“Historic focus is switching to asphalt”
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.