13 Apr: Motorsport UK & Rallying

Worrying times … It’s not just the current national public health situation which is worrying nor is it just the cessation of our sport in our leisure time, but the longer term future. Last November Motorsport UK published its 2020 Investment Strategy (see Link 1 below), but with one third of its staff now on furlough that might just be delayed somewhat.

Earlier this year came another proclamation. In February they published a guide on how to get started in rallying where potential newcomers were urged not to spend too much money on their cars and kit (see Link 2 below). That struck a chord in the pockets of rallyists right across the country. Over the years the governing body has sought to restrict the use of ‘clubman’ cars and home-built ‘specials’ urging competitors to go down the ‘homologated’ route whilst kit prices have gone through the roof due to ‘lifeing’ and additional mandatory safety requirements. So it’s difficult to advocate thrift when costs are continually rising.

The latest missive from the south is an offer of access to a £1m fund to support clubs (see Link 3). That sounds great in print, but what does it actually mean in practice. Motorsport UK is offering to financially assist clubs which have been affected by the shutdown, but only after they have exhausted all other means of funding through central government and regional Sports Councils.  As I see it, the only clubs who may benefit are those which employ staff or are working as limited companies. For the majority of the other amateur clubs there is no access to that central funding. Here in Scotland we might have had a chance through the Edinburgh based Scottish Motor Sports – but oh, wait a minute, Motorsport UK have pulled out of that partnership so it is no longer available to us.

Admittedly we shot ourselves in the foot with that one. We didn’t make full use of it while it was there and you only have to look at the disappointing numbers of clubs and individual who participated in the SMS club development schemes. Nor did we as a collective body seek to sit down with SMS and tell them what was needed and suggest different actions they could take to work with us. After all, the Scottish car clubs had the relevant sporting experience and the SMS staff had the expertise to help us deliver our needs.

For instance, look what the Welsh clubs have achieved with their Rally4Wales forest management scheme. Their cause may well have been aided by the added political encouragement of the annual WRC counter which brought a financial injection and worldwide publicity to the nation, but that was still quite an achievement. We could learn a lot from their example, but we don’t have a WRC counter!

What we do have is a number of forest and closed road events around the country which individually generate financial income and awareness for their respective areas, but lack national appeal – unless we all work and pull together. We are fast losing access to some forests because other sports are seeking exclusive access.

Given his early rallying background there were hopes for more with DR in charge, but the biggest decision the new-look Motorsport UK has made so far is selling off the Colnbrook site and moving to a ‘cheaper’ location at Bicester. Of more concern is that the new location is even more in the heart of motor racing country while those who prefer action in the forests and on closed roads are still rather more remote.

Much work has also been done on the governing body’s finances and whilst we may not like it, it has certainly put the brakes on past profligacy and misdirection. The sport simply couldn’t have lasted much longer the way things were being run. It’s not just a sound financial basis we need, an equally strong and informed leadership is vital if we are to protect rallying.

Neither is separation the answer, but devolution offers a chance to create a strong representative body and work WITH Motorsport UK to achieve our joint aims. In the absence of SMS, perhaps the Scottish Association of Motor Sport Clubs might provide a way forward? But like everyone else they too are struggling for new blood and willing volunteers. What would be beneficial is if a core group could be established covering  each discipline to try and find a joint approach to our problems. If anyone is critical or sceptical of such a move, what is their answer? And would they volunteer?

First task on the agenda would be to get individual clubs and organising teams to work together. No easy task! The SRC has a committee as does the STRC, but from an outsider’s point of view, many of these teams still put their own club and event interests first, way ahead of the sport’s collective interests.

As I see it we’ve got 8 months to concentrate efforts and ensure that there is a 2021 rallying season.

I’ll probably get shot down for this outburst – so be it. Fire away.