Saturday, 4 July 2020

Rally - Mull Cancelled

No real surprise, but still painful, the organisers of the 2020 Beatson’s Building Supplies Mull Rally have announced the cancellation of their October event.

Clerk of the Course Andy Jardine admitted the decision was dictated by ongoing uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. He said: “It was looking good for a while. October seemed so far off and things were opening up again, but now the end of July is looming and we just can’t commit to running the rally not knowing how the situation will develop. It’s tough for the team as we put a lot of effort into developing different ways to work with the coronavirus restrictions, but it isn’t practical to cover all the eventualities and keep everybody safe.

Mull Car Club Chairman, Fred Maclean added: “While some of the island is preparing for some sort of tourist season in the weeks ahead, there remains uncertainty and many places are not opening. Mull has remained apparently COVID-free throughout the lockdown period and there is a nervousness about what might happen when visitors return. This is the right decision for Mull and to ensure the rally is welcomed back in, hopefully, happier times in 2021.”

No surprise really given the ongoing uncertainty of the progress of the COVID-19  carry-on. And with the Scottish Government pursuing different tactics from the Westminster mob, there is added uncertainty about the way forward. And then again, there is the underlying threat of a second spike in infections.

On top of that there are the FIA's extra restrictions being placed on the sport of rallying and the added responsibilities (and costs!) which will have to be undertaken by organisers to promote a safe event.
If stage rallying is to return soon, then the way forward is likely to be 'Closed Public Roads' before forest use is allowed.

On that basis the proposed Coast to Coast Rally (which was due to run on the 25th of this month) may well provide the ideal template going forward - three stages, used three times and a huge central service area. Also, there might be more demand on MOD roads for 'single-venue' events and maybe the Government could assist with permissions there just to help get the sport back on the road.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Rally - FIA on Covid-19

Last week, the world's motor sport governing body, the FIA  (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) issued an 81 page document entitled 'Return to Motor Sport', and by goad it's hard work. The French based organisation have a better understanding of the English language than I do!

Anyway, the document goes into great detail about what COVID-19 is, how it spreads and how people can best safeguard themselves generally. Then it goes into how it will affect motor sport.

Motor racing and speed events will be 'easier' to manage since there is generally only one person per car and events are staged at venues with permanent or fixed facilities. However, the word 'easier' is a relative term. The FIA goes into great detail about what will be needed for Officials, Marshals and competitors and their support/pit crews, and also spectator protection.

As you might expect, rallying is much more difficult. For a start there are two competitors inside each car and very little in the way of permanent facilities at events. For instance how will 'social distancing' be managed at Signing-On and Scrutineering, not to mention Service Areas with work being carried out on cars? And then of course there is the issue of managing spectators.

The FIA has therefore come up with set of proposals and recommendations for our sport which doesn't bode well for the immediate future. And if you are wondering why so many rally organisers are cancelling events now which were due to run much later in the year (the latest is the Cheviot which was to run on 27th Sept) then this document explains why. But until such times as there is an effective proven vaccine we have little choice.

These suggestions apply primarily to 'Closed Road' events but will also be applicable to forest rallies.

Issues which require to be addressed include limiting an event to one service park without remote tyre zones or remote refuelling and ensuring that competing crews stay completely separate and do not wander around, socialise or eat outside of their nominated team group. A further suggestion is that stages might be shortened and reduced in number with repeated usage to make up mileage.

Time recording should be done by electronic means with check sheets to avoid the need for any physical interaction between the competing crew and any Marshals. Only essential personnel can enter Time Controls and in particular media should be banned from stage stop controls!

Appropriate social distancing and PPE should be maintained in all areas of the competition and between competitors in service, refuelling, regroup, stage start, stage finish and Parc Fermé areas. And this all has to be achieved whilst providing a safe working environment for personnel to service the competition cars and ensure a safe, attractive and engaging area for spectators!

And then of course there is the whole issue of PPE and its cost, sourcing and supply.

Despite its detail there are still questions to be answered. While each competitor sharing a car should be 'tested' for the virus before an event, what about members of the service crew, and also what about all the officials at an event, let alone spectator provision? And who will supply all these testing kits?

Of course Motorsport UK has already issued its own interim guidance but no doubt will have to consider the FIA recommendations.

Still, this is just the beginning of July, things may yet change for the better in the next couple of months. Here's hoping, eh?

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Rally - The Gold Rush

A scene from 'The Not So Magnificent Five' rather than 'The Magnificent Seven'

Way back in 1883, Splodge City far to the west of  the state capitol of Pitgoldy was a wild and lawless place. Gold had been found in the hills and glens of this un-tamed highland territory. Prospectors from all across the nation were attracted to the area by tales of fabulous riches and easy money.

They flocked to the goldfields and mountain streams in their hundreds. Most were poor but hard working and harder drinking. Sadly the town's reputation tempted others to seek their fortunes, but they were looking for simpler and less strenuous methods of gathering riches. Mayhem and murder, theft and gambling were the gods they worshipped.

In fact this wild and lawless land was far more dangerous than the American Wild West where the likes of Wyatt Twearp and his brothers and the notorious Clinton gang terrorised the settlers. Forget Rob Roy, Robin Hood and Dick Turpin. There was a new gang of outlaws in town.

This band of merciless cut-throats was led by Dave 'Jump the Gun' MacDonald and his henchman, Nick 'The Bagman' Jack at the head of as bloodthirsty a gang as you could ever imagine. In a rare photograph from the time, this wild bunch has been pictured on a stage route near Splodge seeking out suitable ambush points from which to launch their nefarious activities on the frequent bullion carrying stagecoaches.

On the other hand this could just be a photo of the pure dead gallus Dave MacDonald and the late Nicky Jack - Gosh, it's 10 years since we lost Nicky! They were pictured back in 1983 (not really 1883!) walking out of the forest on foot after leaving their lifeless Toyota behind to seek rescue and sustenance.

There's no other reason for posting this photo other than the fact that I like the flashback to those more innocent and carefree times. All too often we see pictures of cars and crashes, but what we don't often see is the long and lonely walk back out to the roads and civilisation. Happier days, eh?

Friday, 26 June 2020

Rally - Mull 30 years ago

The organisers of the 2020 Beatson's Mull Rally have stated that a final decision on whether this year's event will run or not will be taken by the team and the island on the 24th of July. By that time the picture will be clearer on lockdown/isolation rules.

Although it has been encouraging to note that such a relaxation is now underway, we daren't get ahead of ourselves. The folk who organise the rally have two major considerations, not just one. They not only need the goodwill and support of competitors, officials and spectators but they also need the permission of the islanders.

So far, the Isle of Mull is a Covid19 free zone so it is quite understandable that some folk are nervous about opening up their island to such an influx from all corners of the UK. For sure the island needs the income after a barren and difficult year but that has to be weighed against the risk to public health. A difficult decision looms - either way!

Anyway, I just thought it would be timely to reprint a Column which was written for Rally Sport Mag 30 years ago this year. This was written immediately after the running of the first Closed Road Rally on 'mainland' Britain. And yes, I know the Isle of Man is an island too, but IOM have their own 'Parliament' and laws whereas Mull is regulated by Westminster and also now Edinburgh.

History records that this momentous event was won by Andy Knight and Mike Corner in a rather special 1600cc 'lightweight' Vauxhall Nova which had been loaned to them by Kendal based Atkinsons Motor Sport. Neil MacKinnon was leading till his Escort's engine failed with second placed Knight taking over and crossing the finish line some 6 minutes clear of Ron Beecroft in his 2.3 Escort. History was made.

Anyway, here's the Column and as usual no changes have been made to the text. It reflects what happened and what was said at the time so if you are too young to recall some of the names then lift the phone and call one of the auld gits or club members and ask for information. They'll appreciate the call given these strange times in which we currently live ...

The Column ...
It's not only footballers who cry. At the prizegiving following the 21st Gemini Tour of Mull Rally I distinctly saw tears. They were perched precariously on the edges of Brian Molyneux's red rimmed eyes as it slowly dawned on him that he and the rest of his cohorts in 2300 Club had achieved a minor motor sporting miracle - the first ever closed public road stage rally on the `mainland' of Britain.

The rally set another record too. At an hour and forty minutes it was one of the longest post-event prizegivings in motor sport. The only folk who minded were those who were unable to squeeze into the already jam-packed Aros Hall in Tobermory High Street. Brian Molyneux was first to speak and he publicly thanked all those who helped, from loyal club members to local councillors, from regional authorities to the Houses of Parliament and there were words of praise too for the RAC MSA, the RSAC and long time supporters Shell.

There was silence in the hall for that emotional speech as the crowd realised they had just taken part in a little bit of motor sporting history. Then it was Taff's turn. The Welsh accent embellished his words as he sang the praises of one man, and it was this that tingled the tear ducts. After Brian had heaped praise on all those who had helped to make the event possible, Taff put the record straight, but for the tenacity and vision of one man, the whole project would never have happened. Brian Molyneux was 95% responsible for this unique event. A fact confirmed by Argyll & Bute Member of Parliament Mrs Ray Michie who steered the necessary Bill through Parliament.

The tears still hadn't quite fallen but Eddie O'Donnell put the matter beyond doubt when he made a presentation to Brian on behalf of the people of Mull. Two specially commissioned framed photographs were presented, one showing Tobermory Bay and the other depicting what Brian has often described as the most glorious sight ever, Glengorm Castle at sunset. That was it, handkerchief time!

The rally itself differed only slightly from past selective events. The route followed the traditional pattern of Friday night and Saturday night sections with a Saturday afternoon daylight run through the forests. It was however, shorter than usual with only around 70 miles of stages on each overnight run compared with over a hundred miles of selectives. This was a sensible move in light of the necessity for a problem-free inaugural event and entries had been restricted to 100 cars for similar reasons.

There were a few hiccups regarding the different Marshalling, Timing and route marking requirements but this was to be expected on their first attempt at a `proper' special stage rally. There was however, no shortage of manpower, and one marvels at the dedication of the Marshals who flock to the island annually, at their own expense. After years of experience, safety and communications offer little problem although the `Raynet' amateur radio group have to set up four hill-top relay stations to cover the whole island. It might come as a surprise to those who have never been to Mull, but this 350 square mile lump of grass and rockery off the west coast of Scotland is far from flat!

The road closure procedure worked pretty well too. It had to really, with three different Police traffic authorities represented on the island, increasing the normal Police presence from 5 to 14 officers. Two cars ran ahead of the rally, the first carried visiting dignitaries but it was the second traffic car which officially closed the route. After the rally had passed, the organisers had an `opening' car with illuminated roof-top sign bringing up the rear. Most spectators were pretty responsible and respected the road closure orders, but there was one minor panic when a drunk driver crashed through a `road closed' sign on Friday night at Dervaig. The Police then howled off in pursuit and quickly caught up with him to find that he was a likely customer for the wee green balloon. I can however deny the rumour that the Police had to send over to the mainland on Saturday morning for more disc pads for their Rover SD1!

The island of Mull is perhaps the only place in Britain at the moment that could host a closed public road rally. If anyone thinks this motor sporting precedent is about to herald a whole new way of rallying, then forget it. The costs and the paperwork would defy many organisers. Equally important, there has to be, not just the public will, but the active support of the local inhabitants. And that is where Mull scores. In this strictly controlled environment the vast majority of the 2,000 inhabitants are all for it. And then there's the atmosphere. Can you imagine any other event in the world which holds pre-event Scrutineering INSIDE the local distillery?