‘Bri­tish RX turns 40 years old’

The Bri­tish Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship is four decades old and go­ing strong. By Hal Ridge.

Motor Sport News - - Rally Finland -

This year, the Bri­tish Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing one of its health­i­est periods for some time, with a strong and di­verse range of en­tries in the head­line Su­per­car cat­e­gory. It’s there­fore fit­ting that, on July 25, the series cel­e­brated its 40th an­niver­sary too.

Although the mixed-sur­face sport fa­mously came into be­ing in Fe­bru­ary 1967, with the first event be­ing won at Ly­d­den Hill by Vic El­ford in a Porsche 911, it wasn’t for an­other 11 years, in 1976, when the Bri­tish Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship be­gan. Tom Airey, driv­ing a Mini, won the first event at Lon­gridge and in the process beat a cer­tain John Welch, but more on him later.

Trevor Hop­kins sealed the first ever Bri­tish Ral­ly­cross ti­tle in a Ford Es­cort, the first of three con­sec­u­tive crowns, and it wasn’t un­til 1981 when Keith Ripp won the ti­tle in a Ford Fi­esta that any­thing other than an Es­cort would claim top honours. In fact, such was the Ford mar­que’s dom­i­nance of ral­ly­cross in the era that it wouldn’t be un­til 1989, when Michael Shield ended the Blue Oval’s reign by seal­ing the ti­tle in an MG Metro 6R4 and be­came the youngest ever cham­pion (see side­bar).

In its 40-year his­tory, 18 Bri­tish Ral­ly­cross cham­pi­ons have been crowned, but none more fre­quently than Ir­ish legend Der­mot Carnegie, who’s record-break­ing six ti­tles were in the decade be­tween 1994 and 2004, pi­lot­ing first a Metro 6R4, a Ford Es­cort and then a Fo­cus.

Carnegie says the Fo­cus was his favourite of his ti­tle-win­ning steeds.

“At one stage there we had 840 horse­power [in the Fo­cus], then there was no re­stric­tors or any of that carry on, so it was a lot of fun,” he says. “I’m very proud of my cham­pi­onships, es­pe­cially com­ing from Ire­land to the Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship. To do it over in Eng­land was like one-up­man­ship against the English, and that made it all the sweeter.”

The Ir­ish­man’s suc­cess was in no small part down to his cal­cu­lated ap­proach to mo­tor rac­ing. The qual­i­fy­ing stages of ral­ly­cross events are all about mak­ing it to the front of the fi­nal to stand the best chance of scor­ing a strong re­sult and points haul, of which Carnegie was a mas­ter. Reg­u­larly, the six-time cham­pion wouldn’t hit the front of an event un­til the end of the meet­ing, in­stead opt­ing for con­sis­tency and stay­ing out of trou­ble.

“I al­ways drove on the side of cau­tion re­ally, I was never a dirty driver,” he ex­plains. “I never re­ally had any ma­jor ac­ci­dents or any­thing like that. I would al­ways back out of it if it looked like every­body wouldn’t get round a cor­ner. You didn’t have to win every event but you had to be con­sis­tent and to be on the podium all the time and keep col­lect­ing the points. I would al­ways drive to fin­ish, rather than try­ing to win. That paid off for me any­way. It wasn’t easy – there was a lot of good com­pe­ti­tion.”

Carnegie rates his great­est ri­val as Bri­tish legend Will Gol­lop, him­self a three-time Bri­tish RX cham­pion and the last Bri­tish driver to win the Euro­pean Ral­ly­cross crown in 1992. “We had good ri­valry. Will would never push you off, and I would never push him off,” he says. “You knew you could drive nose-to-tail all day long and you still wouldn’t touch each other. He was bril­liant re­ally. De­nis Big­ger­staff was great as well; there were guys like that but, for in­stance John Maloney, would al­ways push you off, and you couldn’t trust [four-time cham­pion] Pat Do­ran ei­ther, you’d al­ways be care­ful.”

With 33 mo­tor­sport cham­pi­onships to his name in au­totests, au­tocross, ral­ly­ing and ral­ly­cross, on both sides of the Ir­ish Sea, Carnegie is one of Ire­land’s greats. From his time in the Es­cort to the Fi­esta that con­cluded his ca­reer, he was run by now five­time Bri­tish Cham­pion, Ju­lian God­frey, who as a driver has not only con­tin­ued Carnegie’s man­tle of suc­cess in re­cent years but also ap­proaches events in a sim­i­lar way. “Ju­lian looked af­ter me tremen­dously,” says Carnegie. “He al­ways gave me the car ex­actly the way I wanted it, then as more and more electronics came into it, he would show me traces from the year be­fore, what I was do­ing wrong and things. But, I al­ways drove with the seat of my pants, not what the lap­top was say­ing. He could never un­der­stand that. I al­ways drove just the way I felt, rather than be­ing told what I should or shouldn’t do by the com­puter, but then things change I sup­pose.”

As Carnegie’s top-level Bri­tish Ral­ly­cross ca­reer was gath­er­ing mo­men­tum in the Metro 6R4, a man who had raced in the first ever Bri­tish Ral­ly­cross Cham­pi­onship event was reaching the twi­light of his ca­reer.

John Welch was twice a Bri­tish RX cham­pion, although arguably should have been crowned far more. While 2016 is the 40th an­niver­sary of the Bri­tish cham­pi­onship; this year also marks 30 years since Welch claimed his sec­ond ti­tle and the first crown for a four-wheel-drive car. Driv­ing the le­gendary Ford Es­cort Mk3 Xtrac, formed as part of a close re­la­tion­ship be­tween Welch, mul­ti­ple Euro­pean Ral­ly­cross cham­pion Martin Schanche, Xtrac and Gar­trac, Welch won the Bri­tish Ral­ly­cross Grand Prix in 1985, and his sec­ond Bri­tish RX ti­tle in 1986.

The now Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship team owner says the first of his two ti­tles, driv­ing a Ford Es­cort Mk2, was prob­a­bly the best.

“The first Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship you win is al­ways the most spe­cial,” he says. “When you win your first ral­ly­cross cham­pi­onship, you’ve beaten your peers and you’ve also beaten some he­roes you’ve grown up

watch­ing. I think the fe­roc­ity of ral­ly­cross is what made it so good. If you look right back into the early days with the Es­corts, you had your archri­vals like Tony Drum­mond – there was to­tal ha­tred be­tween Tony and my­self on the track, and that kind of fe­roc­ity that would be all the way down the grid, but there was great ca­ma­raderie. In the early days cer­tainly we’d just go and just take my mates. It was great re­ally.

“I’m ob­vi­ously still pissed off about all the ones I should have won with the bloody bal­ance of per­for­mance stuff and start­ing from the back of the grid, but it is what it is. I had such a good time. Be­tween Martin and my­self we built some very spe­cial cars. At the end of one year, some­thing had gone wrong with mine so Martin lent me his for the fi­nal round at Croft. A £50,000 car, and he said ‘if you bend it you fix it, and no doubt I’ll have to help!’ That’s the kind of ca­ma­raderie there was.”

Welch says although he en­joyed his time rac­ing at home, he craved win­ning the Euro­pean ti­tle, but was never able to achieve his goal. “I loved the Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship, but I wanted to win the Euro­pean ti­tle too. I never man­aged it, but when the Euro­peans came over to Eng­land we’d usu­ally beat them any­way – the level of com­pe­ti­tion in Eng­land was ex­ceed­ingly high!” ■

Carnegie’s first of six ti­tles came in 1994

Welch was a key RX player

Will Gol­lop heads Euro­peans at Ly­d­den Hill on route to 1997 ti­tle Carnegie says Big­ger­staff was fair

Reign­ing Bri­tish Ral­ly­cross cham­pion Ju­lian God­frey is not only a record breaker in that he is the only driver ever to win five suc­ces­sive ti­tles, but to-date he has not been beaten to the crown since grad­u­at­ing to Su­per­car in 2011. His Ford Fi­esta also holds the record for the most Bri­tish RX ti­tles with seven. Orig­i­nal owner Pat Do­ran used the car to earn the crown in 2005 and 2010, while the four-time cham­pion drove it for the first part of his ti­tle-win­ning cam­paign in 2009 too.

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