From Subaru Press [ 25/02/2005 ].
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Meet the Subaru World Rally Team's test manager Tom Hunt. He's one of the most crucial members of the squad, but even if you've followed rallying for a long time, the chances are you've never noticed him before.
Like many in the team, Tom's working life is spent on rally stages, but the ones he's used to are very different to the ones you'll see on television. In his world there are no crowds of journalists, no spectators, no elaborate service area and no other competitors, just a couple of blue and yellow trucks, a group of dedicated engineers and a single car driving a route again and again. We caught up with Tom early this year at the team's winter test in Lapland to find out a bit more about him and his job.
When did you join SWRT?
Right at the beginning of the Subaru project back in 1989. I was a senior technician and was involved with the Legacy, from the build of the first car right through the testing and development phase before its first rally with Markku Alen in 1991. At that time the team was quite small but by 1992 we were big enough to justify a dedicated test team and I managed the project - I've been here ever since.
Tell us about the test team
We help the team's car development programme and rally preparations by finding roads of a similar character to those in the WRC and then carrying out back-to-back tests on them. In 2005 we'll carry out about 12 three or four day tests, and these will be a mixture of development tests for new components and pre-event tests that help drivers get experience in rally conditions and let us experiment with tyres and car set-up. There are ten of us in the team, ranging from technicians to engineers but we bring along additional experts when required. The testing environment is very different to that of a rally, more often that not we'll be in a remote isolated location, which lets us concentrate on the job in hand without distractions. All our equipment is contained within a couple of trucks that double as car transporters and mobile workshops and from electricity to a mobile kitchen we're completely self-contained - which comes in handy when you're parked in the middle of nowhere like we are here! With a new model of the rally car each year, we generally start our development tests at the end of September with a view to launch in March. All endurance and testing of new component s is generally done by mid January, then we work on the pure performance and preparations for individual rallies.
How has your job changed over the years?
In the past we used to test much more, 130 days a year wasn't unusual, and in every country that the WRC visited, but in the last five years the FIA has restricted rally testing to cut costs. Nowadays we're not permitted to test outside Europe, and can only visit Sweden, Germany and Finland for four days each. This means that the majority of our testing is done in France, Italy, Spain the UK and Czechoslovakia. A limited amount of testing means we group events together into three different categories: hot rough and slow, fast smooth gravel and tarmac.
What's the best thing about working on the test team?
In my opinion it's a more interesting and varied job than working on the actual rallies. We work with the very latest development ideas, and although some of them never end up on the car, all of what we learn is fed back to designers in the UK and Japan and some of it is used later on - so it's very satisfying. I also enjoy the varied places we travel to and working with some brilliant drivers. It's possible to build up good working relationships as we spend a lot of time together and they're not under the pressure of the rallies. Over the years I've been lucky to work with some of the best drivers in the world. Logistically the job is tough, there's a lot of travelling and the hours are long, but there's a pioneering spirit in the test team - it really is an adventure and we have to look after ourselves. It's something that's close to the essence of rallying - man and machine against the toughest environments on the planet. I wouldn't change it for anything.