“Where have the spectators gone?”
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?