His­toric gravel ral­ly­ing – what is the fu­ture?

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - AGREE/DIS­AGREE? mn.let­ters@hay­mar­

What a dif­fer­ence a year makes. The 2015 Pirelli Carlisle Rally was a bad day for his­toric gravel ral­ly­ing. Road con­di­tions de­te­ri­o­rated dra­mat­i­cally and the ma­jor­ity of crews ar­rived at the fin­ish ques­tion­ing the en­joy­ment of driv­ing their cars over such rough stages.

Most were sim­ply steering around the holes and boul­ders to try and pre­serve their cars suf­fi­ciently to get to the fin­ish.

Fast for­ward a year and the re­sponse to the 2016 event could not have been more dif­fer­ent. There were big smiles all round at the Carlisle fin­ish and ful­some praise for the event and the qual­ity of the roads.

So what changed? Well, the re­turn of the Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship al­lowed the Pirelli or­gan­is­ers to rad­i­cally al­ter the event for­mat and run the his­torics first on the road as a sep­a­rate en­tity on Satur­day morn­ing. No dou­ble us­age was the ic­ing on the cake. It was far and away the best Bri­tish His­toric Rally Cham­pi­onship gravel event since the new run­ning or­der rules kicked in last spring.

This was an event that has set down a new marker for the BHRC. What is clear is that 22 miles of dou­ble us­age, with the his­torics in­ter­spersed with mod­erns in a 120-car field, can­not be the fu­ture. If it is, his­toric ral­ly­ing on gravel will surely die. It is al­ready badly wounded as more and more driv­ers ei­ther walk away or turn to asphalt.

The Pirelli or­gan­is­ers had some sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tages, not least a two-day for­mat. But what we re­ally need now is some lee­way from the MSA on run­ning or­der for 2017 and some cre­ative think­ing from or­gan­is­ers.

At the core of the is­sue is the ques­tion of the MSA Safety Del­e­gates and their abil­ity to travel through the stages ahead of the first car to check on spec­ta­tor safety. To fit the blue­print I have de­scribed above, it will re­quire two del­e­gates and a sen­si­ble time sep­a­ra­tion be­tween events. But these are far from in­sur­mount­able is­sues.

A lit­tle anec­dote from the Pirelli is, I think, ap­po­site. I set­tled into my cho­sen su­per-safe lo­ca­tion in Kielder about 45 min­utes be­fore the first car, MSA me­dia tabard on and cam­era ready to go. I had the en­tire cor­ner to my­self. The Safety Del­e­gate duly came past and I got a cheery wave of ac­knowl­edge­ment, so all was well. Then, 15 min­utes be­fore the first car was due, six spec­ta­tors ar­rived. They, too, were to­tally re­spon­si­ble, chose very safe lo­ca­tions and, like me, stayed un­til af­ter the clos­ing car. But the fact re­mains that they ar­rived well af­ter the Safety Del­e­gate had gone by, as do the ma­jor­ity of spec­ta­tors.

Un­for­tu­nately, the cur­rent dead­lock over rates for us­ing the forests man­aged by Nat­u­ral Re­source Wales now hangs over ev­ery­thing. If a res­o­lu­tion is not pos­si­ble, ev­ery­thing will change and none of us will be go­ing gravel ral­ly­ing.

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