Thursday 23 February 2023

Rally - What might have been?

It might be hard to believe, but the bone-creaking auld git clambering through the roll-cage trying to get out of the rally winning Citroen Rally2 at Knockhill last weekend was once a hot prospect in the world of British rallying.

In fact the 1980s produced too many gifted drivers for the number of professional seats available. Even though most manufacturers had a presence in rallying, and there were a goodly number of ‘professional’ private teams, there were still not enough ‘paid’ seats available for the talented few to make a career.

What helped these youngsters in the first place was the profusion of ‘one-make challenges’ like Peugeot 205, Ford Fiesta and Escort 1600i, Volkswagen, Suzuki and Lada not to mention the very worthwhile Bonus schemes run by the likes of Vauxhall/Opel and the tyre and oil companies. Some rallies and championships even offered cash prizes! There was serious money to be made at amateur level to support those just trying to get going in what was even then an expensive sport.

These schemes helped to ensure that the likes of Colin and Alister McRae, Andrew Wood, Robbie Head, Calum Guy, Louise Aitken-Walker, Barbara Armstrong and of course Dom Buckley Jnr got a chance to make it on to the international stage. Sadly, getting on to the stage and staying there are two quite separate targets.

There is little doubt that young Dom was every bit as quick as young Colin but whereas Colin could concentrate on competition, Dom had to combine his sporting forays with work in his father’s burgeoning rally car preparation business. Difficult choices had to be made.

Unfortunately for rally fans, business became the priority, but even on his subsequent sporadic outings, Dom Jnr was a force to be reckoned with. One can only wonder what might have been.

So it’s hard to reconcile the sight of last weekend’s grey haired rally winner with the fresh faced curly haired schoolboy pictured here, eh?

Tuesday 21 February 2023

Rally - The future ??

The future of special stage rallying is secure - well nearly! Causing no damage to gravel or tarmac roads and no noise nuisance to local folks and passers-by, and no need for the constant replenishment of tyres, this could be the answer to all our prayers. Or could it?

The Airspeeder Mk4 will shortly be available with a nought to 225 mph time of 30 seconds. Designed and built in Australia, the Airspeeder Mk4 is the world's fastest electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

It has a sophisticated electric propulsion system, advanced aerodynamics and a take-off weight of just 950 kgs with a projected range of 300 km (188 miles) while producing near-zero emissions.

Powered by a 1,000 kW (1,340 hp) turbogenerator, which feeds power to the batteries and motors, it is fuelled by green hydrogen.

The four tilt rotors utilise a unique gimballed thrust system which enables it to manoeuvre more like an F1 car than a flying multicopter.

There is however, just one ever so tiny wee problem. It’s a single seater. There’s no room  for a co-driver or navigator – yet! However, that does mean no arguments and no going in the huff, but it also means that some drivers could get easily lost.

Oh, and another wee problem. Marshals will need to learn semaphore so they can signal to the competitors with their flags. And another thing, the safety and medical crews will need to swot up on air-sickness and dizzy spell afflictions. Oops, one more thing, the recovery crews will need special tree surgeon tackle to rescue troubled pilots who may have parachuted down and got stuck in the trees.

Otherwise, this is the answer to protect the future our sport. Or is it? All it needs is the soundtrack of a BDA powered Mk2 in full flight and we’re there, eh?

Saturday 18 February 2023

Rally - Odd, Very Odd

I had been looking forward to attending the official opening of the 2023 Scottish special stage rally season at Knockhill’s Grant Construction Stages Rally (Sunday 19th Feb), purely as a spectator of course, but it looks as though I will have to miss out due to a heavy cold and rasping, chesty cough. And that’s the odd thing. In the past I don’t think I ever missed a rally on which I was due to report through illness, but now I simply don’t HAVE to attend an event if I don’t want to. A most unusual feeling.

Not that I’m idle, I’m still sorting through photographs and negatives. Thousands of the bluidy rascals. Having to select those which will make it, those which might make it, those which might not make it and those which definitely won’t make it into the book.

The trouble is, it’s so easy to get lost in the nostalgia of it all, rather than concentrating on appropriate and suitable content.

The three photos attached highlight the problems. For a medical man, the ‘Flying Doctor’s’ choice of morning breakfast leaves a lot to be desired – a well-fired roll with burnt bacon while ‘Dastardly Dougie’ was obviously seeking a medical opinion when he stuck out his tongue! And as for the third pic, fashions have obviously changed in the past forty years, so is it safe to publish pics from back in the day when those very same, but somewhat more mature personalities may object to seeing them in print today?

On the other hand there are other photos which bring a lump to the throat!

Thursday 16 February 2023

Rally - George Head

Scottish rallying, and particularly Coltness Car Club, have lost another true friend. George Head has passed away.

It was George and Anne who supported a rising star in the early days when young Robbie Head first appeared on the Scottish motor cycle trials and rallying scene. The Head family became an instant hit with other competitors and service crews who quickly found out that George’s home baked fruit cake was a truly succulent and savoury delight. The only trouble was, he never brought enough to the rallies to satisfy popular demand.

Supporting Robbie wasn’t enough for George and Anne and they were very involved in CCC club affairs assisting with marshalling and organising at various events, and not just with their own club.

Close friends with the McRae family, those early days were magical as various club members rallied round to assist both youngsters with their early careers and Alister McRae’s too when he followed in Colin’s footsteps.

As their various careers progressed and the boys moved onwards and upwards, George became ever more involved with car club activities and events. He was also particularly good at ‘social’ events and would talk to anybody regaling friends and strangers with a constant stream of stories, anecdotes and recollections. A very handy chap to have around when sponsors had to be entertained and persuaded to part with cash!

At 86 years of age he was still interested and still involved when his health allowed. In fact he managed to attend the CCC social at the beginning of February and followed that up to a visit to a couple of club member who are building a race car. Admittedly the visits were becoming fewer in number and depended entirely on his health.

His presence was indeed missed when he wasn’t at the social nights. It will be all the more sorely missed now. On Tuesday the sport lost a proper gent. An often mis-used term but in this case, entirely fitting and appropriate.

In fact, it is hard to believe that such a kind and gentle soul was a member of the ‘Coltness Bears’ but it was badge he bore with great pride and even greater pleasure, giving much more than he enjoyed in return. He will indeed be sorely missed.

Our sincere condolences to Anne, Robbie, Emily and the wider family.

Wednesday 15 February 2023

Grins, gestures and mullets

Writing a history book, even one of merely sporting interest, presents a constantly difficult and ongoing problem. The biggest problem is not so much about what is included, but what is left out! And that goes as much for the people as the sport.

Motor sport is not just about winners and losers or facts and figures, it’s about the people who are involved. Some make a bigger impact than others and some make a noticeable contribution to the public enjoyment of that sport whether winning or losing. Others come along, hit the headlines, move on and disappear and all we have to record their participation is their name on trophies.

So far, no one has attempted to record the history of the Scottish Rally Championship and surely this national competition deserves its place in the sporting world. The present Forest & Land Scotland Agreement runs out in 2030 and who knows what lies beyond. Rallying is under constant threat from social pressure and environmental concerns. Unlike football, it’s not a big enough sport to incite a public outcry or rebellion if politicians take the side of voluble pressure groups against the wishes of a smaller sporting interest.

Over the past 60 years Scotland has made a bigger impact on world rallying than many other bigger and more populous nations. And that’s without Government or sporting governing body support, unlike many other sports which have access to lottery or central government funding.

It is therefore well past time that such a record was made and kept. On that basis an attempt is being made to write a series of books covering those first 60 years of the Scottish National Rally series. The first book to be completed covering the period 1980 to 1989 is currently with the proof readers at the moment. That book will be followed by the 90s, 2000s and 2010s before interest focusses on the 1960s and 1970s of which there are currently numerous gaps in the historical record, hence the delay in starting with them.

Meanwhile I am trying to select suitable photographs to illustrate what has been an enthralling and exciting national competition, full of drama and excitement, for this current volume.

However, what started as a work of serious scholarly endeavour has been thwarted by the three over-riding facets of the sport that have been its principal attractions since the start – fun, adventure and speed.

So does this sombre work of historical record deserve to feature photographs like those included here? Liable to scare small children and horrify those of a sensitive nature?  Or should they be consigned to the Editor’s out-tray and replaced with serious portraits and action pics only?

Time will tell, eh?

Monday 13 February 2023

Rally - Going Electric

When rallying was first invented, it was all about adventure. Unlike to-day’s more popular and spectacular but somewhat shorter stage rallies the original events were invariably long, required some serious navigational skills using paper maps and stop watches and occasionally long stints behind the wheel for the driver. And all the while having to manage a regulated time schedule which included some speed tests. It was these speed tests which eventually became modern rallying as we know it.

More recently, there has been a growing trend to get back to the ‘good old days’. The bi-annual Roger Albert Clark Rally is perhaps the best known example although there has also been a growth in classic car touring events and assemblies. These offer a more sedate pace, relaxed time schedules, easier navigational tests while some have speed trials and autotests thrown in for a bit of added excitement.

Taking this concept to another extreme is Aberdeen couple Chris and Julie Ramsey who are planning to drive an electric car some 17,000 miles from the Magnetic North to the South Pole through 14 countries. They have been planning this trip for four years and reckon it will take ten months to complete when they set out next month.

They do have some experience though, having previously successfully completed the 17,000km, 56 day Mongol Rally in a Nissan Leaf. Prior to that Chris established a new Guinness World Record at Grampian Transport Museum for travelling 180.75 miles in 12 hours on an electric bike!

This time the adventurous couple have chosen the Nissan Ariyah SUV as a more suitable machine for the task. However, the car and its electric drivetrain remain pretty much standard with the only serious modification being the fitment of 39 inch wheels to the car’s raised suspension under widened wheel arches.

Of course, much of the pre-event route planning has centred around locations for charging up the vehicle’s battery pack, but they also have a plan for those remote locations which civilisation hasn’t yet reached.

They have developed a towable trailer which includes a packable, lightweight wind turbine and solar panels that will take advantage of high winds and long daylight hours to provide charge for the EV’s battery when Chris and Julie stop to rest.

On a personal note, if Scot.Gov finds out about this alternative source of ‘free’ energy who knows what they might do. Introduce a law making the purchase of such a trailer compulsory with every new electric car sold – and then tax it?

Good luck to them both though, eh?

Sunday 12 February 2023

Rally - The Meeting

This is a personal account of a meeting held last Thursday (9th Feb) by the Scottish Association of Motor Sports Clubs and four of motor sport’s governors from Motorsport UK.

Having met first with SportScotland in the afternoon Hugh Chambers, Motorsport UK Chief Executive, Sue Sanders, Director of Learning and Development, Claire Kirkpatrick, Head of Club and Community Development and John Ryan, Sport and Safety Director had an evening meeting with the SAMSC plus a few championship co-ordinators and 16 club reps representing Scotland’s 50 odd car clubs. A total of some 32 folk. In other words some clubs hadn’t bothered to send anyone.

Of course, Edinburgh is pretty far away from some parts of Scotland but it is a lot closer than Bicester so it was disappointing to see that more clubs had not made the effort.

Acting SAMSC Chair Bruce Lyle made the introductions following which Hugh Chambers made a 25 minute presentation followed by John Ryan (10 mins), Claire Kirkpatrick (8 mins) and Sue Sanders (12 mins). Done and dusted within an hour leaving the rest of the evening for a Q&A session with the floor. Matters were brought to a close just after 10pm.

Not using Covid as an excuse, Hugh Chambers talked about the hopes and ambitions that he and David Richards (Motorsport UK Chair) had expressed when both assumed their positions just over four years ago. Rather than make excuses about what had not been done during the lockdown, he concentrated on what had been achieved, what the aims were for the future and what progress was being made.

Without going into too much detail the biggest problems facing the sport are the ageing demographic of those involved, the social pressure from those outside the sport, climate change and of course, the ever rising costs of competition, both organising and participating.

This latter point energised much of the Q&A session, but it’s only right to point out that safety drives many of the decisions. The reason for that is quite simple. For any insurance company to assume the risks of covering a motor sport competition they have to be assured that those organising are competent, hence the need for training, qualifications and licenced, whilst those competing, as well as spectating, are kept safe from harm. 

Whether we like it or not that is what drives much of the FIA and Motorsport UK thinking and decision making. Having said that, Motorsport UK has been fighting back against some of the FIA directives. Spurred on by criticism from clubs and competitors, the UK governing body has been arguing against some of the FIA decisions, for example, with regard to the ‘lifeing’ of seats and seat belts and other equipment.

To ignore the insurers calls into question the very future of the sport. If you want the perfect example, it has just been announced this month that all motorcycle road racing, short circuit racing and trials in Northern Ireland have been cancelled for 2023 as the organising clubs have deemed it impossible to run events because of soaring insurance charges. That is what we are up against in motor sport.

Of equal concern is the ageing demographic of those involved. Based on last year’s Club and Competitor surveys, over 50% of those involved in British motor sport are over 50 years of age. There is another connected issue, diversity. Before funds and support can be released to sporting governing bodies, SportScotland (and other such bodies) have to be assured that there are plans in place not just to encourage female participation but ALL other sections of the community. The word ‘inclusion’ is now a simple fact of sporting life.

In fact, much of the work being undertaken by our governing body has to do with sporting and government directions, guidance and advice, and of course social pressure. This might appear to us on the outside as having little to do with the actual running of motor sport but that is no longer the case, it’s all about social inclusion, equality and accessibility.

And whilst the subjects of motor racing and speed events were mentioned in passing, much of the discussion focussed on rallying which is facing particular threats. Not just from environmentalists seeking to ban us from the forests but from the wider public who don’t want closed road rallying either.

It was also encouraging to note that the UK Rally Strategy Group appointed by Motorsport UK is working on long term plan for rallying. With the current Forestry & Land Agreement running out in 2030, what will happen beyond that?

The big issue here is the public perception of a minority of people who enjoy burning fossil fuels in their pursuit of sporting pleasure. Often these critics are the very same people who drive large 4x4s an estate cars with bike racks to forest trails for their own pleasure and domestic vehicles to and from gyms, sports grounds and stadiums loaded with the sporting kit of their choice. The irony here is overlooked.

The subjects of autotests and Street Car got a good airing too as a means of introducing people to the sport whilst Motorsport UK defended their support and promotion of appreciation of eSports as a means of widening the general appeal.

The other big topic of conversation was communication, with Motorsport UK themselves admitting they need to do better, but so do the car clubs, and dare I say it, the SAMSC. What the evening proved was that such face to face meetings are indeed worthwhile. Quite a few individuals got ‘wired in’ to the guests who left promising to address particular points. I think most of those individuals felt assured that they would indeed be investigated, certainly more assured than if they simply made a phone call to a faceless person at the other end of the line or sent them an email.

It's been at least six years since Motorsport UK ventured north to address the natives, let’s hope it doesn’t take as long before the next visit.

Note: This is just a brief account of Thursday’s discussions, but if you want a more detailed report, I’d need to be bribed!

Pic Shows, Left to Right: 

John Ryan, Bruce Lyle, Claire Kirkpatrick, Sue Sanders, Sandy Denham (Motor Sports Council), Hugh Chamnbers and Keith Butler (SAMSC Secy.)

Saturday 11 February 2023

Rally - The Gathering

Last Thursday evening the great and the good, as well as the not so great and the godless gathered in a quaint travellers’ inn close by an aerial transportation hub on the outskirts of Auld Reekie in central Scotland.

The occasion was a visit from some of the High Heid Yins from Motorsport UK and the principal office bearers of the Scottish Association of Motor Sport Clubs plus a few representatives from some of those very clubs. After a glorious three course repast - consisting of soup, sandwiches and chips - the assembled throng trooped into the conference suite.

Perhaps the word ‘throng’ is not entirely appropriate. Despite the fact that there are over 50 affiliated motor sport car clubs in Scotland, there were less than 30 delegates in attendance. Hardly an encouraging number in these fraught and difficult times which the sport is facing.

Anyway, after an hour’s presentation from the four principal guests, the floor was turned over to a Question & Answer session. Despite the lowly number of club reps, there did follow a quite vigorous exchange of views although no blood was spilled.

Which begs the question. How many clubs and officials knew this meeting was taking place not to mention how many ordinary club members, and of course competitors, knew there was such a thing?

Which nicely ties into one of the main themes of the evening – communication. The sport in general is pretty poor at communication, and not just from the top down, but even at club level there does appear to be lack of decent and regular communication planning. It’s all very well having a website or social media presence but it needs to be managed and updated, which means ‘inviting’ a suitable ‘volunteer’ to take on the role.

Not so long ago, most clubs posted out Newsletters on a regular basis to members and met up usually once a month in a local hostelry. Things have changed. More folk meet up on Zoom or Teams or Facetime these days and issue information through their social media outlets. There are far fewer face to face meetings and gatherings taking place which is why Thursday night’s assembly should have been better attended. It provided those with a query or grievance to take it right to the top and ensure a personal response.

We, as a sport, really don’t help ourselves very much, eh?

And so on that basis, a short report on the evening’s proceedings will be published on this very page shortly, so by all means, spread the word!

Tuesday 7 February 2023

The new World order!

Happy New Year! … Bah, humbug! The old coal-fired steam driven computer expired in early December and the expert opinion was that it would be cheaper to replace it than repair and refurbish. Deal done.  Now up and running, although still checking that nothing has been lost. Thank goodness for regular backups. Thanks to Fix-PC in Motherwell for their prompt response, excellent service and reasonable prices – and they still have humans to answer the phone if needed!

Then three weeks ago Facebook decided arbitrarily to ‘disable’ my account. No warning and no explanation. Also no response to repeated on-line requests for answers or fixes, and no phone numbers to try and make contact with a human. Which makes you wonder, if A.I. and Chatbots are doing all the work what do the thousands of humans employed by the giant corporation actually do on a daily basis?

Adding insult to injury Virgin Media has now locked me out of my email service. According to the nice human I spoke to this morning on the telephone the problem is not a simple software fix and so it has been passed to their Technical Dept – who may take up to FIVE days to fix it. 

Ain’t modern technology and electronic wizardy wonderful - when it works?

However, it would appear that many industries these days concentrate their efforts more on sales rather than service and customer support. Happy to sell you stuff, but not so happy to respond when things go wrong. How many times have you waded through never ending lists of FAQs to find that nothing fits a particular problem. It just seems that the bigger a company gets, the less inclined it is to spend money and resources on actual customer support. That’s just another reason to worry about the rise and growth of conglomerates, the folk at the top are getting ever further from their customer base.

And it’s not just the so-called ‘Tech’ companies. According to the News these days, it would appear that the various power companies have an even worse record for dealing with customer complaints, and that’s if the customer can get through to them in the first place. To the ordinary folks on the outside it just looks as though hurdles are placed to deter them from complaining.

And those who are supposed to govern this once proud and industrious little nation on the outskirts of Europeland appear powerless or simply disinterested to do anything about it. Content to simply appoint toothless ‘Ombudsmen’ to oversee these conglomerates and multi-nationals which have long lost their sense of common human decency in the pursuit of profits, pay rises and bonuses.

Gawd, I’m sounding like a communist, but then again, that’s even worse going by what’s happening around the world.

What was it Private Fraser said: “We’re all doooomed.”

Happy New Year right enough. So if any of my friends, colleagues or contacts want to get in touch you’ll have to use the telephone. I have a new temporary Gmail account and will give callers a note of that. I will also shortly try to create a new FB account if the old one can’t be restored.

Happy days, eh?