BRI­TISH RALLY CHAM­PI­ONSHIP

WHO CAN BEAT EVANS IN RE­VI­TALISED SE­RIES?

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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’.”

Dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions

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.

The driv­ers

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.

Strong cal­en­dar

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

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