28 Aug: Save Scottish Rallying

… Save Scottish Rallying – Stirling, 18th Aug 2019 …

It was like a scene out of Braveheart. The rallying of the clans. They had come from the Highlands, the Lowlands and the Islands, and they had gathered in a great hall within sight of the 12th century Stirling Castle and in the shadow of the William Wallace Monument. Ominous, or what?

Of course, I make light of it, but this was an unheard of assembly. The ‘Save Scottish Rallying’ meeting was called by competitors themselves. Over 130 folk answered the call.  There were so many folk it was hard to see who was there, and who wasn’t, but I reckon there were less than 40 active competitors – drivers and co-drivers. Of that number I recognised just three front running  drivers, one forest specialist and two from the world of Tarmac. The rest of the number comprised event organisers, other officials, quite a few marshals and trade reps plus a fair sized proportion were there just for a nosey.

They sat and they listened, they questioned and discussed, while opinions were offered and either accepted or refuted. Surprisingly only two swear words were heard during the afternoon – and one of those was from the Panel!

To formalise the affair, Roy Campbell chaired the mediating Panel comprising the Forest Rally and Tarmack Championship Co-ordinators, Gordon Adam and David Hatrick, Motorsport UK rep Iain Campbell and two of the meeting instigators, Neil Shanks and Iain Wilson.

Proceedings got off to a slow start with two presentations lasting an hour and 20 minutes. This showed a breakdown of where the sport is and how much it costs generally and per event specifically. To be fair to the throng they did listen intently and much was learned. Iain Campbell highlighted a number of issues including the fact that rally competition licence holder numbers have dropped by just over 1400 in the past 9 years.

In the early 1980s the total number of UK competition licence holders was around 36,000  and that figure is down to around 30,000 now.

Again, over the past 9 years, Iain noted that although the forest charge per mile of road used had risen by 38.9% and rally entry fees had risen by 36.42% compared with the ‘official’ Consumer RPI index at 30%.

On that basis, it’s not as if organisers and the FC are ripping off rally folk because Neil Shanks then took the floor and revealed the actual costs of staging a one day forest or tarmac rally. That gave most folk quite a shock. In fact it’s a real surprise that costs have been capped quite so effectively. Tied in with that cost breakdown was the increased H&S, general safety and Safety Plan requirements and personpower demands on rally organisers. More qualified Motorsport UK officials are needed (and have to be paid for), more marshals are needed (and more attractive incentives) and more time has to be spent on paperwork, liaising with relevant authorities and organising routes and venues. It was also pointed out that the vast majority of organising team individuals do not charge for their time and don’t claim expenses when carrying  out route recces or on-the-day duties. In other words, many volunteers are in fact subsidising the sport for the benefit of those who participate and those who watch.

Then it was on to the serious business – costs, calender and complexity. The questions came thick and fast including the ongoing contentious subject of ‘lifing’ of Safety equipment. Control tyres were discussed and discarded, race fuel and pump fuel summarily dealt with, seeding for 2WD and 4WD cars, a ‘clubman’ category with restricted modifications, relaxation  of the Cat2 rules on self-build competition machinery, variable price entry fees depending on car category, and of course Forestry charges which for the moment remain sacrosanct.

There was also a call for some form of ‘Formula Championship’, much like the old Peugeot 205 Challenge but not limited to one make of car. If a ‘budget’ lower-spec formula could be agreed then that might cap costs for those being introduced to the sport or moving up from the Junior 1000 ranks which at the present time can present parents with a problematic financial hurdle. A sort of ‘Road Car’ class with limited modifications.

However, there was widespread acceptance that the calendar needs to be rationalised. This year, 18 stage rallies were scheduled in Scotland and had to be fitted in with race meetings, hillclimbs and sprints, autosolos and autocross, navigational and targa rallies, not to mention the proliferation of Tours and Historic meanderings.

What they all have in common is the need for organisers, Officials and Marshals. That is perhaps the most worrying concern in the sport – ‘personpower’ and the need to attract, retain and enthuse the volunteers who ensure that events can happen. Folk in one branch of the sport tend to have a blinkered outlook when it comes to their own needs. Understandable perhaps, but when  you start looking at the total number of car club events, rallies and race meetings every weekend throughout the year, that places a huge strain on the marshalling ranks as a whole. These volunteers can only do so much, and always at their own cost. So it’s no wonder that it is becoming harder to attract marshals. Why travel to Argyll or Galloway for a day spent fighting off midges when you could have a less stressful time marshalling at a local autotest or hillclimb?

There was one other question to the floor from the Panel and that concerned media and media coverage, but what might have been a lengthy response was curtailed by the Chair and perhaps rightly so. This subject would merit a 5 hour meeting of its own to thrash out what is wrong with present media coverage and media access. Motor sport is ill served by the mass media and rallying much more so than racing, so there is need for improvements to be made and more positive coverage generated.  

With regard to event/championship Press Officers, there needs to be some form of guidance issued to help and advise what needs to be done and how, perhaps even a Motorsport UK nation-wide training scheme could be introduced alongside training for marshals, officials and organisers! If that’s not regarded as important or practical then the alternative is to engage professional help! Contentious, eh, but if we want to spread the word, perhaps a necessary consideration. Rallying as a sport is in serious need of promotion.

Over recent years the value of a strong Media presence has been overlooked to the point of neglect and the sport is paying the price now. We need a strong presence to counter what will be yet to come from the objectors and those seeking to limit automotive use to more ‘essential’ demands like shopping and school runs rather than sporting pleasure and endeavour.

Coincidentally, the Stirling meeting was filmed and recorded in  its entirety by BeckSport Media although whether the resultant production will ever receive a British Board of Film Classification certificate for public consumption and general release will ever be obtained is very doubtful. Given some of the personalities featured and opinions voiced, a PG rating will be the least of its requirements and perhaps even an ’18’ certificate which means it would be suitable only for adults!

Anyway, a detailed report on proceedings with ideas and suggestions will be dispatched to Colnbrook where Motorsport UK are already working on their own ideas. In the meantime, the Scottish Championships and clubs have resolved to sort out the calendar, address costs and attract new competitors and volunteers. Not an easy task given the vested interests at work.

As an exercise in democracy this initiative is to be welcomed, but if nothing happens then the natives may yet smear themselves with blue paint and reach for their claymores!