small, reliable, beautiful, compact, dogged, underdog, crowd favourite.” It’s a Nissan Micra 1350cc. Cased in a K11 body shell.

Brand’s Hatch: February 8, 2013 was, let’s say, a lesson. The race was only the second event Joe has competed in, with pre-training on gravel, which is ‘a different skill.’ “Unfortunately I finished 58th (out of 58), but there was a good reason for that. I had a couple of incidents which cost me some time, a few shaves with the tyre wall. I knocked a panel off the back of my car when going into quickly on cold tyres. I learnt a lot about driving on wet tarmac and my driving improved substantially throughout the day.

“This was partly due to a fantastic, experienced co-driver sitting beside me who was able to give me advice on my driving lines, as well as entry and exit speeds.” No excuses for the future then. “I also don’t have the funds of the other drivers, for instance I was running standard road tyres, which would cost me a good 20 seconds stage.” With no modifications besides safety equipment and suspension, Joe still managed to gain times that were close to those of other drivers. He finds it encouraging that considering his car was inferior for equipment, his times were not that far off others in the same class. And those much needed racing tyres are being purchased in time for the next event.

Goodwood had to be cancelled on account of the car: “I haven’t had enough time to prepare [it]. I’ve had issues with finding racing tyres that will fit my wheels and there are simply aren’t any that do. I will have to purchase some new wheels and sell my old ones. I also have to do an oil change and fit some new break discs and pads to the front.” Oh the life of ambitious Journalist Rally drivers. Fingers crossed Suffolk on April 14 will be a winner for Joe and his swanky new tyres for the Cadman Construction Stages at Chelmsford MC RAF Honington. “I’m hoping to get the car ready for Honington Stages which take place on an airfield. I’ve watched some onboards and they really do look fantastic. There are some long straights in combination with some challenging corners.”

“This is the plan, but I may not be out until Abingdon in June which has similar style airfield stages. Either way, I’ll make sure I compete on at least five rounds and get a proper ASEMC title challenge in.” ASEMC (Association of South Eastern Motor Clubs) is the stage rally championship that Joe competes in. Abingdon is on June 9, for Carnival Stages Sutton and Cheam MC Abingdon.

“The future of rallying is really worrying. The younger generation are taking up drifting and things like that because it’s easier to watch. The WRC doesn’t even have TV coverage in England at the moment.”

As an outsider, all I can think is there’s two options here. Spend thousands of your well-earned wallet monies kitting out your car because you love your hobby just that much; the thrill, the foreseeable successes, the drama, or quit. The likelihood of becoming a professional is slim; the likelihood of making money from such a sport is slim. Even Joe seems concerned at the prospect of professionalism; “there are currently about 4 or 5 drivers in the world with a proper salary, when there were far more in the days of McRae, Burns and Makinen for example. Any young up and coming hotshot driver has an almost impossible task of trying to become a professional.”

Everyone has a dream to be up there with the big guns; “my dream is to compete in the BRC (British Rally Championship) and do the Wales Rally GB national event. The opportunity to compete on the same stages as the top WRC drivers would be unbelievable.

‘If you could race anywhere in the world, where would it be?’ “There are so many rallies, such as Rally GB for its challenging conditions, Rally Sweden for a fast and thrilling snow rally and Rally New Zealand for its beautiful stages. It would have to be Rally Finland, with its incredible speed and huge jumps and crests. I couldn’t think of anywhere scarier and adrenaline pumping, but it would be a dream to compete there.”

“I am hoping a potential future career in sports broadcasting will lead to some sponsorship opportunities. However, it would be nice if I could do any gravel rally at the moment.”

 A link to ASEMC website: http://www.asemc.org.uk/

WRC web: http://www.wrc.com/


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