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?

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