“His­toric fo­cus is switch­ing to as­phalt”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News - PAUL LAWRENCE

In a month’s time, my favourite rally of the year will be in full swing and the 2016 Rally Isle of Man prom­ises to be an ab­so­lute corker. The en­try is al­ready maxed out at 160 cars and the qual­ity is sen­sa­tional.

It is hard to be­lieve that just five years ago this iconic rally was binned due to lack of en­tries. Not long af­ter that sad mo­ment, I flew to the is­land to chat to the or­gan­is­ers about some ideas for the fu­ture. Ul­ti­mately, those ideas didn’t come to fruition, but I am de­lighted that the rally is now back in ex­ceed­ingly good health and I can’t re­mem­ber when it last ran with a full en­try.

The re­ju­ve­nated BRC has played a part in the suc­cess of the 2016 rally and the lead­ing R5 cars will make for a mighty spec­ta­cle. How­ever, an even big­ger fac­tor in the full en­try is the strength of the his­toric field and that throws up some very in­ter­est­ing thoughts.

When the 2011 event was axed, the his­toric en­try was poor and re­flected a com­mon theme for as­phalt events. His­toric en­tries on sealed sur­face ral­lies were reg­u­larly half, or less, of the en­try on gravel ral­lies. If you got 80 his­toric en­tries for a gravel rally, you’d be lucky to get 40 for an as­phalt event. Next month, more his­torics (cur­rently 62) will start in Dou­glas than started the four key gravel ral­lies of the sea­son so far: the Red Kite, Rally North Wales, Pirelli His­toric and Sev­ern Val­ley.

It says much of the cur­rent state of gravel ral­ly­ing that the Isle of Man will have a stronger en­try than four of the lead­ing 45-mile gravel ral­lies. The sim­ple fact is that gravel ral­ly­ing for his­torics has been dec­i­mated by re­cent events and changes and I can see lit­tle sign of that sit­u­a­tion im­prov­ing in the fu­ture.

Many own­ers of his­toric rally cars are ask­ing the same ques­tions: will we ever be able to run at the front again, will the forests be prop­erly re­graded and will the costs just es­ca­late to un­re­al­is­tic lev­els? Un­for­tu­nately, the an­swers to those ques­tions are not cur­rently avail­able.

What I am cer­tain of is that the mi­gra­tion to­wards sealed sur­face ral­ly­ing is a oneway street. Once peo­ple have stopped com­pet­ing on gravel, I don’t think they will be won back into the forests again. The dam­age in­flicted to cars this sea­son has got out of hand and peo­ple are tired of driv­ing in ruts, dodg­ing boul­ders and in­flict­ing dam­age on in­creas­ingly rare bodyshells.

So, as­phalt is win­ning more and more his­toric con­verts and the big win­ners are events like the Isle of Man. There are as many as 10 po­ten­tial his­toric win­ners in an en­try that has qual­ity to match quan­tity. It’s go­ing to be ex­cep­tional.

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