“Rallying faces a very tough challenge”
n November, I’ll have been watching rally cars in forests for half a century. The earliest I can remember is the 1966 RAC Rally in the Llanafan stage in Wales in the middle of the night. It was Lotus Cortinas, Minis and Triumph 2000s and it made a big impression on a six-year-old.
Over the years, rallying has faced many challenges and has come through the spectator madness of the Group B days, two outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, the 1973 oil crisis and more. But now, I fear that our sport is facing the biggest ever threat to its future.
I live half an hour from the Welsh border, so access to the Welsh forests is easy and I’ve spent many great days in places like Hafren, Dyfi, Penmachno, Dyfnant, Rheola, Clocaenog, Radnor and more. But will I be going there next year? I’m afraid that the jury is out on that one.
I fervently hope that the two sides, Natural Resource Wales and the MSA, can reach a workable agreement for rallying to continue on the forest roads and I applaud the efforts of those behind the Rally4wales campaign for putting forward a well-considered proposal. However, I just cannot see the sport getting away without being hit with a major cost hike.
With entry fees now sitting at around £500 for a 45-mile forest event, just how far can entry fees rise before organisers are hit by the law of diminishing returns? It is surely the case that every £50 on an entry fee will deter a certain number of entries and, in a worst case scenario, entry fees could have to rocket by as much as £200.
Maybe the pill would be a little less bitter if the competitors’ money was used to deliver excellent roads, but we all know that’s not the case most of the time. Recent road repairs ahead of major events have been a disgrace and a section of Radnor on the recent Severn Valley caused at least 20 punctures in a field of 100 cars. Dumping big rocks in a hole a few days before the rally is not regrading.
In the historic arena, some of the damage has already been done and is unlikely to be undone. Take a look at the entry lists for the next major asphalt events with historic sections and they make interesting reading. Crews are voting with their feet and moving away from gravel. Running down the single field, too expensive, poor roads and too much damage are the common reasons.
There was a time, less than 10 years back, when gravel rounds of the BHRC would attract twice as many contenders as the asphalt events. In 2016, there will be little to choose between support for the two surfaces and the exodus is growing.
I really hope that gravel rallying can be saved with affordable events and good quality roads. But it hangs in the balance.
Jenson Button has been close to breaking his British GP jinx on a few occasions, but it’s never quite gone to plan. Two fourth places – in 2010 and 2014, both with Mclaren – stand as his best results. Regardless, Button has some fond memories of his Silverstone grands prix, here are some of his favourites.