MILLIONS COULD BE INVESTED IN UK DRIVERS
Motorsport News can reveal details of Rally Team UK’S multi-millionpound bid to deliver the next generation of British rally stars to the World Rally Championship.
Details of the new initiative have been spreading since the new year – and were confirmed when the Rally Team UK name was launched on social media last week.
The intention is to offer several British drivers the opportunity to progress through the ranks in cars – four Hyundai i20 R5s and six Ford Fiesta R2TS – which will be purchased by Rally Team UK.
Chris Ingram and Rhys Yates look set to be the highest profile drivers with speculation that they could compete in WRC 2 under the RTUK banner. The other two Hyundais are reckoned to be set for the British Rally Championship, where they will be driven by Osian Pryce and Meirion Evans.
Competing in a variety of junior programmes, MN understands Tommi Meadows, James Williams, George Lepley, James Mcdermott, Gina Walker and Finlay Retson will be driving the M-sport-sourced Fiestas.
All the drivers – who have been issued with draft contracts – attended a meeting with Paul Curson, the man behind RTUK, and former Ford Motorsport director Martin Whitaker, who has accepted a role as the team’s CEO.
Whitaker said: “We have been working very hard on Rally Team UK for the last month. Unfortunately, Autosport International came just a little bit too quickly for us to make a full formal launch, but we have released the team name and some of the structure.
“I can’t talk about names of drivers because we’re still in the contract stage with them. I would expect to have news on the drivers in the very near future, in the next two weeks. We have a lot of work to do, the new season is right around the corner with the world and British championships starting very soon.”
Whitaker wouldn’t be drawn on the funding required for the immediate purchase of more than a million pounds’ worth of rally cars.
“All I can tell you is that the programme is funded out of the private sector,” he said.
MN understands Curson’s own rally car leasing firm is involved.
Whitaker underlined the importance of the project, adding: “The emphasis here has to be on the way we’re going about this, this is a fully-formed, funded and well-structured programme. It’s about giving youngsters a path on which they can develop themselves to move towards the top of the sport. And it’s not just about driving the car, Rally Team UK has all the necessary areas such as fitness, nutrition, media work and coaching covered.
“Britain has an amazing heritage in motorsport and we have produced some great drivers, but it’s been 20 years since Colin [Mcrae] and Richard [Burns] and we haven’t really had anybody at the top of the sport since then – that’s not a criticism, it’s a fact of life. We’ve had the talent, but they haven’t had the opportunity to actually get to the top.
“This is a very big investment in British rallying.”
The cars are expected to be run by Meirion Evans’ father Mel Evans, who runs his own eponymous preparation firm in Wales.
BRC manager Iain Campbell told MN: “We’ve seen some very successful driver management and development models around the world and it would be great if the UK could have one of its own. This is a fantastic opportunity for these drivers.”
Ingram, who scored a WRC 2 podium on his debut in the series in Turkey last season, said: “It’s very flattering to be offered a place in Rally Team UK and it’s definitely one of the options we’re looking at in the coming season.”
Yates was of a similar opinion. He added: “This is a really exciting opportunity for the future. What a prospect! And not just for me, but for rallying in Britain. It’s very exciting.”
Whitaker confirmed he had discussed the programme with Motorsport UK chairman David Richards as well as other leading figures in British rallying.
Loeb (above) was hurt by roadbook issues