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The Bri­tish Rally Cham­pi­onship is back. It’s been a whirl­wind ride as the series re­turned af­ter a year’s hia­tus. Out went Mark Tay­lor and the one­make, con­trol tyre, Citroen DS 3 R3 dom­i­nated for­mat, in came the R5 era with open tyres and IMS man­age­ment.

The re­turn to four-wheel drive has pro­duced some thrilling ac­tion on some of Bri­tain’s best roads. It also fea­tured some of the best driv­ers, with El­fyn Evans dom­i­nat­ing in the top class, while the likes of Ju­nior cham­pion Rob Dug­gan also im­pressed. But has it worked? Is the series back for good?

With so many changes, MN has taken stock on where the BRC lies, and whether it’s on the right track to­wards fu­ture suc­cess.

The class struc­ture

Pretty much ev­ery ma­jor na­tional rally cham­pi­onship in the world has switched to an R5-at-the-front for­mula, and the BRC fol­lowed suit.

While R5 is ex­pen­sive, the up­take in 2016 was be­wil­der­ing for a first year: 23 cars reg­is­tered. Com­peti­tors have the chance to turn up and com­pete with sim­i­lar cars in any ma­jor na­tional cham­pi­onship in Europe – plus the World cham­pi­onship.

BRC cham­pi­onship man­ager Iain Camp­bell ex­plains: “We’ve had ev­ery type of R5 car built rep­re­sented, so I think that shows go­ing to R5 was the right de­ci­sion. Yes, the costs are high, but it’s high in any top class of motorsport. Why should we look to de­velop some­thing that’s dif­fer­ent from any other ma­jor na­tional cham­pi­onship in the world?”

Why in­deed. Many BRC con­tenders got the chance to com­pete on Wales Rally GB this year with WRC2 fron­trun­ners. The BRC for­mula gave them the chance to con­tinue from the do­mes­tic series and into the World cham­pi­onship seam­lessly.

The events

What’s a cham­pi­onship with­out good events? Not much, is the sim­ple an­swer.

All of the events in 2016 im­pressed in their own way. The Manx is a time­less clas­sic and pro­duced some of the best on-stage ac­tion, while the 19-mile The Glens stage on the Cir­cuit of Ire­land was a fire­cracker. But that’s no sur­prise. We hold the stages in the UK in high re­gard for a rea­son. As a na­tional cham­pi­onship, the BRC has the best se­lec­tion of gravel and as­phalt roads any­where in the world.

What has been lack­ing is the or­gan­i­sa­tion of events, in some cases. Mid Wales was a phe­nom­e­nal af­fair with al­most 30 R5 cars in at­ten­dance. But the ser­vice park was lo­cated within a busi­ness park, and must be im­proved if the BRC is to of­fer an im­pres­sive spec­ta­cle both on and off the stages.

The ‘Bo­gey­gate’ saga on the Carlisle Rally was per­haps the dark­est spot of the year. Mul­ti­ple com­peti­tors ex­ceeded the max­i­mum 70mph av­er­age speed and were given no­tional times on three stages, lead­ing to top driv­ers la­belling the rally “a joke”. The is­sue arose when or­gan­is­ers un­der­es­ti­mated the speed of the new R5s and didn’t plan a route ac­cord­ingly. The soft­ware is there to avoid that, and it cer­tainly de­val­ued the cham­pi­onship.

Let’s not for­get that events are run by vol­un­teers, so or­gan­i­sa­tion is its own chal­lenge. Camp­bell says: “A lot of the com­peti­tors came with ex­pe­ri­ence of the WRC or Euro­pean Rally Cham­pi­onship this year, so they had huge ex­pec­ta­tions as to what they felt [the events] should have been. That doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily match well.

“We’ve al­ready started meet­ing all the or­gan­is­ing teams for 2017 and the main el­e­ments that need lift­ing are the ser­vice parks, the starts and fin­ishes. We want to make an im­pact in all the re­gions we visit, not hide away.”

If the BRC is to at­tract over­seas en­trants and keep its home favourites, there’s room to im­prove. How­ever, the or­gan­i­sa­tion of the events is eas­ier to fix than the stages. If the stages are there, then the po­ten­tial for in­cred­i­ble events is too.

TV cov­er­age

Ob­tain­ing BT and Chan­nel 4 cov­er­age for the BRC this year was a huge scalp for the or­gan­is­ers. The Chan­nel 4 pro­gramme has been a par­tic­u­lar high­light, telling the story of the fron­trun­ning cars, per­form­ing at a pace never seen in na­tional ral­ly­ing.

What some have ques­tioned is the lack of cov­er­age of the lower classes. To a cer­tain ex­tent, it’s un­der­stand­able. But the cham­pi­onship is ap­peal­ing to a wider au­di­ence, and your av­er­age Joe won’t be taken in by a Vaux­hall Corsa in the same way they would by an on-song R5. It’s a dif­fi­cult trade-off.

How­ever, a minute or two ded­i­cated to the class win­ners wouldn’t de­stroy the qual­ity of cov­er­age, and may pull a few more of the so called ‘slower’ class en­trants out of the wood­work. If there’s any com­plaint you can have about the BRC this year, it’s the lack of pop­u­la­tion in the classes.

Ju­nior cham­pi­onship

One class that didn’t suf­fer in en­tries was the ju­nior cham­pi­onship. The pace of the BRC Ju­nior class was in­cred­i­ble.

Take Gus Green­smith. He didn’t run away with the two rounds he en­tered, and he was a con­stant fron­trun­ner in the Drive DMACK Tro­phy sup­port­ing the WRC this year. That means the BRC Ju­niors got a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of where they’re at com­pared to a qual­ity WRC driver.

“It was a strong pace,” says Green­smith. “Sin­dre [Fu­ruseth] and Rob [Dug­gan] es­pe­cially. The three of us were cov­ered fairly closely in Carlisle. JBRC’S not been too far off the DMACK [Fi­esta Tro­phy] pace.”

The prize of a sub­sidised en­try into the DMACK Fi­esta Tro­phy clearly at­tracted a few en­trants, and if it re­mains on of­fer next year then a few for­eign driv­ers will be tempted too, given this year’s pace.

Let’s also hope no driv­ers are in­tim­i­dated by the pace of this year’s crop, which wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing.

One item that could de­rail the Ju­nior cat­e­gory in fu­ture stems from the MSA seed­ing rule. As cars are seeded on per­for­mance, the cat­e­gory has had a dis­jointed feel this year. The ca­ma­raderie was there with the fron­trun­ning crews but the cars fur­ther back had less ban­ter and more late nights-early morn­ings. There’s no im­me­di­ate an­swer to that co­nun­drum, but hope­fully some sort of con­tin­ued prize struc­ture will keep the ju­nior crews com­ing back.

Next year and be­yond...

There’s clearly room to im­prove, but the BRC is cer­tainly on the right path. Mainly be­cause the or­gan­is­ers are lis­ten­ing and re­act­ing to the thoughts of com­peti­tors and stake­hold­ers.

Camp­bell is well aware the events need to im­prove cer­tain as­pects across the sea­son, and that there’s scope for chang­ing things even fur­ther.

“For us, 2017 is about learn­ing the lessons from this year,” Camp­bell adds. “Tweak­ing the for­mats and adding value. An evolution, not a rev­o­lu­tion.”

In­deed, the change of the Joker to five added points rather than a full dou­ble score should keep the points to­gether and al­le­vi­ate that prob­lem. Next year’s trip to Ypres in Bel­gium should help to at­tract the for­eign en­tries that the BRC will want, and need, to re­pop­u­late the top class as some crews in­evitably grad­u­ate.

Where the series could strug­gle is with the classes. The R3 class is dy­ing at WRC-level down, and the num­ber of those cars com­pet­ing is dwin­dling. Same for the R1 class, which has never been well pop­u­lated. BRC 2 is for Group N cars, which are prov­ing dif­fi­cult to at­tract to the BRC.

The re­al­ity is that top na­tional cham­pi­onships are af­fected by the WRC, and its bias is to­wards R5 and R2 with very few other class en­trants. Is that enough at na­tional level to sat­isfy or­gan­is­ers’ costs?

There’s a few unan­swered ques­tions as to how the classes at­tract en­tries, but on the whole, for a first year, the BRC has been talked about with ac­claim all over the world. That’s not an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. And next year, it will be go­ing abroad with the trip to Ypres, which should also help to at­tract for­eign crews.

The seeds have been planted. Only time will tell if the BRC is well and truly back for good. But for now, the signs are pos­i­tive.

R5 for­mula brought out 23 BRC 1 reg­is­tered cars in ’16

Events: Nicky Grist Stages suf­fered

Class cov­er­age: room for progress

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