02 Mar: Snowman Rallython

The Virtual Snowman ‘Rallython’ 2021 – March 6th

March 6th 2021 should have been the day that the Highland Car Clubs Snowman Rally once again roared into life in the forests of the North of Scotland, kicking off the Scottish Rally Championship year and entertaining the thousands of spectators who follow it each year.

The Coogie Urquhart Snowman in 2020 was held shortly before the pandemic and in doing so became the only gravel rally event to have been held in Scotland last year. But the ongoing pandemic and its restrictions this year, have made it impossible to run the Snowman Rally for only the third time in its sixty-six years of history.

When the Highland Car Club committee met (online of course!) to discuss the inevitable event cancelation, they had the idea not to let the pandemic beat them – and turn a negative situation into a positive one.

And this is where the idea came instead to host a very special and unique Snowman Rally event – a full day of online activity to celebrate all six decades of Snowman Rally’s, and all those who have been involved during those years – all to raise funds for charities who need help to support those most in need during this pandemic.

The ‘Virtual Snowman Rallython 2021’ is packed full of unique activities that celebrate the history and stories from over six decades of the rally. From the clubman competitors that are the core of the Snowman Rally – to the Champions who have competed over the years and thrilled us, to all those people whose involvement in running the rally has made the event possible and to become one of the UKs longest running and most iconic rallies.

Over the years the Snowman has established itself as the traditional start of season event in the Scottish Rally Championship and has always been one of the most popular events in the series, attracting entries not only from the Highlands, but from across Scotland and beyond.

The Snowman rally has always had the interests of the clubman competitors deep in its routes and its history, but the event has also through the years attracted many high-profile competitors and teams who have gone onto success in the elite levels of the sport including two competitors who went onto be future world champions.

On the day the event will have unique ‘Snowman Rally’ contributions which include interviews with rallying legends such as Ari Vatanen, Jimmy McRae, David Richards, Alistair McRae, Andy Dawson, John Davenport, David Sutton, David Nicolson and Frank Kelly to name just a few, as well as contributions from many SRC and local competitors from over the years.

The Snowman however goes beyond just the competitors, its success has also been down to the organisers behind the scenes, the marshals who have helped the event run smoothly, the service crews who kept the competitors going, and the thousands of spectators who each year flock to the stages and create the special atmosphere that accompanies the event. Throughout the day these ‘champions’ will also be celebrated with many stories and features.

Throughout the day there will also be lots of rarely seen photos, videos and special articles posted from the various decades, as well as many unique features and activities specially made for the day which include:

  • A Virtual Snowman Rally ‘DIRT’ competition event which sees over a hundred competitors across three classes take part in an online rally.
  • A limited-edition HCC Snowman Rally T Shirt from the 1976 event, which has been personally endorsed by Ari Vatanen, featuring the famous Maurice Selden photo of Ari competing in that year’s event.
  • A blind auction of two original prints of the Ari Vatanen photo, and a spectacular one of Colin McRae’s first WRC victory in New Zealand. These original prints have been kindly donated and signed by Maurice himself, and will feature as a blind auction on the day to raise money for the charities.

The day is also importantly about everyone’s participation, sharing stories, photos or videos, through the Highland Car Club Facebook page for all to enjoy – and all to help raise funds through a ‘Virtual Snowman Rallython just giving page’ for the good causes that are being supported to help those most affected by the COVID 19 pandemic.

A full digital programme of the event will be shared in the days leading up to the event – giving more details of what promises to be an action-packed spectacular day, with a lot of fun and all for good causes who greatly need support in these times.

Being an online event – the Highland Car Club looks forward to welcoming all rally fans, from wherever they are to join the event virtually to celebrate the iconic Snowman Rally.

To find out more about the event and to participate in the day on March 6th, sign up to follow The Highland Car Club Snowman Rally Facebook page.

24 Feb: Forestry England Future

… Forestry England Motorsports Review …

JB recently published the full 11 page 3,000 word Forestry England Motorsports Review – Executive Summary document on these pages. And whilst it would appear that forest rallying is safe for the moment it was not exactly fulsome in its support while indicating that the pricing structure would have to be re-assessed. Mention was also made of how the sport fits into the future of Forestry England plans, both financial and environmental, and how the organisation is perceived by the wider public.

Much has now been written on its contents by more learned journalists and published in more august and esteemed journals and it all seems pretty positive. However, I wonder just how many folk have actually read the full 75 page, 22,000 word Report itself and not just the Exec Summary. JB has read the full document and is not quite so reassured. Cynic? Sceptic? Or just realist?

The main report was compiled by a company called Rural Solutions Ltd who are headquartered in Yorkshire. It is a very comprehensive report and the company’s conclusions were informed by both a stakeholder and public consultation process. Public response generated 1680 email responses, 633 of which related to Rallying and 982 from motor cycle Enduro and Trials followers. Eleven car clubs also responded to the questionnaire.

Not a great response, is it? Consider the fact that the Forestry England estate attracts some 235 million visits per year where as it is estimated that “the footfall generated by motorsport during 2019 attending a total of 19 rallies, 28 enduros and 13 trials was 27,130”.

If that figure is correct, motor sports visitors account for 0.01% of FE’s total individual visits. Kind of puts us firmly in our place in the pecking order, eh? According to Rural Solutions they “used data supplied by MS UK and the MSA Rally Championship Steering Group and the ACU”, although there is no mention of how those numbers were assessed and compiled.

On the finance front, the average total income generated by motorsports is in the region of £300,000 to £400,000 per annum with expenditure of £300,000 to £350,000 which suggests an overall contribution to the forest estate as somewhere between £50,000 and £100,000. The concern here is that FE does not record accurate repair costs following each individual event but they have indicated that this is a matter which will be addressed  so that they can come up with an more accurate ‘true’ figure. And, according to the Report: “Motorsports appear to be at odds with FE’s financial sustainability objectives”.

Another concern is public opinion. Apparently many forest visitors are of the opinion that motor sport should be not be accommodated or tolerated within the forests, on the grounds of pollution, noise and wildlife disturbance. However, FE’s own studies have found that wildlife disturbance is minimal whereas other forest activities can be more detrimental. On the issue of pollution both Rural Solutions and FE are well aware that more automotive pollution is caused by the huge numbers of visitors travelling to and from the forests in their own vehicles than by motor sports participants and their followers!

Again the Report states: “Motorsport is an activity which is difficult to justify against the environmental objectives of Forestry England and therefore if these activities are to be permitted, there is a strong argument that they should demonstrate a step change in the adoption of more environmentally sound practices”.

More ominously, the Report states: “Forestry motorsport is a niche activity undertaken by a small and consequently minority forest user group”.

And it’s not just forest rallying that should heed these words. Closed road rallying could well be affected in the not too distance future by wider public opinion. Just try telling the dis-interested man in the street that football uses more natural resources and expends more pollution than motor sport and all he will see is a car speeding past running on petrol.

In other words, motor sport itself should be looking at ‘cleaner’ vehicles, and also activities which will cause less (expensive) damage to the roads.

The Report concludes with three options – Stop, Continue or Evolve & Adapt.

The first option is self explanatory – The current agreements with MSUK and the ACU would not be reinstated and motorsports on the Forestry England Estate would not resume.

The second Option is just to carry on as before – only that would appear not to be acceptable.

Which leaves the third option, to Evolve & Adapt – That means to allow the sports to continue, but in an evolved manner in an adapted format.

For their part Forestry England would be prepared to consider the zoning of specific  forests or areas within larger forests for exclusive motor sports use. So it’s not just motor sporters who have to come up with ideas, FE are being pro-active.

Perhaps the main idea behind this approach is one of containing costs. Wales now has its own successful system in place where one approved private contractor is maintaining forest rally roads, but that will only work in Wales due to the relative close proximity of forest areas. Such an option wouldn’t work in England where the main rallying areas are Kielder, the Lake District, Yorkshire and the South West. Such distant areas would work against the economics and logistics of one operator transporting the necessary equipment around the country. It’s the same in Scotland where the main forested areas are even further spread out.

Hence Motorsport UK is calling for our ideas, suggestions and contributions regarding how the sport can be adapted from the present format whilst retaining the adventurous and exciting challenge that it has traditionally offered, and also, what can be done to the ‘tools of the trade’, i.e. cars, to make them more environmentally acceptable and less damaging. On this final point that means electrical or alternative fuelled propulsion and less surface damaging technology.

Only 633 folk out of 27,130 possibles responded to the initial call for submissions during last year’s public consultation process. On that basis the sport didn’t do itself any favours. It’s all very well saying few people knew about it, or blaming who did and didn’t spread the word. The deed is done, the clock is ticking. Unless we can come up with something that Motorsport UK can support.

And where Forestry England goes, Forest & Land Scotland will take an interest.

Change is already underway. The Government has decreed that no more petrol and diesel fuelled cars should be sold for private use after 2030 while automotive manufacturer Jaguar has stated that all of its cars will be electrically driven by 2025. And Ford, that long time supplier of great rallying machinery, will stop selling petrol and diesel vehicles by the end of the decade.  Doubtless, more will follow.

A final word – aimed at the politicians and decision makers – if only 13% of Great Britain is forested, that makes us one of the most de-forested nations in the world after centuries of weapon making, pit props and shipbuilding. What then gives us the right to criticise other nations for burning trees and clearing forests for arable production? We should be planting more trees and creating more forests, should we not? The current forested estate across the whole of Great Britain is a seriously undervalued national asset.

Many of rallying’s ‘auld gits’ are already bemoaning the fact “We have seen the best of rallying” but that’s no reason to give up. We have to provide some legacy and future for our kids and grandkids – do we not?

15 Feb: Obituary – Bill Taylor

William Dickson Taylor, 1938 – 2021 Scottish rallying will be saddened to learn of the passing of William Dickson Taylor, better known as Bill to a certain ‘older’ generation of fans and followers. The current generation won’t recognise the name as he wasn’t a flamboyant, outspoken or controversial character. Bill […] Read more »

12 Feb: Forestry England – Review

FORESTRY ENGLAND – MOTORSPORTS REVIEW 1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1.1: Forestry England have commissioned Rural Solutions Ltd. to undertake an independent  review of motorsports in the nation’s forests in order to inform decisions as to the  future of motorsports in these settings . 1.2: Forestry England periodically review the operation and […] Read more »

12 Feb: Forestry England Review, P2

… OPTIONS & OPPORTUNITIES … 1.14: In  order to determine the right future for motorsports and Forestry England, consideration has been given to the options available to balance those competing influences. There are three main options to consider: 1. Stop – The agreements with MS UK and the ACU are […] Read more »

12 Feb: Forestry England Review, P3

… CONCLUSION … 1.29: There is evidence to support a range of social and economic benefits derived from motorsport, albeit that those impacts are relatively small when considered as part of the wider Forestry England socio-economic impact. Forestry England recognises these benefits, and the legacy relationship between motorsports and the […] Read more »