HOW EVANS CONQUERED REBORN BRITISH RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP
THE REVAMPED BRC SHOOK UP NATIONAL RALLYING IN 2016
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.
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.
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.
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