Q&A with Neil Cole
(November 23) – In his accomplished career, Neil Cole has worked in the majority of top-level motor sports around the world, in a number of different television roles.
But, he is most famous for his work as a reporter and having been part of the FIA World Rallycross Championship since 2014, he joined Americas Rallycross (ARX) in its inaugural season this year from Silverstone, Trois-Rivieres and Circuit of The Americas.
We’ve already spoken to the men from the commentary box, Andrew Coley and Bucky Lasek, so we caught up with Neil Cole, the man on the ground at ARX events, usually found around pre-grid and in the paddock.
You knew some of the ARX drivers from different series you’ve covered in your career, does that help coming into a new championship?
“I first met Chris Atkinson and Patrik Sandell in the WRC. Tanner Foust, Travis Pastrana and Timo Scheider I met through my perennial work on Race Of Champions, and I’ve been pro-stalking Ken Block since Rally Mexico in 2010 just after the release of Gymkhana 2 - I know, that’s TWO! So, there were some very familiar faces to make it easier for me and hopefully for them too. Previous knowledge and mutual (hopefully) respect provides a shortcut through any awkwardness when I suddenly pounce on them with my crew, cameras, microphone and random questions because there isn’t always time to do a formal handshake-how-do-you-do introduction.”
What were the biggest challenges from your point of view?
“Every round had its own brainmelt factor. I think the logistics - and heat - of GP3R in Canada were some of the toughest: I got through two golf buggies and a lot of shirts and pens that weekend. Silverstone was tricky as ARX was brand new to everyone, so we had to hit the ground running with a new series, a different format etc... plus the presence of both Mark Higgins (in World RX) and David Higgins competing was a curve ball for me. By the finale in COTA I think I’d just about got a handle on it all except for all the numbers: when you’ve just finished ARX2 Round 5 Qualifying 1 Race 2 and it’s straight into ARX Round 4 Qualifying 3 Race 1 my brain definitely does a little misfire...”
How were the double-header weekends with World RX and ARX both on the bill?
“Brilliant. Honestly. I’m like a shark - I hate to stay still for too long - so the forward momentum of working across two different championships - in fact sometimes many more, with RX2, Euro RX Supercar, Euro RX Super1600, ARX2 etc - meant the weekends were a non-stop rollercoaster. And ultimately for me, as a fan, and for spectators, it simply meant one thing - MAXIMUM RALLYCROSS - which can only be a good thing, right?”
From your side, how does ARX differ from World RX?
“Technically, mechanically, logistically - hardly at all. The cars look and sound almost identical. The format is pretty much the same. Also there's a lot of crossover in drivers, teams, brands. I think the main differences are abstract - the target for ARX is very specifically an American market. So, for me, the TV team definitely try and add an American-friendly flavour to the broadcast style, the language, the energy. There has also been a sense that we are starting again from scratch with ARX, while we have been steadily building a dedicated fanbase on World RX since 2014, so we need to keep one eye on that "new" dynamic too.”
How does the pace of the event change for you when everything is broadcast live on Facebook and YouTube?
“It means I don't stop, it's a full-on, precipitous rush from Free Practice on Saturday morning until the podium on Sunday afternoon. And this is a good thing. My first ever job in TV was hosting a live show, I did three years as a daily live VJ for MTV, so rolling live broadcasts are my happy place.”
For you, who produced the stand out performances of the season in Supercar and ARX2?
“Well if I close my eyes and see what's burned in there - in ARX it's Liam Doran at Silverstone, with a tip of the hat to Atko with his heroic crowd-pleasing roll-and-restart. ARX2 - no question - Conner Martell. He just dominated every weekend, and it wasn't a question of "he's got the best car" - he was in the DirtFish stable and out-performed his stablemates pretty much every session. The Hammer NAILED it.”
When are the ARX drivers at the least and most chatty?
“Well, if they are angry with what another driver did on track they certainly like to tell me straight away at the end of the race. Likewise if they are pumped from a great drive and result, they're usually pretty forthcoming. The pre-grid and end of race are the best times for me to speak to rallycross drivers. If I have to go into the paddock between races and ask them a difficult question, like "Why were you slow?" or "Tell us about why you missed the joker?" "Or, X says you're an idiot, how do you respond?" Well... suddenly it's quite hard to find them...”
How challenging is it to approach a team or driver in the middle of intense moments, either post race or in the paddock?
“We are all professionals and I have a journalistic job to do, to tell the story of the event, and the drivers know they are under contract to be part of a televised sport. But I'm also a human being with empathy; so it gets a bit squirmy when I can read the body language of a driver which screams DON'T SPEAK TO ME but I have to anyway... it never gets easy to repress the natural instinct to leave people alone when that's the vibe, but we have to overcome that. And most drivers understand. Most of the time... I've just learnt to be careful how to word the question, to avoid causing offence. Ultimately, though, I mean, talking's good, right? Talk it out. It's like therapy...”
What was your highlight of working in ARX this season?
“Honestly? Bucky Lasek. I mean - it's BUCKY LASEK. And I wasn't just interviewing him - we were co-hosting. In Canada he borrowed my skateboard to go join Andrew Coley in commentary. That is bucket-list stuff right there. Hashtag LIFEGOALZ.”