Behind the Secto Rally Finland scenes: John Kennard

John Kennard. Photo: Honza Fronĕk

Everything you have always wanted to know about a multiple NZRC Co-driver, Ex Hyundai WRC Co-driver, WRC Rally Winner, Production World Rally Champion, TER rounds champion, leading the 2023 ERC…  

John Kennard, after such a hit list, what is left on your to-do-list in rallying? 

The immediate one to tick off is to try to become the first non Europeans to win the ERC, in it’s 70th year.  We’re close, but still have some work to do at Barum Rally Zlin in a couple of weeks.  After that, I really don’t know.  The ERC has been extremely competitive and great fun again, with short, intense events, so it will have to be something that can maybe live up to that same level.

Let’s go back some years. Seems you were flying a helicopter in Africa in the nineties! Tell us a bit more. 

In the early 1990’s, while working as team coordinator for Kenjiro Shinozuka’s Mitsubishi team, I took on the role of helicopter spotter, when Kenjiro first decided to use a helicopter crew as an extra set of eyes on this open road marathon event.  This worked well, so the following year we upgraded to a bigger helicopter and a very experienced ex-pat UK pilot.  As the flying on competitive sections was quite intense and I asked a million questions about the flying, Mark, our pilot, suggested after a couple of days that he could put the spare set of controls in my side of the helicopter and I could maybe get an idea for myself of what it was like.  Over the rest of the event and the next few Safari rallies, this developed into me flying, under his supervision, between service breaks and the start of competitive sections and similarly afterwards.  It also meant that by the time I took up the challenge of obtaining a helicopter licence, later in the 1990s, I already had many hours of flying experience.

Tell us about your best moment ever at Rally Finland? 

It has to be finishing my first ever attempt at the Jyväskylän Suurajot, in 1985.  It was the first event at any level that I’d ever co-driven on and with 51 stages in just 3 days using a photo copy of Henri Toivinen’s pace notes; it was quite an adventure.  Plus, we finished 44th (of 188 starters), we were the highest placed non-Scandinavian privateer crew, receiving much praise from the locals and a cheque (yes, there was prize money in those days) that was for more Finnmarks than the overall winner received.

You’re known as the multiple time retiring co-driver and you’ve just started a career as an enthusiastic commentator for WRC. What’s your next step?   

😂 Another of those questions I really don’t have an answer for.  It’s always fun to chat with Becs, but I don’t think there’s a career beckoning there.  Maybe someone has some suggestions for me?

You’ll most probably become the first ever non-European participant to win the ERC, you are the first non-European to lead it. How does it feel?   

Exhilarating, as question one above.  It was a great feeling to start the first ERC event of the season knowing it would be an extremely competitive championship, but always having the feeling that, working with the experienced team at BRC Racing, we had a real chance of being a strong competitor, which has proven to be true.

You are an architectural designer, a helicopter pilot, a wine producer, what can you tell us that the rally community doesn’t know about you? 

Cramming all that into life means there’s not much time for other things!  Maybe that, although I’ve been involved in building and architectural design for most of my life, I’m only just building my first house, or, to be precise, have some skilled builders doing it right now, from my own original designs (a Covid lockdown project).  My father, a skilled cabinet maker, took me onto building sites from a young age, when he often helped his builder friends at weekends.  So I’ve always had a love of building things and still manage to find time for some building projects at our mökki (summer cottage) in the Finnish forest each summer.  This summer, while I’ve been contesting rallies in Europe, the building work has continued in New Zealand and I’m very keen to get home in a few weeks to see the progress for the first time since the end of April.

Text: Stéphanie Pichard

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