The Perilous state of North Wales Road Rallying

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That’s a big headline isn’t it, but I’m not sure there’s another way to describe it. So let’s look at the facts…

We’re 12 hours after the Gogledd has had to cancel due to only 35 or so entries (a clash with a WAMC round in South Wales possibly hasn’t helped there), we’re 48 hours away from the Bro Cader running with approximately 40 cars and 2 weeks after Rali Mon had 64 starters. There are myriad other examples, Firefly Novice 38 starters for instance…the real big recent success was the PK at 80 starters.

So what’s going on? Well it would be easy to say everyone has gone to targa rallies, 116 seeing 100 starters and numerous reserves being a good case in point. Daylight hours rallying, much easier on the nav and generally somewhat more laid back, but you still need a marshall and there is probably your answer. Friends and family are way more amenable to spending the daytime out rather than all night.

Costs, quite possibly having an impact. The requirement for e marked tyres has lead to an almost arms race across the entry list to get the best money can buy, gone are the days of using a reasonable road tyre or indeed a part worn gravel tyre bought for £20 a time and would last several events. It’s ironic really that the actual on event running costs for someone just out for fun are now very similar on a road or stage event (note I said on event running costs, not safety equipment costs!)

Now I’m road rallying through and through it’s where I started and there is something so special about lanes rallying in the dead of night, seeing a local event cancelled is heartbreaking as I know the huge effort Rhyl will have put in with a week to go, (and yes I know we withdrew our entry but that was because of unseen issues with the car ahead of Rally GB). Reading the comments on their page competitors were generously offering to pay more to ensure it ran, but unusually in this life it’s not always about the money.

A road event running a road rally permit (which costs around £17 per car), generally speaking needs 35 paid entries to break even, or cover the costs if you like. What road events really need is masses of marshalls, on average anything between 60 & 90. This is where a low entry really hurts an event, you can run the risk of running with endless code boards, but then you’ll face a none stop barrage of criticism that you had too many code boards, it’s a no win for the beleaguered organizer.

This is where I feel road rallying and clubs in general can take a leaf out of the historic scene/targa events. Ok a road rally doesn’t have tests, but there are sections. Lets say 9 on an average event.

There’s (depending on where you draw a geographical line) around 8-12 clubs in North Wales, a section on average might need 10 controls, you can see where I’m going can’t you?, if we as clubs and a region worked closer together we could supply as clubs a team of 10 per event.

Just take a moment to digest that thought, that’s a pool of 80-120 marshalls!! On a night event the no marshall/ no start is a deterrent to people entering there’s no two ways about that, but if we all worked together it could become a thing of the past.

There are huge benefits to the standard of marshalling too, in that there would generally be consistency throughout events with similar people doing each one. I do realise not everyone is going to be able to do every event incidentally.

 

Rallying to us within it seems a big deal and in many ways is (cost alone!), outside of our world it’s a small sport and one that we need to help from within. The days of parochial club attitudes need to be over and we need to work together to ensure the survival of probably the purest form of rallying left.

 

Let’s try and help it survive.

 

The desire to spend in Road Rallying

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On various social media platforms over recent weeks I’ve noticed more and more posts where relatively new crews (Novice/Semi) seem on a mission to burn cash…

I’ve news for you all DON’T !!

 

That’s a simplistic statement I know but let me quantify and we’ll see what we can save.

The only things in my opinion you need certainly upto decent semi expert level are:

A car, preferably caged with belts and some guards. Pop some reasonable uprated brake pads in and go and have some fun, but mostly gain experience.

That gaining experience doesn’t have the need for you to get:

£80 plus per corner tyres (you’ll need 6). A £40 a time Toyo is more than enough.

Proper spec suspension, let’s call it £500. Standard stuff has been developed by manufacturers for that car type, you won’t be able to over drive it for some time yet.

Nav clocks, £70+, nav lights £40+ .

A £10 stopwatch and a caravan striplight for £10. (I’ve heard of some navs refusing to sit in cars unless there’s a ruddy great LED clock fitted!!)

And don’t get me started on tripmeters in a road rally car !!

 

So in that little lot we’ve saved ourselves roughly at least 8 entry fees worth of money….that experience in the car is worth way more than buying those bits, useful bits for sure but not needed.

When I was lucky to win my first event, I used a cheap digital watch and a stopwatch around my neck, regular Poti, map and map board and a clipboard…Nothing more…it’s just not needed.

My second event driving (above), that Manta didn’t even have a sumpguard and the spots cost £20 from Motorworld…but it had a great nav and we were in the top 10.

 

It’s said time and again that the biggest factor on an event is the crew and upto semi level that’s even more true than in the Expert class. If you two can get to work as a team under pressure then you stand a better chance than those who are always a bit rusty. It’s no coincidence that the very best crews are out all the time and I can guarantee that if you did 8 events a year as a Novice you’ll be a Semi very soon, seat time = practice makes perfect.

 

My comments maybe a bit sweeping but it’s designed to make you think…keep it simple and go and have some fun!

It’s all about the plates…

A slight departure on my normal style, as it’s copy of my text from racingist.com. The stunning image below is courtesy of Ian Francis at IF Image Cymru

Me and Chris

 

It’s all about the plates…

For those of a certain age in rallying, the mention of number plates starting ‘K-AM’ would get the juices flowing…Sainz,Auriol and many many more have all graced products from TMG bearing those numbers.

So when the chance came to get in on the action and enjoy some of that feeling, who was I to say no! But I’m jumping ahead here, how did the TMG GT86 CS-R3 come to grace the first round of the reinvigorated 2016 British Rally Championship? Well it’s a journey that started in 2013 for Neil Yates from RallyPrep when he approached Toyota with a view to doing something. The conversations stalled for a while and then came alive roughly 12 months ago, then around September time I launched my company (Lightning House Ltd) and said to Neil let’s see if we can finalise this deal.

Fast forward to the week after Rally GB in November which saw Neil and Myself go out to Cologne to agree terms with TMG for 2016. As an aside if you ever can go their museum is superb…everything you could imagine from Toyota’s history is there including an early 90’s fully restored service barge, WOW!

Why were we so keen on CS-R3, well it’s the only homologated R3 class car that is rear wheel drive, has 235 bhp and masses of sideways, what’s not to like !

We had the pleasure of announcing the deal at Autosport 2016 and then it was all hands on deck. Possibly time to put some myths to bed also, it is a full factory car, Toyota have registered as a manufacturer in 2016 and it will almost certainly be seen again very soon. All happy..very good, now on with the fun. Autosport was a great show as we also arranged a deal with Pirelli and those great guys at HRX racewear, (how good do those overalls look!)

As part of the deal we agreed to host a promotional day before the event, Ryan Champion kindly agreed to come down and set her up, but my mind started thinking who else might fancy a go…GT86 is rear wheel drive so former British Historic champion Julian Reynolds seemed a good choice as was Terry Brown, then I thought who could we get who would really enjoy it but also have a nice link to Toyota’s history…well Dai Llewellin of course (along with son Ben). All had a go and all loved it, a car it was easy to get in and extract fun from immediately. Oh and Dai? Well it would seem rude not to have a run with him, and wow that box was fully ticked from childhood memories, what a guy he is.

 

So the event, I’ve not mentioned our driver have I? When we were thinking of bringing it over we wanted someone who is well known and an exponent of sideways, that man was an easy choice in the form of one of my regular drivers, motoring Journalist Chris Harris. We actually didn’t know when we set the deal up that he had a Top Gear role, and found out much the same as the rest of the world.

 

The event:

The recce wasn’t great for us due to the challenging weather (snow) and indeed by nearly midday we hadn’t touched a stage. Therefore we made the decision to decamp and go through the DVD instead. The real event heroes were the marshalls for standing out in that weather which appeared on and off over the weekend.

Saturday dawned bright and clear although snow was still laying on the hills. An interesting day of various media events (which saw me interviewed by Colin Clark…quite the honour) before the meat of the action in the early evening.

That first stage in the dark was to be a baptism of fire , Chris’s first stage in the dark and 16 miles of Hafren to contend with. A stage I must admit I love as it has a bit of everything in there with a changeable surface that favours the brave. Chris was driving really well until about 9 miles in when the car stuttered and then stopped at 10 miles. Sadly the little race battery had cried enough and decided it didn’t want to play. Thus end of day one for us…funny story though. We’re right in the middle of the forest, it’s not an easy place to reach when out of the darkness suddenly a voice shouts, ‘Brynmor, it is you isn’t it’..There appears Darren Garrod (Mark Higgins co-driver)…as if that’s wasn’t weird enough he then introduces me to Antoine L’estage (multiple Canadian champion). Rallying really is a small world.

 

Sunday was a new day and we approached it with added vigour to do a decent job for the team and the fans, the first stage of Pikes Peak was really awesome, CS-R3 was in it’s element up the hairpins and the fans were literally hanging off the banks to cheer us on, we’d expected a reaction but not this. Myherin then followed which was a tricky stage with cars off everywhere , but I must say Chris was driving superbly, very much being a rally driver and playing the car beautifully. We’d also got a nice rhythm going with the notes which is also very rewarding. Trip to service saw a general check over and some new rubber and out again. SS5 was a repeat of SS1 from last night and sadly we didn’t reach Sweet Lamb again, a crew in a Subaru had a huge accident on what is known as ‘Mcrae’s ‘ coming over from Hafren into Sweetlamb and the stage was stopped. Fingers crossed they’re both well.

There then followed the final stage which was Pikes Peak in reverse (so down the hairpins)…Chris was again doing brilliantly, I was also impressed with all the Snowmen in there, kudos to the builders. All too soon it was over and back to the finish . Finishers awards, Sort Oil vouchers for Chris and spraying the bubbly for a class win (in my eyes, thanks Harris).

All in a superb experience and hopefully something that gave fans a different shape to enjoy on the stages. As a package CS-R3 is superb and you can tell it’s been built by such an iconic brand.

There will be several in the UK by the end of the year I’m sure and if you have any enquiries please contact Neil Yates at www.rallyprep.co.uk or myself at bryn@lightninghouse.co.uk and we’ll see if we can help.

Thanks to TMG, Pirelli, HRX racewear, RallyPrep and Lightning House Ltd. Not forgetting the service team of Neil,Kev,Graham and Dave.

 

 

 

 

John Horton

I’ve been promising to fire up the blog for some time and had indeed put a few pieces together , however the sad news that John passed away earlier today made me change the piece i’m publishing…

Within Rallying we’re blessed with Iconic imagery and Competitors, but very rarely do the people on the fringes become one of those iconic figures.

There’s a sense of irony that if you look back for that classic mid 70’s film of the Castrol/Autosport series won by David Stokes, who we only lost himself in the last two weeks, do you see Stokesy in conversation with a chap in a Dunlop shirt…that chap was John Horton. A man who covered so many different bases within Motorsport and more specifically rallying he really came into my conscience in the early 90’s.

The British Rally Championship needed a reinvention and the man charged with running it was John. As a teenager I sat and watched enthralled at forums and podium ceremonies as this bearded , bespectacled man held court with a smile and a friendly manner with all the heroes of our sport. This man had the ultimate job to any fan and I always wondered how one would go about getting such a thing.

I lost track of John for many years until the late 00’s , then with various drivers I sat with got back in touch so to speak.

But the moment when I really ‘got’ John was at David Winstanley’s funeral ironically almost two years ago to the date . He gave the main eulogy and recounted tales of the impoverished racer coming to Dunlop in Birmingham to ‘do a deal’…however it was the fact John choked up and got emotional when talking of David, I realised this was a person with heart and soul.

This brings me full circle to our own rally forums and it was a sense of pride and shock that in 2013 John openly got in touch and offered some hints and tips to make it a success, this from the man i’d looked up to for so long.

In 2014 John and I both tried to get Jimmy McRae to come along , it was the selfless John who asked Jim on our behalf initially before handing over the contact that saw Jim come in 2015. John came along with friends in 2014 to enjoy the evening and have a ‘night off’ as he put it…

People wouldn’t have realised that in 2015 he was there again working in the backroom helping with TV interviews for the event team …and it was after these finished he grabbed my arm and said ”Bryn you’ve cracked it, it’s superb”…that to me was worth the world, I’ve not told anyone what John said as it was between us, but that was the measure of the man, and I feel that it’s now fair to share it.

If in what I do i’m half as good as John then i’ll be a happy man.

It’s ironic that the man with such a huge heart for rallying should be taken from us by that wonderful heart he possessed…

Rest well John, we’re going to miss you.

Consider a modern car perhaps?

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I can see the locals running down from the hills, pitchforks in hand, flaming torches glowing bright..they’ve heard there’s a witch in the valley, spreading strange thoughts to their young and trying to change decades of their thinking…that witch thinks they should consider something other than a Mk2 Escort !! Shock Horror….
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Now I’ll make something very clear , I do like Mk1/2 Ford Escorts ( I’ve owned 4) , however UK rallyings obsession with a model that last rolled off the production line over 34 years ago is bordering on unhealthy .

The Historic series are great , and only a fool would deny that a BDG on full tilt is music to the ears, but at what price ?

What if I was to say for the price of the aforementioned new build mk2 , you could have a 65 plate rear wheel drive , fully homologated R3 rally car (GT86) and go and do almost any event in the world ? Food for thought isn’t it….

But I forget , with a MK2 you can work on them at home can’t you? Well nearly all the top historic cars have a lifed engine , box, axle etc . I’ve done a bit with an R5 Fiesta recently and it’s no different , outside of lifing ,everything can be done from home , OK they’re not cheap to buy in any shape or form but what a car .

I’ve also rallied a lot recently in R2 Fiestas, what a great little car . For between 20-25k you get proper canister suspension, a great little sequential box, really nice shell/cage build and again that ability to enter any event internationally. In the case of the R2 Fiesta they’re also competitive in the open 1600 class, (one has won the B10 section of BTRDA this year).

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Modern options are endless, just coming to the end of it’s homologation, the ST Fiesta is also a great little car, and could be picked up for around 10-12K. There are people spending double that on road rally cars, that’s absolute madness in my mind.
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Totally understand true budget clubman rallying where you can be out on the stages for say 4k, no problems with that whatsoever, I also have an understanding that people want to emulate the cars they grew up with. So for many the MK2 Escort is the car of their youth, but what I don’t understand is the slavish worshipping at the Church of the Escort, so many people are buying BDG’s but really there’s only maybe 8 people in the uk who could win an Historic round in one. Think outside your comfort zone guys, you’ll be surprised you’re missing…

I like Historic cars don’t get me wrong, and over the years they’ve been very kind to me, but for the historic of the future to thrive we need to embrace the current crop of cars.

British Rally Championship 2016, you really need to be there

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Not once yesterday did I hear the phrase many of us have come to dread over the past few years , ‘ladder of opportunity’. Tuesday 13th October saw the second of the new British Rally Championship open days, this time held at the M-Sport test facility of Greystoke forest in Cumbria.

I’ve touched on the new BRC before but after yesterday I’m sold on the concept. It would be pertinent from the start to be clear a series like the BRC is never going to be ‘cheap’ to do properly, BUT, in comparison to other offerings it would certainly be a cost effective proposition.

BRC Manager Iain Campbell hit the nail on the head when he used the British Touring Car Championship as a comparison. When the fan in the street turns up at Oulton Park or Thruxton etc, 99% of the time they will know that they’re going to see the same bunch of hard chargers year in and year out, and nobody minds that because the Plato’s and Shedden’s are putting on a real hard charging show.

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The teams in the BTCC have a certain amount of stability, which is almost unheard of in Motorsport and the sponsors (whilst not wholly queueing up), love the fact their guests and brand can be showcased on such a platform.

Long term there is no reason why BRC can’t to a degree replicate that formula, David Bogie could easily become Shedden and if one of the family Higgins returns there’s your Plato (sorry Mark/David but you know what I mean I’m sure!). Plus the plethora of hard chargers who are joining the ranks will be aiming to topple them from their mantle.

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I’ve waffled on a little there but the meat of the championship equates to, seven events, four Gravel and three Asphalt . Gravel will be around 70 miles, Asphalt will be around 120 miles in length. For those like myself who’ve missed the days of the old ANCRO series the new BRC event mileage basically replicates it exactly, but also 2 pass recce on gravel and regular format on Asphalt. So many UK crews have never written their own notes, this will be invaluable.

I know I mentioned the ‘ladder of opportunity’, whilst it’s not being used like confetti of previously there are age cut off point for junior’s set below ERC and WRC which should the crew wish they can make the step, but to be clear that isn’t the sole aim of the series.

From a personal point of view and talking with several people it’s what we’ve all been missing, decent length events with a recce and a ‘feel good factor’ that just hasn’t existed for a good few years.

Although we’re five months away from round one, I’d say now, don’t judge the series on 2016. There are an awful lot of interested parties from crews to manufacturers who are watching from the sidelines to see if it is a success, no doubt they may dip their toes during 2016 but it will be 2017 when we can get a real feel for the series.

As a fan I’m enthused, as a sometime journalist the battles will be like manna from heaven to report on, as a co-driving competitor….who wants me ?? See you in Wales come March 2016.

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