RALLYING IN CRISIS
■ FEE HIKE THREATENS WELSH EVENTS ■ RALLY GB ALSO IN JEOPARDY ■ DMACK SQUAD COULD QUIT BRC
Rally GB – and all rallying in Wales – is under threat, with the fees for competing on forestry land set to escalate from June.
National Resources Wales argues it wants the increase to cover the cost of maintaining forest roads that are used for rallying, but many within the sport believe it could make organising events untenable, with competitors likely to incur the brunt of the fee hike.
The Motor Sports Association, which has negotiated much better deals in England and Scotland, believes time is running out to find a solution.
Wales Rally GB officials fear for the future of Britain’s round of the World Rally Championship as an agreement to use the country’s forest roads has yet to be reached.
The Motor Sports Association and National Resources Wales remain at odds over a proposed increase in fees for the use of NRW gravel roads – casting all forest rallying in Wales into doubt.
Rally GB managing director Ben Taylor underlined the seriousness of the current situation, telling Motorsport News: “Like any other event organiser, we would really struggle to accommodate the proposed increase in mileage rates.”
The master agreement allows the Welsh Government-owned forests to be used for motorsport events, but failure to agree on a deal will mean rallying in Wales will only be able to take place on private or military land.
Both England and Scotland have agreed to new master agreements with the MSA, with only a 0.7 per cent increase in fees.
NRW is lobbying to recover 100 per cent of the costs of maintaining and repairing the Welsh forests ( see statement right), which would mean an increase of around 90 per cent according to sources close to the negotiations. The new fee is due to kick in on June 1.
Wales’ WRC star Elfyn Evans echoed Taylor’s sentiments and fears the knock-on effect from the potential loss of rallying in his home woods.
“We have a massive rallying industry in Wales at the moment,” explained Evans. “If we lose that, is the appeal there for Rally GB anymore? Are the competitors for the national rally there to make the event viable, are the spectators still going to be interested? If no one is interested and you lose all that structure, it will affect GB too. You have to look at the big picture with this.”
The 27-year-old also called for the MSA, NRW and Welsh Government to find a compromise for the good of all parties involved.
“The reality of the situation is if it stays the same [an agreement isn’t reached] then rallying won’t survive [in Wales],” Evans added. “In all honesty it’s not really
a Natural Resources Wales problem, it’s a Welsh Government problem. What rallying brings into the country is massive and that’s off the back of all the smaller rallies as well as Rally GB. If we lose all that it’s a massive shame for Wales. Somewhere we need to find a compromise, because everybody wants it and supports it. But likewise, National Resources Wales needs to be sustainable as well.”
Former World Championship co-driver and event organiser Nicky Grist also believes the loss of club rallying would be catastrophic to the sport, and that the NRW’S criteria for signing a new deal are untenable.
“The MSA can’t agree to this massive increase because it would make the costs of forest rallying unrealistic,” explained Grist. “A lot of people find it difficult to pay for the entry fees we’ve got now and by doubling the forestry fees it’s going to send costs through the roof. Above all else you’ve got to ask yourself how can they raise the fees by that much when England and Scotland agreed to their deals with a 0.7 per cent rise?
“It’s going to take someone in the Welsh Government to speak to the people at NRW and say ‘wait a minute man, are you thinking about this logically?’”
The Nicky Grist Stages – a round of the British and BTRDA rally championships – will go ahead according to clerk of the course Neal Cross, as the event only uses a handful of miles in NRW forests. Should an agreement not be met, they will reroute the event.
The first rally to be impacted by the potential lack of a master agreement is likely to be the Severn Valley Stages held on June 4, although the organiser was unavailable for comment as MN went to press. The event is due to be part of the British Historic Rally Championship.
Evans: losing Welsh rallying would impact on Rally GB
Grist: Fee rise is unrealistic
Club rallying in Wales is most at risk from fee hikes