Q: So onto the more recent half of your career Ron. The Middle East beckoned in 1995 and that has really been the hallmark of the past twenty years for you. How did it start originally?
A: Like most competitors there comes a time when things have run a course and you are looking for a new adventure, not too many Australians had been to the Middle East so with the support of family and friends I headed over to Abu Dhabi for the opening round of the 1995 Middle East Championship after purchasing a F2 Peugeot 309 for a fact finding mission on how the championship works.
I led the 2WD Championship until the final Round when the car broke but gave me an insight for my return the following year for a crack at the title.
Q: And you had some success in 1996 at the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3, one of the most fondly remembered rally cars of that era, what do you remember about driving it that season?
A: Again with the support of Doug Stewart and Ralliart Japan, I returned to the Middle East to take up where we had left off the previous year winning the FIA Group N title and finishing second overall behind Mohammed Bin Sulayem in the M-Sport Ford Escort.
Q: You returned briefly to the ARC in the early 2000’s to drive a Lancer Evo 4, while still combining your work efforts in the Middle East, what prompted that return to competing locally?
A: Over the years it had come to our notice that not all drivers were playing by the same rules and driving to the road book on the dessert stages in the Middle East, at that time there was no such thing as tracking so I made the decision to continue supporting teams in the region but returned to enjoy the competition at home in the National Championship. So I drove a Group N Evo 4 with Linda Long co-driving in the ARC and had a ball against guys like Possum Bourne, Neal Bates and young guys like Cody Crocker.
Q: It appears at that stage you stepped away from driving and took on more management roles in the sport, particularly in the Middle East, how did you find moving out of the car to supporting other drivers with their careers?
A: When I arrived in the Middle East I was already in my late thirties so the natural progression was to look at other opportunities to replace the void that was driving when the time came. I was offered a contract to manage various teams over the following years so the decision became obvious as the years progressed. I am a firm believer in that you cannot buy experience and to try and give something back to the sport that has been so good to me.
Q: But you did one last event, the Lithgow Rally, a few years ago now with one of the co-driving legends of Australian rallying Fred Gocentas before his untimely passing. What are your memories of that last event with Fred?
A: I was fortunate to have been around Fred back when we were team mates in the Mitsubishi-Shell Malaysia days and was pleased to have him join us on our Middle East adventure first as co-driver for myself, than as co-driver for Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi in the Ford Focus WRC.
Our last event together was a State Round in a borrowed Subaru a couple of years ago in which we managed a podium. As a co-driver and competitor, with Fred you could not ask for more, as a friend and companion he was just good fun to be around. If that was to be my last rally as a driver than I cannot find a better ending. He is sadly missed.
Q: You’ve spent some time working with M-Sport and more recently with Citroen in your role as Motorsport Manager for Abu Dhabi Racing, what are the biggest challenges in these positions and how does being a long-term competitor help?
A: My current role is to assist and develop Emirate youth in a Junior driver program starting with the Middle East Rally Championship and moving towards the Junior World Rally Championship and beyond. At present we have one driver in the JWRC and three other drivers contesting the MERC and they are all progressing as expected. After 40 years on the rally scene, I have learnt a few lessons that may just help the next generation.
Q: And more recently we’ve seen you spearhead the Citroen Racing Australia operation in the ARC, how did that come about and how did it feel to see Eli Evans win the title this year for the team?
A: Citroen Racing and Citroen Australia where both interested to develop the Australian market and the ARC had just the platform. I was fortunate to be connected to both so it was an easy fit to make things happen with year one seeing the team falling just a bit short on results and experience at the highest level. 2016 had many highs and a few lows, Eli and Glen’s performance over the year was just what was expected of the team in a car that had proven so competitive overseas.
Q: What does the future hold for you Ron, any thoughts of retiring and living a less hectic life or would you miss the World travel too much?
A: I still have the passion for the sport that is rallying, the sight, sounds and smell are all still exciting at all levels of the sport after all these years. My plan for 2016 is to assist Eli and Glen move beyond Australian shores and to work with the WRC Junior program for another season.
I would like to say that all of the above would not have been possible if not for the support of family and friends that made up service crews and co-drivers over the years, and to the sponsors that made it all happen.
Thank you to all.
** Historic images courtesy of Dallas Dogger
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Australian Rally Championship®