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!

1 comment:

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