“Any seeding change would be too late”
It was Mark Twain who termed the phrase “lies, damned lies and statistics” and he was right. But the numbers currently in my mind tell of a crisis in UK gravel rallying. It is right here, right now, but is anyone taking any notice? To quote another idiom, “we are fiddling while Rome burns”.
Let me just get my soap box out from underneath the desk. Right, while there are many factors surrounding the current crisis, it is my firmly held view that one topic is doing the most damage: running order.
As I write this, the entry lists for the Cambrian and Red Kite are open and, to put it kindly, neither are breaking records. Both events kick start the seasons for championships that prospered in an era when the smaller/older/less powerful cars ran at the head of the field and enjoyed the best of the road conditions. For the BTRDA Rally Series it was the 1400s and for the MSA British Historic Rally Championship it was the Category 1 and 1600cc cars.
Let’s look at some actual numbers. In 2015, when the Wyedean was the BTRDA opener and split fields were still allowed, the event started 58 1400s and 109 cars in the main field. A year later, the Cambrian was the season-starter running a single field and took around 140 entries, though only 124 finally started. By last Thursday the Cambrian entry stood at 118, including just 22 1400s, and could now shrink with withdrawals rather than grow with more entries.
A week later in February will be the Red Kite, which started 106 cars in 2015 and 119 last year. The three-way split field in 2015 included 21 Category 1 and 1600cc historics, yet by last week the count was nine cars in a total entry of 31 historics and 21 moderns.
Earlier this week I chatted to a respected historic competitor and he continues to be furious over the way that changes to the running order were implemented on safety grounds. I share his view that it was a change pushed through by one or two influential individuals and based on a flawed argument.
Even a change back to split fields for 2018, should it happen, may be too late as gravel rallying is currently hemorrhaging competitors. We recently lost the Mid Wales Stages, albeit not directly related to split fields, when a hardpressed organising club took the entirely sensible view that the finances of running a major gravel rally just did not stack up.
Finally, please do not let this current situation point at Rally4wales and the new deal for re-grading the roads in Wales. Without the vision, dedication and commitment of the R4W team, things would be much, much worse.
Category 1 rallying is suffering from seeding