“Ral­ly­ing faces a very tough challenge”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News -


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.

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