Sunday 31 May 2020

Time to Think - and to Plan

Given the fact that rallying has been suspended for the foreseeable future, it gives us all to time to sit back and ponder what that future might look like.

Motorsport UK has announced a new set of rules and technical regulations to allow electricity to enter the world of amateur motor sport. Unfortunately, rallying will get left behind until such times as two person crews are allowed to share a cockpit. That means we have a wee bit of an opportunity to get the rules right before the sport kicks off again - whenever that might be. This is not criticism of MS UK, just an acceptance of fact. Until the boffins come up with a proven vaccine for this bluidy covidia business then we will have to accept that two in a car is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Introducing such a radical new concept is going to be difficult. Some hybrid cars can have more than one electric motor and some of the fully electric jobs have one driving each wheel. With hybrids you also have a naturally aspirated, turbo or supercharged engine. Coming up with a set of regulations that attempts to even that out will require not just mental dexterity and technical expertise, but a touch of black magic as well!

Late last year, Vauxhall Opel started testing its Corsa-e Rally car. Quick and agile but limited in range. It uses the same battery as the production car with a 50-kWh motor that enables a range of 209 miles (337 kms). The rally car has three modes: 'Competition Mode' which gives full power and maximum torque for at least 37 miles (60 km); 'Rain Mode' that gives a torque curve adapted to slippery surfaces; and an energy-saving 'Eco Mode' for use between stages and going to service.

Ideal for single venue events with short stages and shorter road sections. Or, like Coltness CC's McRae Gravel Challenge 3 years back which had basically 4 different stage layouts in Craigvinean forest. A great day out but entry limited by lack of sufficient nearby space for a service area and the restrictions on how many cars you can get through such a short format in a limited time span. There are indeed large forest complexes around with that sort of scope, but lacking anything like that marvellous new car park facility at Greenside in Kielder right in the heart of rallying country.

The trouble is, the minute a new rule is announced, it fires up engineers and scientists  whose only desire is more performance and more power and then seek to exploit those rules, and so the technology race starts and prices increase. It's a natural thing and one that would be difficult to control, unless we resort to one-make championships.

There is a downside with that too. Such a series lacks variety. 40 years ago rally entry lists looked like a christmas tree. The stars were at the top and then as you got lower down the string, the lights all just looked the same. In times past, strings of Group 1 Escorts were followed by a procession of Peugeot 205s with Toyota Corollas or Ladas bringing up the rear. On the other hand these one-make championships were good for the sport and gave some folk a taste for it, and the ambitious the desire to get better and faster cars, hopefully  to progress up the results and start winning rather than just making up the numbers.

And so it will be again with hybrid and fully electric vehicles.

If we don't get on top of this before it starts, the technology race will kick off, costs and prices will increase and more folk will be put off rather than attracted.

On that basis, the sport needs to look at the structure. At the risk of causing an uprising, perhaps the British Championship should go back to an 'open' all-comers, 'run what you brung' series. National championship could be for modified cars but only R5 and WRC cars dependent on age - 5 years or older? Regional championships could cater for standard production machines only. With newer WRC and current R5 cars restricted to the BRC, there would need to be classes to cater for older cars and clubmen, but what a spectacle, eh? Then of course you'd have to fit in genuine Historic cars and all those fancy Escorts which have about as much in common with original cars as a Police Box has with Doctor Who's ungodly machine.

Admittedly spectators might not like the idea, but the sport was invented for folk to take part, not for the non paying public. Although many fans do indeed enjoy watching the triers and the antics of the tail enders just as much as the front runners, but for different reasons!

Too radical? On this basis BRC competitors might have to travel further for their events, with Scotland, Wales and the north of England having the expanse. Costs would of course be greater but the events would be longer. Nationals and Regionals could use more local forest complexes. Naturally we'd need to get the forestry folks on board, but with less damage from lower powered machines, perhaps the idea could be sold to them for the benefit of the clubmen and beginners.

There will be a longer version of this article in the on-line mag with more detail and I'll let you know when it is published. Meantime, consider this your starter for ten!

Friday 29 May 2020

Rally - Dark Times

Earlier this week, the Beatson's Building Supplies Jim Clark Rally organisers issued a Press Release titled 'Looking ahead to 2021' which began with the opening paragraph:

" On  a weekend which should have echoed to the sounds of rally cars and huge excited crowds enjoying themselves watching motor sport, there will be instead be the sound of silence and a feeling of emptiness around the Berwickshire roads this weekend."

Amen to that, eh?

There was another Press Release today from Whickham & District MC and Hadrian MC regarding their Ford Parts Cheviot Stages Rally which was set to run on 27th September. They have taken the understandable decision now to cancel the Otterburn based event due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding Covid19.

Both these announcements follow on from the recent proclamations from Colnbrook. Like everyone else they are guddling about in the dark in these strange times.

Although Motorsport UK is hopeful about a resumption of driver-only events, the future of rallying looks about as bright as the middle of Kielder at midnight in Winter. The big problem here is the requirement of two-person crews, and under current government rules that is a no-no. Hence MS UK's encouragement for clubs to promote Rally Time Trials i.e. one car, one driver, at a time over a pre-set stage. A Sprint or Speed Hillclimb on gravel if you like. It's been tried before but it's not the same is it? Nothing like it.

The WRC remains equally uncertain but still hopeful. Planning continues for Rally Finland (August) and Rally New Zealand (September) but both those countries still have restrictions on border crossings, movement and mass gatherings, so it still doesn't look too hopeful.

Planning also continues for Wales Rally GB, but I would suggest more in hope than expectation. Then again, this a 'professional' sport and as we all know money talks. With that sort of clout, we can expect the professional side of any competitive sport is likely to get underway before any amateur permissions, although non-contact sports like golf and tennis are being tentatively allowed.

Another thought. If Wales Rally GB was indeed allowed to run, can you imagine the crowds? Starved of rallying for six months, the fans would be as thick as midges descending on the Welsh forests. Traffic jams, overflowing car parks and roads blocked - it would be like turning the clock back to the 1970s when millions descended on Britain's biggest annual sporting event, but back then the Rally route travelled right around Britain spreading out the cavalcade and the crush. A sprint event in North Wales couldn't cope.

It's not just the government restrictions on the public that will be of concern. There are other factors to be taken into account. Will competitors have the personal funds to go rallying? Family comes first at times when wages are not being earned or the ability to trade is not being permitted, whatever their business endeavour. Rally cars will be parked up gathering dust.

Can sponsors be found to support teams and events? They too will be under severe financial strain at present and then there is the manpower needed to run an event. The officials on many rally organising teams as well as Marshals often don't reside in the area which an event is being run. Some of them face round trips of 200 or 300 miles to attend meetings and events, and often at their own expense. That will surely cut down on personnel numbers before and during events.

Remember too that rallies need medical cover and that raises another problem. Many of the amateur crews have donated and loaned equipment to the NHS, so will they be in a fit state to resume safely?

Nope rallying has never faced a crisis like this before. Even mad cow disease was but a hiccup compared to this. As to a full scale resumption - that's anyone's guess - January 2021 anyone?

Monday 25 May 2020

Get lost, or get navigating .

Who'd have thought learning a new skill was so much fun? A number of the old guys and not so auld yins have got together to produce some on-line table-top style navigational rallies to while away the long evening hours after a day in the garden or the garage. Something worthwhile to do when the TV is boring and Netflix goes blank leaving that we lost-signal circle going infuriatingly round, and round, and round.

Very reminiscent of yesteryear when the sport was at its height, navigational road rallying is an excellent way of getting the weans, the young, the not so young and even those of a more decrepit nature involved in the sport or re-discovering lost arts. In fact the auld yins could use this to get the youngsters interested and involved.

If you need further convincing, with the weans off school navigational rallying teaches them more than just how to find their way home. So it's a good educational tool without them thinking it's educational. It improves their maths and arithmetic skills, especially mental arithmetic. It also teaches them about geography - hills, glens and contour lines, and history, when you think of all the old battlefields and sites of historic interest that are marked on Ordnance Survey maps.

It also helps with their grasp of English and communication skills which will be most useful if they progress to stage rallying, where Pace Note reading is now essential, as is shouting words of endearment and encouragement at their driver - or inventing new ways of insulting them in place of the common or ordinary swear words. This also applies to diction so that the utterer can be heard and understood above the rattle of stones and revving of the engine.

As I said a number of old hands have clubbed together to create some navigational exercises just like a proper table-top rally. Full details are on the 'Scottish Navigational & Road Rally' Group public Facebook page.

There have been four of these 'events' held so far with the first attracting 46 entries and the latest over 75 with the various organisers expecting entries of 100 or more as word gets out. It would also appear that there are four more rallies ready and waiting in the wings ready to go out, and there's even talk of a 'championship'.

There's no charge for these events and there is a link to on-line digital maps if you don't have real paper ones stored in a shoebox under the bed.

Just like rallies of old, there are 'Classes' for Experts, Semi-Experts and Novices and brought to you by some of the brightest brains in the business with help from a few numpties just to keep the clues manageable and solvable!

There's more fun to be had here than a Lego competition in a brewery, just click on the link below to open up a whole new (old?) world of sporting fun, brain teasers and hairy lines:

Saturday 23 May 2020

Rally - A close finish

There have been many close finishes in the Scottish Rally Championship since it was founded in 1957, and the 1996 series produced another one. Going into the final round, it was more or less a two-horse race between Jimmy Christie and George Gauld.

Jimmy actually finished 3rd, behind 2nd placed George with Walter Henderson taking top points. So there was a bit of mathematical jiggery-pokery needed to sort out the 1996 title. In the run-in to the rally finish from the final stage, both co-drivers Murdoch Campbell and Roy Campbell (identical twins - not!!) were trying to sort it out.

After the rally (but ahead of the Awards night) my BIG Pal Jaggy wrote up a piece in the Championship Newsletter and I have re-published it in the on-line mag if you fancy a wee trachle down memory lane.

Now, a few folk are puzzled by the use of nicknames in these old reports, but surely that's half the fun? Some snippets may also refer to an ongoing story so you're only getting half the tale. Either, you might work them out for yourself - or you could ask your parents! If really stuck, you could always phone a friend - for sure your friend will be at home these days, eh?

There's also mention of a few names, before they were famous! The story is here if you want an excuse for a seat and a coffee break: