Wednesday 30 September 2015

Rally - Scottish Champions

Jock Armstrong and Paula Swinscoe have been confirmed as the 2015 ARR Craib Scottish Rally Champions. Mike Faulkner and Peter Foy finished runners-up with Bruce McCombie and Michael Coutts in third place. The Championship has issued a Press Release which is printed in full on their Facebook page, or it can be read here:

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Rally - MSA Tribunal

There have been a number of comments on this page congratulating the winners of the 2015 Scottish Rally Championship, but these might be a trifle premature!

As yet, there has been no official confirmation or announcement from the championship committee, and with good reason. They are probably waiting for the outcome of a Tribunal at MSA HQ in Colnbrook tomorrow.

Although the Reivers Forest Rally results were declared Final (as opposed to Provisional) after the rally in May earlier this year, the Tribunal has the power to change them depending on the outcome of tomorrow’s National Court hearing.

Although there was no official Protest made when results were declared at the conclusion of the event, the MSA Steward highlighted an issue or two which the MSA thought worthy of investigating.

I will say no more at this stage (I got my knuckles rapped last week!) but tomorrow’s decision may well determine the outcome of this year’s title chase.

As you may, or may not, know the quarterly ‘MSA Magazine’ publishes the findings of all National Courts, but since the Autumn edition has just been published, tomorrow’s report will not be made public until the Winter edition - and that won’t be before December.

Naturally those involved will be informed immediately after the Tribunal and the Championship will be able to finalise the points tables for 2015. All should become clear on Thursday morning.

Watch this space, as they say.

Friday 25 September 2015

Rally - Uncertainty

The MSA is due to publish its ‘final’ Rally Safety Guide before the end of the year following publication of its interim Guide back in February: .

There is one proviso. It won’t quite be final. Consider it work in progress. However the Guide will form the basis of future multi-venue and single venue rally organisation and will be rolled out across the UK next year. It will also be reviewed and modified as needs arise on an ongoing basis.

If the English/Welsh/Northern Irish organisers think they have had a rough ride so far it’s only going to get worse. In fact, there are still people up here who think this ‘problem’ will all blow over, never mind the sceptics down south sharing that opinion, but once you get politicians involved, the issue of ‘public safety’ isn’t going to go away.

Although it was the ‘Scottish Government’ which introduced the review (working with the MSA) it is being adopted and implemented by the MSA which is the sport’s ‘British governing body’, so whether they like it or not rally organisers across all four home countries will be impacted and affected.

In all fairness, improved safety for spectators and for competitors has to be addressed, but at what cost? Many individuals have looked at the requirements of the new rules and have simply walked away from the workload and responsibility.

It is likely that there will be fewer rallies next year, which (hopefully) means more crews entering those which are left. That might be so, but again, at what cost? If competitors think more entries mean reduced entry fees, think again. If the forestry commission hires out fewer roads and less mileage, and therefore loses out on income, it’s going to want more than an annual inflationary increase.

Similarly, if clubs lose out on organising team members and fail to attract sufficient marshals, they are going to have to pay for professional help. How about security guards barring the way to forests because there are too few volunteers? Don’t laugh, it has already happened this year in Scotland - on amateur events!

Next year the task of rally organisers will be greater, time spent longer, workload increased and they will be subject to a greater degree of responsibility and scrutiny, and for what reward? Hoping they get enough entries? Even with fewer events there is no guarantee of bigger entry lists for the above reasons and cost implications. And I haven’t even started on vehicle safety equipment and personal safety requirements.

Fortunately there are some folk on the case determined not to give up, but time is running short for next season.

More news on this latest initiative soon.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Rally - R.I.P.

Rallying In Peril ... Is it just Scottish rallying’s turn for depression, or is this a symptom of a much deeper malaise? The news this afternoon that Coltness CC have very reluctantly had to cancel the 21st Colin McRae Forest Stages Rally has come as a shock. It was the final round of a national championship for goodness sake!

Earlier this year we lost the Merrick which struggled to get 60 entries last year (2014) after soldiering on valiantly in the face of dwindling numbers. And don’t go thinking it’s only the last two rounds of the national championship which have suffered.  Prospects are not looking good elsewhere. A quick run down of entries on the six events which did run this year are no less encouraging:

Snowman – 107 entries
Border Counties – 87
Granite City – 103
JC Reivers - 78 (including 6 Land Rovers)
RSAC Scottish – 74 (including 6 Land Rovers)
Speyside – 96 entries

It’s not just the English who have a north/south divide, we’ve got one up here in rallying terms. Neither can you compare the Scottish championship with the BTRDA series. They have a catchment population of some 60 million, there’s only 6 million of us up here, so it has to be summat else.

How many entries did the McRae finally get? I’m not sure, I haven’t dared ask. The Bears are not in an approachable mood at present, but I believe it was less than 60.

On the other hand the tarmac boys and girls are going well with entries bursting at the seams, but they are running out of venues too. To coin a phrase they are not ‘out of the woods’ yet either. Sorry, that was a terrible pun!

In other words, the sport up here is in trouble with declining numbers taking part. This is not a new phenomenon, it has happened before and the sport has bounced back. It’s only a few years ago since English events were facing reducing entry numbers, but look at the BTRDA now.

Looking ahead to next year, if we stick with the same number of events as now, then the break-even point will be lower and Entry Fees higher.  Are there too many events? What is the ideal number of events for a championship? Should rallies be shorter? Are cars too expensive? Control tyres – a good idea? Pump fuel only? Is the sport over-regulated? Where to get the best pies at a service halt – Huntly Auction Mart?

If this situation is to be resolved then competitors must get themselves together to tell the organisers exactly what they want and are willing to pay for.

All competitors are members of a car club and that car club will be a member of the Scottish Association of Car Clubs, which incidentally has a representative on the MSA Rallies Committee. It may not be the most streamlined process in the world, but it could be a start. Someone needs to take a lead, canvas opinion, get drivers and co-drivers to sign up to an acceptable formula and try to jump start the whole damn show and get it back on the road.

As things stand, there is no point in dozens of volunteer enthusiasts working their socks off at nights and weekends right across the country to create and run events which do not appeal, for whatever reason, to those who compete.

What was it Gloria Gaynor sang? We Will Survive. Fingers crossed, eh?

Rally - McRae Cancelled

Coltness Car Club, the organisers of the annual Colin McRae Forest Stages Rally have just issued a statement announcing the cancellation of this year's event ... 


It is with deep regret that Coltness Car Club has announced the cancellation of the 2015 Colin McRae Forest Stages Rally which was scheduled to run in Perthshire on the weekend of the 3rd/4th October.

The number of entries received for this final round of the ARR Craib MSA Scottish Rally Championship fell far short of the break-even point and as an amateur organisation, the club was faced with a financial shortfall which would have been unmanageable.

Club chairman Jim Brown said: “It was a difficult decision, and yet an easy decision, as we didn’t have any choice. It all boiled down to a simple question of economics, not enough paid entries had been received to make the event viable which would have incurred heavy and unaffordable losses for the club.”

“It’s a great pity, months of planning, intense work and preparation by a small band of dedicated enthusiasts have gone unfulfilled. And it’s not just our club, rally clubs across Scotland have faced difficult decisions this past year.”

“At the end of the day we really had no choice. Coltness Car Club is an amateur organisation and if an event does not pay its way then it simply cannot be run.”

He concluded: “It’s a great pity, it’s not just the competitors who will lose out, or the championship, but all those spectators and rally fans who will be denied the chance to see and cheer their heroes on the final round of this national championship competition. The club would also like to apologise to all those affected by this unavoidable decision.”

Note: All those competitors who have submitted a paid-for and completed Entry Form will receive a full refund in due course. Thanks for your support, but the numbers simply didn’t stack up.

Monday 21 September 2015

Rally - The Big Debate

Phew, that caused quite a stooshie. The previous post was put up at 11pm on Sunday night. By 9am Monday morning it had received over 12,000 views!

It also generated much concern – and comment. A lot of the comment was well intentioned and well informed, but here’s a few more points for consideration and debate.

First thing, rallies are run for competitors, not for spectators. Drivers and co-drivers are the paying customers so they have to be attracted to contest events. Apart from the cost, one of the most regular complaints from drivers and co-drivers is about the lack of variety in forest roads being used. The trouble here is that the Forestry Commission determines which roads can be used and in which area, not the organisers. That then has an impact on where rallies are based and the route on the day. So if there as an ongoing ‘sameness’ to events year on year, then that is why. Organisers can only work with the stages available.

It’s very easy to sit back and say why not move an event from one town centre to another. Not so easy in practice. For a start, does the Council want the hassle and can it cope with the influx? Not every location is keen to cope with the disruption. In the same way, folks often wonder when driving past certain forests why they cannot be used. Simple, the FC tells us what is available.

There are however possible stages available in Argyll, but the reason they have dropped out of use was that too few competitors would make the effort to drive into Cowal or take the ferry. If a club can’t make its event pay, then the event doesn’t run.

Rallying also lost out on the Trossachs stages because of the National Park status and its use by other sporting and outdoor pursuits at weekends (Rally Scotland was a one-off).  It’s the same story with the forests around Aviemore. What the sport is faced with is an ongoing reduction of available forests and usable roads. So if there is a ‘sameness’ about events, then that is the principal reason.

And when one event does try to make change, like a two-day format, they get a lot of flack from folk who complain about the changes. Sometimes you just can’t win.

Another overlooked point here was the fact that Coltness CC was trying to take a sporting lead in Scotland by hosting a unique Q&A Rally Forum on the Saturday night about the future of the sport. It was hoped that the format would have had a beneficial effect on attendance where folk with the interests of the sport at heart could have turned up and asked questions. In fact, it would have been interesting to see just how many competitors actually turned up to that!

Look at it another way. Of the 6 forest rallies held so far this year, half of them have run with fewer than 80 entries. That’s perilously close to break-event point. In fact, some of them didn’t, but ran anyway.

If there are fewer competitors wishing to take part in multi-venue rallies then Entry Fees must rise.

Either that or the sport has to change. Less sophisticated cars (less expensive!), pump fuel only, control tyres and reduced costs?

It also needs stronger leadership from the top. The MSA must engage more strongly with the FC at their annual negotiations. If the FC wants to put the rates up, then the MSA must extract some form of commitment to provide more choice and better roads. And also, once a route has been agreed not go churning up the road in a late dash to extract timber.

And dare I say it, the Scottish Championship needs to take a lead here to help, not just the clubs and organisers, but to work with competitors to see what they want and to determine what is acceptable. Should it have been up to Coltness CC to organise this Forum on the future of the sport, or should someone else have taken the lead?

Tough times demand tough decisions.