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Getting the team from A to B with Charles Wheatley from M-Sport

Moments That Matter | By | 19 Mar 2024 | 5 minute read

Before M-Sport can tackle the punishing terrain at the FIA World Rally Championship, another rally needs to take place – the race to get the players, staff, equipment, and cars from one country to another. It’s a symphony of moving parts, with Charles Wheatley orchestrating the whole operation as M-Sport Travel Coordinator. 

Having recently landed the team in Sweden for the WRC’s ultimate winter challenge, we chat with Charles about Moments that Matter and how he helps drive the team’s pursuit of excellence all over the world. 

Can you tell us about the scale of operations coordinating travel at M-Sport?

From transporting teams, cars, and equipment around Europe – it’s a lot of logistics! The travel team is responsible for getting the team to WRC events, test events and other programs like Dakar. During events, we have around 55 staff members on-site. The drivers, of course, physios, media personnel, engineers, and technicians. This means managing flights, accommodation, car hire, and transfers for the entire team. Most will come from M-Sport headquarters in Cumbria, but we’ll have some that fly in from all over the world too. It’s not just me handling this, though! There are four of us in the travel office. Each of us specializes in different aspects of travel coordination, so it takes careful planning on all our parts to ensure everyone arrives on time. 

You’re in Sweden for the WRC right now. How do you make sure everyone is exactly where they need to be before a rally begins? 

Around a week before a rally begins, the transport team from M-Sport arrives at the service park and starts setting up the service area. So our drivers have been here for quite a few days, fighting the extreme winter temperatures and trying to get everything running. Once the service area is complete, it’s time for the mechanics and engineers to take center stage. So the M-Sport factory teams will arrive, followed by the rest of the staff. It’s really about asking ourselves who we need and when, to ensure the cars and the drivers have the optimal support and conditions to perform. From there, we set out a schedule for travel and accommodation.

The flights are easy. Generally, everyone from the headquarters travels together in the same flights and car. And that accounts for 60-70% of our travel. But it’s not always smooth sailing! It’s the conditions you face upon arriving and coordinating the unknowns – that can be tricky.

“The weather team go out into the middle of nowhere. With lone worker technology, you can make sure they get home safely – and equally, create an environment where they feel safe to venture out and do their best work.”

– Charles Wheatley, Travel Coordinator, M-Sport

It’s been freezing cold here in Sweden, around -20 degrees over the weekend. Someone from the weather crew got stuck out in the ice early in the morning when it was pitch black. Fortunately, we stay connected to our teams using lone worker technology through SHEQSY by SafetyCulture. It helps us safeguard our people in real time, especially in unknown or risky environments. So we were able to find out where she was and help her map a route back. It’s really useful with the weather team in particular, because they go out into the middle of nowhere. There’s no guarantee of a phone signal. But with this sort of technology, you can follow the breadcrumb trail and make sure everyone gets home safely – and equally, create an environment where they feel safe to venture out and do their best work.

Safety is the foundation for better ways of working, that’s for sure. Have you uncovered any other ways to fine-tune travel operations at M-Sport?

It’s all about being prepared and getting in early — whether it’s flights or car hire. Being up in the north of England, direct flights aren’t always an option, so we often end up with layovers. We check out the event schedule, figure out when our team needs to be there, and then hunt down the best flights we can find.  

Car hire can also be a real challenge. The WRC can take us to pretty remote areas, like northern Sweden, where we are right now! The town has a little shed in a field for an airport, so you can imagine they don’t have a ton of cars available at the local rental spots. Plus we’re in competition with the other teams for on-the-ground resources. Last year, we had a couple of close calls where we almost ended up without wheels. So it’s something we’ve really tried to improve. We’ve learned to book ahead and reserve cars for the whole year in advance now.

I imagine there’s not much room for error! How do you help your team feel comfortable in such a high-stakes environment?

Relationships are paramount, especially when everyone’s away from home and working in a high-stress environment. In the travel team, our priority is to accommodate people as much as possible. We understand that the hours are long, and exhaustion is a real concern. Some rallies can stretch late into the night, leaving people with only a few hours of sleep before they’re back at it again. It’s a reality that even the most comfortable bed in the world won’t guarantee a good night’s rest if you’re only in it for a couple of hours. 

So, we do our best to room people together who get along well, sharing similar interests and sleep patterns whenever feasible. When it comes to flights and transfers, we aim to minimize travel time to ensure everyone is as well-rested and prepared as possible. While we can’t always accommodate everyone’s preferences perfectly given budget constraints and team logistics, we strive to keep everyone as comfortable and content as possible. Of course, it’s a balancing act, and sometimes we can’t please everyone, but we do our best to ensure everyone’s needs are met to the best of our ability. It’s all about making the journey as smooth and pleasant as possible.

What’s interesting is that the role of the travel office is quite distinct from what most other team members are here for. While they’re focused on the fast-paced, high-stress aspects of the event—like looking after the car and the driver—we’re here to ensure that everybody actually gets there in the first place. It’s a different kind of hustle, but just as important for team performance.

So you’ve smashed through the rally and you’re packing up to go home. How do you know if you’ve done a good job?

Honestly… when there aren’t any complaints. Radio silence is often the best indicator that things are running smoothly. While we do receive occasional compliments, most of the time, everyone’s just focused on the task at hand — putting in long hours and giving it their all. 

But we also understand the importance of feedback, so we always make sure to review things after each rally. It’s our chance to see what went well, what could be improved, and how we can keep raising the bar. We’re always listening and striving to do better.

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