JACK BENYON

“Where have the spec­ta­tors gone?”

Motor Sport News - - Rally News -

For me, the Manx last week was a dream come true. It re­ally was an event at the top of my bucket list thanks to a bat­tered old video tape my father played to me over and over again of the 1988 Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship.

Of course that in­cluded the an­tics of ‘force­ful driv­ing’ star Pa­trick Sni­jers ( MN, Septem­ber 14) and en­deared me to ral­ly­ing for­ever.

Thanks to MN con­trib­u­tor Chris Boyde, I got out to stages even more than usual over the course of the week­end, and while there were spec­ta­tors, there wasn’t as many as I was ex­pect­ing. Sure enough, the prom­e­nade was packed on Thurs­day’s su­per spe­cial, but there weren’t quite as many out on stages. Per­haps more wor­ry­ing was the lack of peo­ple in the ser­vice park. Rally Isle of Man was per­haps one of the most valu­able ral­lies in terms of worth of the cars that were com­pet­ing in na­tional ral­ly­ing his­tory. Porsches, Fer­raris and his­toric Es­corts were set off by more mod­ern ma­chin­ery, R5 cars right down to Peu­geot 106s.

As a child, it was al­ways my favourite part of the rally. Walk­ing around the ser­vice park and watch­ing the me­chan­ics work­ing on these cars, which look a lot like nor­mal road cars in many cases. But the awe and the mys­tique around the ma­chines was pal­pa­ble.

It wasn’t through any lack of ef­fort. De­spite mar­shalling prob­lems and a ma­jor course car-re­lated is­sue, the Rally Isle of Man team car­ried on and planned the event year round, for which they de­serve a lot of credit. Things can go wrong on big events and a lack of vol­un­teers didn’t help that.

But more wor­ry­ing was the fact that the event was cov­ered on lo­cal ra­dio – which you wouldn’t get in the UK in most cases – and still there was a lack of spec­ta­tors in the ser­vice park.

It got me think­ing, what has ral­ly­ing got to do to be­come more pop­u­lar? You can read on page 19 about Elfyn Evans’ thoughts on what the BRC needs to do, push cov­er­age and get more peo­ple in­ter­ested and im­prove the ral­lies by en­cour­ag­ing more vol­un­teers. Sure enough the Manx strug­gled for mar­shals.

If the spec­ta­tor in­ter­est isn’t there, it’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult for big com­pa­nies and man­u­fac­tur­ers to com­mit to ral­ly­ing. We al­ready know cir­cuit rac­ing is more at­trac­tive to spon­sors. Cir­cuit fa­cil­i­ties are bet­ter in the most part and usu­ally eas­ier to get to. But even when an event pro­duces the kind of ac­tion it did over the week­end – eas­ily the best na­tional rally I’ve ever at­tended in terms of qual­ity of en­try, speed and stages – it still didn’t bring in that lo­cal in­ter­est.

What more can ral­ly­ing do?

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