06 May: The future is electric?

… Opinion, based on a Column written for the weekly ‘Motorsport News’ …

There was a feeling at the end of the recent McDonald & Munro Speyside Stages Rally that this year’s KNC Groundworks Scottish Rally Championship was now properly underway, at last.

The disappointment of the cancellation of the opening round Snowman Rally had been forgotten while the extreme wild and wintry weather on the subsequent Border Counties had dampened memories. That the event ran so well under such difficult circumstances is testament to the efforts of the organising team and the stoic endurance of the Marshals.

However, the warm sunshine glinting on chrome and paintwork, and clouds of atmospheric stoor in the stages on the Speyside – and no midges – seemed to lift the spirits and herald a renewed beginning.

What we had in prospect was a one day ‘National’ rally with 10 stages which ensured constant and close competition throughout the day, and we weren’t disappointed. That was indeed a grand day out and the prefect advertisement for the attractions and appeal of a forest rally.

We have the quality, but perhaps what’s lacking is the quantity. There has been a noticeable decline in entries on forest rallies over the past three years. That is a worrying trend.

Many factors have been blamed, not least of which the rising price of cars and running costs, entry fees and on-event expenses, lack of qualified Marshals and certified Officials, forestry charges and availability of suitable forest roads, not to mention too many events on the calendar.

It all adds up to a serious threat to the future of forest rallying as we know it. Are we witnessing the decline of a sport which has the power to excite and thrill like few others?

Perhaps there is an answer. Reduce the number of events to make those that are left more appealing. Chatting with regular co-driver Heather Grisedale, who was acting as Pirelli Rally Service Area Co-ordinator at the weekend, she raised the idea there might be currently too many forest rallies.

She suggests the present number of clubs and rallies remain the same, but they alternate on an annual basis. For instance, the Border Counties Rally could use Kielder one year and the Pirelli use it the next, thereby sharing out the available forests while reducing the number of events. Of course the answer is not quite that simple, but the idea is worth considering, is it not?

Now, I have to admit, I interrupted Heather while she was having ‘breakfast’ purchased from the on-site and well known ‘Two Jays’ catering unit, which prompted another thought – should we consider the opinion of someone whose idea of the perfect rally butty is a breakfast roll filled with sausage, black pudding AND mushrooms? And no brown sauce!

With a new found and growing interest in ‘closed road rallying’ should we be more concerned about the future of forest rallying?

Of even more concern are government plans, both at national UK level and the Big Hoose at the foot of the Royal Mile, concerning the future of diesel, petrol and gas powered cars.

Scottish plans currently include the phasing out of such new vehicles by 2032 whilst they develop and “massively expand” the electrical charging point network across Scotland. Makes you wonder where all these charging points will be located – certainly not in the forests! On a wider level, the UK Government has set its sights on 2040 as the deadline for our ‘conversion’.

On a more positive note, battery and re-charging technology is progressing at a huge rate with new solid state batteries coming along fairly soon which will reduce the fire risk, but might still give you an awfy shock (not just at the price) if you touch a live terminal. Although that does raise more questions regarding the ‘Health & Safety’ aspect of such technology in remote places, and whether landowners will put up with it. Marshals and Officials will also have to be trained to deal with accidents, not to mention spectators keen to help when things go wrong.

No doubt ‘the activists’ will seize on motor sport as a prime candidate for censure, completely ignoring the plain and simple fact that EVERY sport relies on cars, vans and trucks for its continued wellbeing. Whether transporting competitors and their kit to and from training and events, spectators to and from stadiums and venues, not to mention the sponsorship and equipment infrastructure required to stage major attractions, everyone will have to make sacrifices. No doubt those who shout loudest and have the biggest support will get preferential treatment over the ‘minority’ sports.

Our sport faces tough and uncertain times ahead, and this is something that will have to be addressed, not just by Motor Sport UK, but also by the Edinburgh based Scottish Motor Sports organisation and the Scottish Association of Motor Sport Clubs.

Now more than ever we need the right people in the right places. The battle lines are fast being drawn. Happy days, eh?