BRITISH RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
WHO CAN BEAT EVANS IN REVITALISED SERIES?
It’s 2016 and the Premier League is gone – hypothetically of course. Bare with me here.
The second tier remains, as does the Champions League, but the bosses of the Premier League have decided that there isn’t enough talent in the game and that Man City and Chelsea have too much money. So we’re not going to run in 2016. We’ll start again with new organisers in 2017.
In all honesty, can you see that happening? No, of course not. Even if you aren’t a football person.
But that’s what happened to the British Rally Championship. At the end of 2013 a tender document was produced to inform the decision on who would take over the series in 2015 and what direction the series would go in.
In 2014 just over 15 regular entries competed in the frontrunning Citroen DS 3 R3s. The front-wheel-drive control tyre formula had grown old and tired, and left no room for progression.
For the older driver who wanted to blast through the forest on full chat but wasn’t going to be a WRC champion, where should they go? The BRC certainly wasn’t for them either.
At the time, current IMS [commercial arm of the Motor Sports Association] chief Ben Taylor was still with the MSA and was on the tender judging panel.
“There were a number of submissions,” explains Taylor. “At that time I was still working for the MSA, and I was on the panel to assess the tender. When we reviewed them, none of them cried out as a winning tender. Having not awarded the tender to anybody, I put a different hat on, if you like, because three weeks earlier I had taken over the role of managing director of IMS. As if trying to get up to speed with Rally GB wasn’t enough of a challenge, I thought what I needed to do was to restructure the MSA British Rally Championship. I said ‘I think IMS can take this on’.”
And take it on IMS did, but the difficult decisions came thick and fast. Almost immediately, Taylor was faced with a huge challenge. The series was to be canned for a year.
He had persuaded MSA chairman Alan Gow and then acting chief executive Rob Jones that IMS could do the job, but they felt Taylor had neither the time nor the resources to turn the series around in a few months, with Taylor committed to running Rally GB from an IMS perspective.
“They [Gow and Jones] agreed [that IMS would take on the BRC] but they also said I didn’t have enough time within my other responsibilities at IMS to get to grips with Rally GB and take on the BRC and reformat it for the following year,” explains Taylor. “That was when the decision was taken to take a year out of the sport. It wasn’t necessarily one I agreed with at the time, I was worried that if you remove something, something else fills the vacuum that’s left or sometimes you can find people don’t miss what was there in the first place. If you look back at the foot and mouth situation in 2001, when people weren’t able to go rallying, we lost a lot of people from the sport that year. They all of a sudden said ‘we’re not doing this so we’ll do something else’. There was a danger we would have the same problem this year: ‘It was all well and good in the past but maybe we don’t need it’.”
Another issue for Taylor was that the championship was a blank sheet of paper, nothing in place for him to work off. Everything had to be done from scratch.
“Everything was up for grabs,” adds Taylor. “That meant that nothing was in place. There were no events, no suppliers, competitors, teams, TV deals, no regulations, no nothing. It can be a great advantage but it means an awful lot of work to be put together from scratch.”
Rising like a phoenix
At the Autosport International Show in 2015 the announcement came that the championship would return with four-wheel-drive R5 cars at the front and, perhaps just as importantly, future championship manager Iain Campbell was announced as a consultant with a view to becoming series manager.
The Mull Rally clerk of the course and Rally Scotland organiser is a neutral personality respected throughout national rallying and, despite a relative lack of experience in organising championships, he was quickly identified as one the most promising rally organisers in the country.
The first strategy meeting came in February but news was a little slow after that, with Taylor working behind the scenes on the BRC and Rally GB. It wasn’t until September that the championship really started to ramp it up. An open meeting was held at Rallyday, Castle Combe, announcing the regulations: most notably an open tyre format, double points for the series finale and a nominated double-points joker round. That’s when momentum really started to kick up a gear. Once Rally GB was out of the way, the announcements came thick and fast.
Ollie Mellors and Rhys Yates were the first drivers to confirm their intention to enter, despite the lack of a number of key announcements at that point. However, it was January this year when the biggest driver news came as 2015 works M-sport WRC driver Elfyn Evans signed up to the championship. Norwegian Mads Ostberg and Frenchman Eric Camilli were controversially chosen over Evans for the works squad, and the Welshman was suddenly out of work. The DMACK British Rally Team needed a partner for Max Vatanen and the deal was done.
Predictably, the other drivers have had little else to say other than how much of a challenge Evans will be to compete against.
“Evans will obviously be the man to beat,” says three-time BRC champion Keith Cronin.
“There’s a massive target on his back and we’re all going to be aiming for him,” adds Tom Cave. You get the picture. Evans will be hard to beat.
So where does the challenge come from. First off, Cave has to be among the favourites. The Welshman has spent the last two years in the Drive DMACK Trophy, finishing runner-up on both occasions. Having competed against Elfyn in the BRC before, he knows what to expect. And he’s on Michelins ( see sidebar), which could prove influential.
Cronin will also be a frontrunner. In a works-backed Citroen, the three-time champ hasn’t rallied properly on gravel for a couple of years, but a win on his nominated ‘joker’ round, which offers twice as many points, and the double-points decider on the Manx would make him difficult to beat irrespective of other rounds.
One man who can boast beating Evans fair and square is David Bogie. The Scotsman kept his cards close to his chest before announcing earlier this year he’ll compete in a Skoda. He’s the last man to win the BRC in four-wheel-drive format in 2011, with Evans a close second that year. Of course, the Welshman has had a touch of experience since then.
Who else could challenge? Euan Thorburn is a dark horse in the Peugeot – if it proves more reliable than Craig Breen’s machine last year. Fredrik Ahlin has shown pace at WRC2 level but has no experience of the British roads other than a couple of Rally GB visits. Desi Henry (Skoda), the Moffett brothers Sam and Josh (Ford) and Vatanen (Ford) could also challenge up front.
The initial BRC calendar was good. Not great, not bad, just good.
The second was a belter. The announcement that the Jim Clark would run on gravel again in 2016 meant organisers faced a choice. There was a lot of mileage in relatively close proximity in Scotland. The choice was made and two new rounds added. The Granite City Rally and Jim Clark were lost, and added were the Manx and Nicky Grist. The Manx had only missed out
initially because of a potential date clash with Rally GB, but with dates sured up it was possible logistically to get it on the calendar. It’s one of the most popular asphalt events in Britain, if not the world, and was a fantastic reintroduction.
The second addition may be just as good. The Nicky Grist usually runs as a one-day gravel event based in Builth Wells, but for the BRC the Quinton Motor Club and co-driver Grist added the Epynt military ranges to Sunday. A mixed surface event to rival the 1980s Welsh. OK, perhaps not quite as good as that, but to have a mixed surface round really caught the imagination.
It’s on the box
One of the most eagerly anticipated announcements came with the arrival of TV coverage, on Channel 4 and BT Sport. BT Sport is one of the homes of the WRC and provides a great link-up for viewers, while Channel 4 boasts terrestrial coverage for the series, as well as rally presence at a time more racing fans will be flocking to the channel for Formula 1 coverage in 2016.
The addition of TV presenter Colin Clark and commentator Jon Desborough is also key to the series’ future.
The pair have the kind of infectious enthusiasm that could have the most anti-rallying person humming along to the sound of a flat-four boxer, so let’s hope they help to attract new fans to a championship that didn’t exist last year.
Juniors line up
Something identified early on was that junior drivers would still demand a level of presence in the reformed championship. What we’ve seen is potentially the biggest prize in junior rallying history in the UK. The DMACK Junior BRC will offer the champion a subsidised entry into the Drive DMACK Trophy in 2017, one of the best places to demonstrate talent in the World Rally Championship ( see page 13).
Meirion Evans has to go in as the favourite. The Welshman has demonstrated his pace in his versatile Ford Fiesta R2T, and in Citroen DS 3 and Subaru Imprezas before that. At just 20 years old, he already has a vast amount of experience.
No doubt nipping at his heels will be the two Vauxhall Motorsport entries, Robert Duggan and Mattias Adielsson. Duggan proved his pace in a DS 3 on Wales Rally GB last year, while Adielsson has European Rally Championship experience. A lack of time on gravel could make Mid Wales a struggle, but the Adam will be right at the front on asphalt from the get-go.
With Mid Wales approaching, it would be harsh to look too closely to 2017. There’s little bad to say about what the organisers have put together for this year and there’s no doubt there’s a very entertaining season on the cards. The struggle is going to be to make the championship sustainable, but Campbell and Taylor are already working on that. Seeing what they’ve put together for this year, the championship seems in safe hands. ■
Rhys Yates was early BRC entrant
Elfyn Evans is BRC title favourite
Taylor was key in IMS taking hold of BRC
Citroen could give Cronin a chance of the title Duggan (l) and Adielsson will challenge in the Junior contest
Thorburn will drive Peugeot 208