Rallying needs to be taken to the masses

Published on Wednesday November 01 2017

It will come as no surprise to you that I thought last week’s Wales Rally GB was quite good. Quite good is, in fact, something of an understatement. It was superb.

What bothered me a little bit was the disquiet about the route and the inclusion of elements such as Chester and Cholmondeley Castle.

I can sympathise with the crews, coming out of Hafren just before 1600hrs on Friday and then having three hours to drive back to Chester (a journey of 87 miles) isn’t the most stimulating of afternoons. To follow that with 20 minutes standing waving, smiling and signing in the city simply served to wind them up more.

It was more of the same on Saturday: out of Dyfi at lunchtime then nothing before a dash across Lord Cholmondeley’s lawn while the family sat down to a late afternoon tea.

Service, two stages and then back to Deeside and bed around midnight. It was a good 19 or 20-hour stint, but the competitive mileage didn’t reflect the time on the road.

Because it can’t. Nobody wants to put more stages and more competition on than Rally GB co-ordinator Andrew Kellitt and nobody has more tricks up his sleeve to do that than him. That it wasn’t done means it couldn’t be done.

But what could be done and should be done is Chester and Cholmondeley. It’s remarkable how many of the folk who bemoan the lack of coverage of this sensational sport were the same ones carping on about what a waste of time Friday night and Saturday afternoon were.

They weren’t. They were about future-proofing the event and series.

Rewind a couple of decades and you’ll remember the opening day of the RAC Rally was a tour of stately homes such as Cholmondeley. It was a day-long PR operation that infuriated the crews and spawned a whole new use for Mickey Mouse.

But those days also coincided with a time when the event was back page news for Fleet Street.

I can see the crew’s point, I understand that they would rather be between the trees than sitting waiting outside Cholmondeley for half an hour.

What really disappoints me is the number of drivers – including, astonishingly Jari-Matti Latvala – who preferred to sit in their cars rather than go in and make dreams come true by signing a few autographs for the thousands of folk who were waiting for them.

What didn’t help matters was a breakdown in communications between rally control and Cholmondeley, which meant Sebastien Ogier was turned away and not allowed in to see his people.

Put simply, without Cholmondeley and Chester, rallying will remain very much in the minority. We can’t and shouldn’t try to emulate Formulas 1 or E by spending a weekend in the city, but it’s vital we recognise the need to spoon-feed the masses.

Talking of tired, it is worth a shout out for the marshals in Aberhirnant and Dyfnant. Up hours before the sun on Saturday for the first run, they were on their toes again for the nationals and then back on their game well after dark for the second run of the world cars. Once the sweeper car was through, they’d been up and at it for 23 hours.

Thank you.

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