Friday 8 September 2023

Rally - Dead end

Houston Rallying, we have a problem” and so goes the old saying … it’s called Motorsport UK. At a time when the future of forest rallying is already under severe threat, the sport’s governing body has just announced a change to current regulations, without any apparent consultation, which will be introduced and implemented in less than two months’ time (Nov 1st). According to those who must be obeyed it will no longer be allowed to run ALL two wheel drive cars at the front of the field ahead of the four wheel drive brigade. This allowance will be restricted to those cars under 1400cc.

At first glance this might seem like a sensible idea, but in reality it could catastrophically reduce the number of entries on forest stage rallies. Those clubman competitors with FWD and RWD machinery who are already working on a tight budget and facing ever rising costs could well re-think their future plans.

They may not fancy running behind the four wheel drive cars if this new ‘seeding on past performance’ rule is re-introduced. 

Admittedly it would be unfair to single out the total traction brigade for causing the most damage to gravel roads. Some of the ‘new generation’ rear wheel drive cars with 300 bhp power units can cause just as much, but to introduce such a rule without any consultation or consideration is not acceptable in a democratic country.

No doubt Motorsport UK will point to the fact that they have a Rallies Committee which meets regularly throughout the year and offers up suggestions for, and reactions to, proposed rule changes. This committee is comprised of folk who have both competed in rallies and organised them and therefore have practical and relevant experience. The problem arises when committee members disagree with the MSUK hierarchy which retains the power to override any committee suggestions with which they don’t agree! In this case it very much looks as though their own committee was not even consulted. So much for democracy, eh?

So far, Motorsport UK have not offered any justification for this rule change but that’s the problem with a self perpetuating oligarchy – they are answerable only to themselves. They have completely overlooked the fact that those people whom they are supposed to represent are paying their wages through competition licences and permit fees.

Rallying is already under threat from numerous outside sources, and not just environmentalists. The various national Forestry enterprises around the four home nations are under pressure to allow more public access, which means restricting access to motorised pursuits. Already clubs are struggling to contrive routes using only the forests which have been made available and not necessarily the ones they wish to use.

Public access is being actively encouraged for walkers, dog walkers, hikers, orienteers, fisher folk, naturalists and mountain bikers, but when a club or organisation comes along requesting exclusive access for a stretch of road for one or two days per year all sorts of objections are placed in their way.

Instead of fighting for our sport, our governing body is lying in the road and letting everyone else walk all over us.

It’s not right and it’s not fair.

Over forty years ago, an approach was made to the AA by a group of respected enthusiasts to set up a rival motor sport authorisation body to the RAC’s Motor Sport division. That caused a bit of a stooshie at the time and the governing body then got a bit miffed and responded with a separate sporting organisation devolved from the RAC which was supposed to be more representative and responsible to the sport. In light of that the AA and its proponents thought there was no need to pursue the project and it was quietly dropped.

Perhaps now is the time to have a re-think and take a good look at what we have and see if it can be improved or replaced. No easy job though, as the FIA would have to get involved and approve any new body’s ability to act as a National Sporting Authority.

Rallying needs a regulator and governor which will listen to its public and fight for its paying members. At the moment, the sport of gravel rallying seems to be heading towards the Flying Finish at full speed – but what happens when it reaches the Stop line?

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