SMT – Who is John Allen

In the series of getting to know the SM Team we now jump in to the passengers seat and talk to John Allen Co-Driver/Co-Pilot/2IC.

Hi John, lets start off with an easy one for everyone to get to know who you are who dont already know.

Who is John Allen?

Most everyone I know thinks I’m retired because I live on the Sunshine Coast and spend most of my time on the golf course, jetski or down the beach because that is what ends up on Facebook. I keep myself busy for the rest of the time managing my company “Training Capability” where I work as a consultant to large hospitals that are over budget and need to reign in some costs and get extra revenue. My first priority though is block out my calendar when rallies are on for the year, then think about filling in the rest of the time working.
Why did you start rallying?

I live on the Sunshine Coast and spend most of my time on the golf course

I had a serious mid life crisis at the age of 31 when I woke up one morning and realised I was a very jaded accountant. I was working as the Chief Finance Officer for the Premier of Queensland in an acting role when the job was going to be advertised permanently. After spending 12 years of my life working towards a job I thought I wanted and getting there and realised I hated it and would have to do this for the next 30 years I declined applying for it then focussed on things I was passionate about like rallying and scuba diving.

When did you start Rallying?

My first serious rally was Targa Tasmania in 2000. The best thing about having a mid life crisis was it made me question what I was really passionate about in life and rallying was one of those things. Considering I was in a family heavily involved in rallying with my first rally I ever attended at 2 weeks old and my dad as a successful codriver himself winning a state round in Victoria I started pretty late at 31. My first driver Ray Vandersee at a Westfield Clubman and weight was critical so he asked if I was 60 kilos or less. I said I would be and dieted from 66 kilos to 60.8 kilos by the start of the event!

Do you have any heroes in life and motorsport?

Coral Taylor is my role model for what I would like to be as a codriver. Absolutely meticulous in everything she does, calls notes perfectly but most importantly for me Coral is so approachable and so helpful to anyone in the sport. Coral was so helpful for me with any question I had when I first started in the Australian Rally Championship. I still call her for advice!

My current hero is Hayden Paddon. Having rallied against him in 2008 and seeing him mature and develop and achieve his dream of being employed full time in the World Rally Championship makes him a stand out. Hayden proved that you don’t have to have a rich dad to make it to the top of the sport if you really believe you have the talent. To top it off he is a really humble and likeable guy. I hope he becomes World Rally Champion.

Do you have a favourite rally?

Targa Tasmania. I have worked out I have spent over 6 months in Tasmania with recce and competing in the event trying to win it. On the dirt it would have to be Rally NZ when it was a World Rally Championship round. Incredible roads!!

Is there a particular rally you would love to take home the cutlery?

Targa Tasmania! I have finished 2nd outright in 2005 and 2006. In 2005 I missed out by winning it by 6 seconds which remains the closest finish in the events 25 year history. I have led the rally in 2010 before an engine blow up. That said I think I have had my chance at winning Targa Tasmania and now I’m focussing on winning on the dirt.

What other motorsports are you interested in?

I enjoy watching the Supercars, Rallycross and F1….at least while Daniel Ricciardo is racing.

What do you do outside of Motorsport?

Try to live everyday like it’s a holiday which is easy when you live on the Sunshine Coast. I’d briefly retired from rallying to play golf but that was short lived after I realised just how rubbish I was at golf.

Have you ever thought about swapping the pacenotes with the steering wheel and driving?

I’d love to drive but then I realise rallying is a disease with poverty being the only cure!

Many times but then I realised I like to have a house and stay married as well…..I’d love to drive but then I realise rallying is a disease with poverty being the only cure! I’ve driven in a few club events and been an instructor at Rallyschool and loved it, however unless you are driving for a factory team all the car preparation falls back to the driver and it’s a huge commitment. I am more than happy to co-drive particularly when I am sitting beside a driver that is faster than me! It’s such a buzz when you call a stage properly and feel like you have given extra confidence so your driver to be braver and faster over a blind crest or corner than they otherwise would have been and set the fastest time together.

What’s been your worst day at the office?

First time I ever competed in a round of the World Rally Championship and Kevin Shaw have had a cracking first day and we are 18th outright. The following day on the very first stage we had what I thought was a harmless spin on a very narrow road in between some banks.  Kevin grabbed reverse and hit the bank hard enough to fill the exhaust with mud.  Instantly the car conked out as it couldn’t breathe and we were stranded blocking the road with barely a cars width to get past.  With only one minute intervals there was no time to waste so I ran down the road to slow the next cars down and yell for some spectators to push us out of the way.

After 5 cars had past we cleared the mud out of the exhaust but I could hear another car coming.  In two minds to stay with the rally car or flag the next car down I took the wrong option.  Thinking it was better to slow the next car down I ran partially down the road but it was too late.  There was no where for the me to go or the next competitor to go so I ran up to where I thought was the only escape which was up the bank….trouble is so did the rally car….”sweet baby Jesus” I’m thinking to myself…..surely I’m dead now, so I jumped……I jumped as high as I could go which was only onto the bonnet of the Evo 7 (these bonnets are softer than you might imagine) then that flicked me into the windscreen with a thud and threw me a looooong way into the air (which almost felt serene). What goes up must come down they say and mine was a very soft patch of deep New Zealand Mud in the middle of the road face first.

My driver Kevin Shaw gasped at the sight, then laughing in his Irish accent “Don’t be lying in the middle of the road Johnny…..you’ll get hit there!” At this stage I’m not if my legs will still work such was the force and the distance I travelled but they did and I ran/limped back to the shocked driver who hit me and with a mouth full of mud I spat at him I’m fine get going, all is good.  Then he covered me with a rooster tail of mud on my back….which was the last remaining clean bit of my race suit.
I Jumped back in the car, amazingly found my place on the notes and we carried on and finished the stage.  Kevin Shaw turns to me at the end of the stage and says “Jesus you are a lucky boy Johnny”  I said “I know” “For a minute there I thought you were going to ruin my rally!!!” he laughed.

Whats your opinion on the state of rallying in Australia? especially considering you are traveling to NZ to compete.

When I first started competing in 2004 the Australian Rally Championship was at its peak with four manufacturers committed to the championship and a Group N formula and it was the best domestic rally series in the world. Since the GFC and manufacturers not supporting the championship it seems to have lost its way and has tried a few different formats (2wd and 4wd) which hasn’t seemed to gain the traction to due to various rule changes. I hope to see the Championship get back to its former glory.

New Zealand have definitely got the format right for their Championship in 2017. Having 10 different brands competing next year along with some of them having manufacturer support would make the NZRC arguably the best domestic championship in the world right now. Eligibility seems to be much more flexible with the main rule being minimum weight of 1350kgs for 4wd cars with a few more freedoms than the ARC which tempted us over there. Plus the kiwis have been so helpful and inviting for us to compete in their championship. They really make a big effort to be so accommodating to competitors. I’m looking forward to new roads and new events to challenge me after 13 years in the ARC and there are no better roads than those in NZ.

So tell us what’s it really like sitting next to that crazy Irishmen? Be brutally honest.

we finished up the bank on the other side of the flying finish board

I’ve co-driven for 3 crazy Irishmen. The very first stage Richie and I ever did we finished up the bank on the other side of the flying finish board so I thought that was pretty standard behaviour for most Irish lads.

There was never any doubt about Richie’s speed and to his credit we stayed on the road (most of the time) to be leading our first rally together before a turbo intercooler pipe came loose dropping us back to 3rd. Since then we have done 5 rallies together, winning 3 of them finishing 3rd and one DNF when in the lead, culminating in a career highlight winning the 2014 Australian Rally 4wd Series.

Richie’s speed comes from a lot of natural talent but being a former co-driver himself he does a lot of homework on his notes and car placement to maximise his speed on stages. His input into the notes gives me a lot of confidence that he will commit to the notes which I respect. The best bit is we have become good mates from our time together over the years and am now looking forward to having a serious crack (or craic) at the New Zealand Championship in 2017.