Saturday, 19 January 2019

Rally - An Omen for 2019?

Toyota Gazoo Racing has scored its first 'rally' win of the 2019 season. The highly modified Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa Hilux claimed Toyota’s first victory in the ultra-gruelling Dakar rally. Nasser Al Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel successfully negotiated the tenth and final stage yesterday to seal a historic first victory for Toyota in one of the world’s toughest motorsports events.

Toyota Gazoo Racing SA led the car category of the 41st edition of the Dakar all the way with Qatari Al Attiyah heading the field from the third day. This year the event took place entirely within Peru and produced some of the most gruelling tests the rally has witnessed since locating in South America.

Al Attiyah, twice a previous Dakar winner, said: “We are so happy to win, not only for ourselves, but also for Toyota and the entire Toyota Gazoo Racing SA team. Everyone has worked so hard for so long and really deserve this.”

Team Principal Glyn Hall said: “This victory was long overdue. Winning the Dakar is never easy, there are a lot of people trying. This year’s race was no exception and it brought a rollercoaster of emotions and results for the team.”

The team recovered from an early setback when the Hilux of Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewtiz hit a rock in thick dust on stage three, and fell out of contention. Team-mates Bernhard ten Brinke and Xavier Panseri suffered a similar fate the following day, prior to retirement on stage eight.

De Villiers maintained his impressive record of top-10 finishes, coming home in ninth place. Since 2012, the team had posted five podium places and seven top-five finishes; Al Attiyah’s win comes after a second-place result in 2018.

The Hilux was also the first petrol vehicle in its class to take victory since the start of the Dakar’s South American era, being powered by a mid-mounted, normally aspirated V8.

An electrical fault cost Sebastien Loeb around 30 minutes in his privately entered Red Bull sponsored Peugeot during stage seven and he dropped out of contention.

Interest will now turn to Monte Carlo next week and the pressure will be on for Tommi Makinen's squad to do the business. No pressure, eh?

Dakar 2019 Leaderboard (Car) After Stage 10
1. Al Attiyah/Baumel (Toyota)
2. Roma/Haro (Mini) +46:42
3. Loeb/Elena (Peugeot) +01:54:18
4. Przygonski/Colsoul (Mini) +02:28:31
5. Despres/Cottret (Mini) +02:48:43
6. Prokop/Tomanek (Ford) +03:19:02

(Thanks to TGR SA for the pics)

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Rally - Hugh Chambers

There's a new man at the helm of British motorsport. In fact he's only been in the job little more than two months. Even so, I thought it would be interesting to have a chat with him if I could. Some folk thought it was a bit too early to have such a chat, but I thought differently. Having looked at what he has done and has achieved so far and knowing he was a pal of David Richards, I reckoned that he would have had a good gurry around and a serious think about the job before accepting such a challenge. I was right. He's actually been beavering away behind the scenes for nearly a year.

Nobody achieves success in such mass appeal and revenue driven sports as the World Rally Championship, Formula 1, Olympics and World Championship Cycling and Sailing without being good at the job, but then Hugh Chambers comes from, in my mind, an exalted bloodline. He's the son of Marcus Chambers, arguably the man who introduced professionalism and the desire to win (not just 'take part') in British motor sport.

I first became aware of Marcus Chambers when he was BMC (British Motor Corporation) Competitions Manager in the days when the Austin Healey 3000 as driven by Pat Moss and the Morley brothers was winning rallies, and also the car driven by my first rallying  hero, one Timo Makinen Esq. Later he went to work for the Rootes Group to help make the new Sunbeam Tiger competitive, and also the Scottish built Hillman Hunter that won the 1969 London-to-Sydney Marathon driven by a certain Andrew Cowan, Colin Malkin and Brian Coyle.

At this early stage I was more interested in his plans going forward, but even when I switched off the recorder he wanted to keep chatting and I only wish I could publish his 'off the record' comments. However, despite what some folk might think, I know when to keep my trap shut (at least most of the time) but I hope he will grant me another, and longer, interview six or 12 months down the line.
He did say that we shouldn't expect any big changes this coming year, but from 2020 onwards he would expect such change to begin to affect motor sport.

On that basis, the interview provides more of a general introduction to the man rather than an in-depth interrogation of what has to be done, but what we all have to bear in mind is that motor sport is under the biggest threat it has faced in years.

Rallying as we know it now is just about finished. That has nothing to do what has gone on in the past, but more a realisation of what lies ahead. As Hugh touches on in the interview, we are facing big threats from the anti-fossil fuel brigade, the gradual withdrawal of petrol and diesel as sources of energy and the introduction of electric motors and driverless cars, not to mention pollution, noise, the use of other resources, and access to forests and closed public roads. And then of course there is the increasing cost of participation, ever stricter domestic regulation and the need to attract new competitors, officials, Marshals and excite a new generation of spectators.

So what I have done is published the full Interview (in 3 parts!) in the on-line mag, virtually word for word, and let you all make up your own minds. I for one am encouraged. For the first time, the motor sports governing body in Britain has a commercial brain with experience of marketing, promotion and organisation at the helm. For too long motor sport's governing body has been led by lawyers and accountants to the detriment of the wider picture and the sport's development. Other sports have long left us behind as they evolved and adapted to modern times. For too long British motor sport has spluttered along with the handbrake still on. With a bit of luck the new management has now found out how to release the handbrake and work out which pedal is the accelerator!

But is it too little, too late? Fingers crossed, eh.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Rally - A worried man

A new year, new hopes, a new sense of purpose, (and a new bunnet!) and yet lurking deep in the background there is an inexplicable sense of foreboding and suspicion. And what occasioned such fears in the face of a new dawn of optimism and expectation? On approaching the brand new-look Motorsport UK stand at the Autosport Show a certain Scottish scribe was greeted with smiles and handshakes. No gritted teeth, sour looks, or uttered expletives. Everyone was pleasant. A most disconcerting turn of events indeed.

And yet there was a serious reason to be there. Prior to the Show I had asked (politely) if I may interview the newly appointed Chief Executive, Mr Hugh Chambers, and then held my breath. Back came the response: "How does 12 noon suit you?"

I had initially requested 10 to 15 minutes. As events turned out I spent over half an hour with the new Boss.

To those of you who might wonder what good an interview at this early stage might be, as he's only been in the job 2 months, I reckoned that given his background and experience here was a man who would have done his research before accepting this somewhat poisoned chalice. On that basis he would have a good idea coming in of where he wanted to go and how he was going to get there. I was right.

I started our chat by stating that I reckon his appointment is the most adventurous thing our governing body has undertaken since it devolved itself away from the Royal Automobile Club 40 years ago.

Anyway, the plan now is to write up the full interview and publish it on the on-line mag. Trouble is, it might turn out to be rather a long article so I'll need to split it up to make it palatable, but the intention is till to publish the full thing - except for the 'off the record' bits which I will respect.

Such a pity I couldn't publish those comments, but grateful that he shared them and it has further bolstered my view that motor sport in the UK still has relevance and more to the point a future. What I will say is that, if he gets his way we'd all better buckle up now, hang on and enjoy the ride - it might just be a wee bit bumpy.

I'll let you know when I publish the interview in the on-line mag.

Oh! the new bunnet? That was Lady Bunnet's idea, even the rats are refusing to chew the old one, so off with the old and on with the new. 

Friday, 11 January 2019

Rally - Tartan CARmy .

Call it what you like, automotive fanaticism or car porn, the Scots are drawn to shiny metal like midges to a busload of freshly arrived American tourists. On the opening day of Autosport International, the advance guard of the northern tribes were much in evidence at the NEC. In particular, the Densport stand proved to be the inevitable magnet, but it was rivalled this year by the NPL boys from Cookstown.

It is alleged that the NEC clean-up crews had to be armed with extra mops to clear up the drool and slevvers on the carpets from visiting rally fans at the stunning sculptural and mechanical beauty on display. What was once upon a time simply regarded as a small family shopping car has since been transformed into a rally car and Safari winner and become a cult phenomenon.

As for the rest of the show, there was a distinct lack of rally content compared to past years, so on that basis perhaps the RaceRetro event at Stoneleigh Park on the 22-24 February might offer a bit more variety and spectacle for rally fans.