WATCH IN 2016
PROTOTYPES AND RELAUNCHES
Julius Thurgood at the Historic Racing Drivers’ Club knows a thing or two about racing for cars of the 1950s and 1960s, and his latest brainchild, the HRDC Academy, is set to truly fly this year.
The concept was to develop a one-make class of racing for the humble Austin A35 in pretty simple and affordable trim. With a good supply of donor cars from the late 1950s available and a kit to convert the cars into racers, it adds up to some of the most affordable and fun historic racing currently available.
From modest beginnings, the concept has quickly gathered momentum and the better part of 50 cars are now complete or in build.
Standalone races are now the achievable target for 2016 and an expected race at the Goodwood Revival (September 11-13) will be the icing on the cake. The season starts at Brands Hatch on April 9/10. PL
FIA rally director Jarmo Mahonen believes that the World Rally Championship is on its most stable footing for a decade after commitment from leading manufacturers.
Talking to MN in the wake of Volkswagen’s confirmation that it will remain in the WRC until 2019, Mahonen said the future for the world championship looks stronger than it has for 10 years.
Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Ford (still represented by M-sport World Rally Team in a technical capacity) are four of the world’s big five manufacturers, with only General Motors missing. Tenth on the list is PSA Peugeot Citroen, the Paris-based firm that will return full-time to the WRC in 2017.
Mahonen said: “What we heard from Volkswagen is very great news for motorsport – not just for the WRC. This kind of news gives you the kind of certainty you need in this championship. What we need and what hasn’t been achieved yet is the long-term commitment from the stakeholders, so we can make sure we have everybody investing in this sport – this is something which, until now, hasn’t existed.”
Citroen’s commitment to the WRC is for at least three years, with Hyundai running to a similar programme, while Toyota has confirmed it wants to stick with rallying until 2022.
Mahonen added: “With this kind of long-term commitment and investment from the manufacturers, we are in the position where we have the basics in place. We can now move forward and develop the championship together – there’s a very exciting future for us.”
Mahonen underpins his statement with an acceptance that nobody knows what’s around the corner, but M-sport team principal Malcolm Wilson pointed to the timing of Volkswagen’s decision to commit to the WRC; the German manufacturer remains in the middle of its toughest trading period ever with the ongoing road car emissions crisis.
“This is a really positive move for our sport, when you consider the position Volkswagen’s in,” said Wilson. “I see this as another tremendous shot in the arm for the WRC. Looking at next year, this championship is going to be very, very exciting.
“It’s all about having the longevity, that gives confidence, delivers investment and raises the value of everything we’re doing.”
Toyota’s return to the WRC after a 17-year absence comes with the strongest possible personal and professional backing from president and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, Akio Toyoda.
Similarly, Citroen will be back full-time in 2017 after electing to back a WRC programme over its World Touring Car Championship campaign.
Numerically, the WRC has been better-supported by manufacturers, with seven makes competing between 1999 and 2002. The difference back then, however, was that not all of the manufacturers were competing on all events and the performance gap was vast, courtesy of much more open technical regulations.
From the end of 2002, numbers began to slip, with the biggest surprise coming six years later when Subaru announced it was departing (along with Suzuki), leaving just Citroen and Ford.
In 10 years, brands such as Toyota, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Skoda, SEAT, Suzuki, Subaru and Peugeot had all come in and departed the WRC.
Three decades ago this week, the corridors of power on the Place de la Concorde echoed to an endless two-pronged debate.
The main part of the debate would have centred on spectator safety and how it could be improved. The second consideration would be Portugal and its future in the World Rally Championship.
Earlier this month, 30 years ago, Joaquim Santos’s Ford RS200 went off the road on the opening stage. Three spectators died at the scene, 32 were hurt – one of whom succumbed to their injuries soon after. Actually, the FISA’S corridors were all quiet. World motorsport’s governing body had nothing to say on the matter. FISA’S stewards on the event had issued a statement in the immediate aftermath of the tragic event… criticising what they called ‘notorious’ FISA seeded crews for withdrawing from the event.
A statement read: “The stewards consider that this attitude [of the factory drivers who withdrew] may affect the Rallye of Portugal image as well as that of the World Championship Rallye (sic).”
When FISA president Jean-marie Balestre did break cover, he did so on the pages of French sports newspaper L’equipe; but still he didn’t want to comment directly on the Portuguese accident, pointing out that he was still awaiting all the facts. There were, however, two messages he wanted to get across loud and clear: he sent a message to the Rally of Portugal organiser Cesar Torres, confirming the event would remain in the world championship in 1987, and he wanted to congratulate the amateur drivers who continued in the event after the works crews withdrew.
Honestly, this happened. I’m not making it up. Anybody doubting me should check Mcklein’s beautiful Group B book or back issues of this very newspaper.
Finally, three weeks to the day after the tragedy, an executive committee meeting was assembled by FISA at which a working group to look into spectator safety was established with event organisers and drivers having input.
Let’s not forget, just minutes before the Santos crash, Timo Salonen lost much of his Peugeot’s rear bodywork when a cameraman’s answer to the lack of room at the side of the road was to stand in the road. The previous season had been littered with such incidents, most of which went unrecorded.
Portugal had been coming. But Balestre and FISA collectively buried its head in the sand in terms of the dangers, preferring to bask in the glories of the Group B regulations – the ones delivering the ultimate forest racers.
But when families started laying picnic rugs at the edge of the stage and ‘fans’ dared each other to get closer and closer to the action – some actually losing fingers to the scoops and wings as they reached out to touch the passing cars, big trouble was right around the corner.
Shame it took a couple more months and yet more tragedy for FISA to see it.
Osian Pryce believes that the Mitsubishi Mirage he campaigned on the Mid Wales Stages still has more to come in terms of performance, even though he matched a number of the other R5 manufacturers on the rally.
The Welshman’s programme with Spencer Sport has yet to be confirmed ( see above), but Pryce is keen to do more in the Mirage.
“There’s massive potential with the car, there’s no doubt about that,” said Pryce. “We had to work quite hard in Wales; the car was set up to be driven quite sideways, which, for me, isn’t the fastest way. I was pretty pleased with the way the event went and where we would have been in the main BRC field. We’d have been running third for most of it and we only missed out on a fastest time by six-tenths of a second and that was without a recce!
“Now we need to see what can be done for the rest of the season.”
An entry on the Circuit of Ireland Rally is thought unlikely, but Pryce is keen to see more British Rally Championship action later in 2016, dovetailing with his Drive DMACK Trophy campaign.