Marty McCormack and his niece Caron were the winners of an extremely tough Tour of the Sperrins Rally last month. The local pair were in a Skoda Fabia S2000 which wasn’t the most powerful car to start the gravel event. Marty is concentrating on the British Championship this year.
Magherafelt and District Motor Club had put together a total of 9 stages some of which hadn’t been used for years. The rally was a counting round of both the Northern Ireland and the Irish Forest championships. An entry of 72 started from Rally HQ, Walsh’s Hotel in Maghera Co.Derry.
Victor Lyness and I were on radio duty at the start of SS3/7 Wolf’s Hill in the Davagh Forest complex which is in Co.Tyrone near Draperstown. The test was 4 miles long. No major problems occurred during the two runs despite the bad weather. We had persistent rain for most of the day. Amongst the casualties were rally leaders at the time Desi Henry/Liam Moynihan. They were just a handful of seconds ahead of McCormack when the Antrim crew put their newer Fabia R5 into a ditch and out of the rally on stage seven.
So; second overall went to rally sponsor Derek McGeehan with Arthur Kierans in a Mini WRC. Third was Michael Carbin and co-driver Darragh Kelly who took maximum points in the Valvoline Irish Forest Championship with their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9.
Derek McGarrity had a torrid time and could only finish 41st after incurring a 10 minute penalty when his Fiesta WRC overheated and he failed to start stage one on time. Even so McGarrity still leads the Northern Ireland Championship as few of his nearest challengers finished the rally. Only 47 cars finished the Tour of the Sperrins. BMMC/BRMC covered marshalling, timekeeping, radio and rescue duties.
Last year’s winner Damian Toner and co-driver Denver Rafferty won the Loughgall Country Park Rally in their Ford Escort Mk.2 by 22 seconds from the Escort Mk.1 of Keith White/Damian McCann.
Fifty seven 2-wheel-drive cars (33 of which were Mk.2’s) started the six-stage tarmac event while 50 made it to the finish. The weather was largely dry but a few hefty showers made conditions slippery at times.
One crew who got caught out near my mid-stage radio point were Dermot Murray/Paul Tumilty. On the second stage their Escort Mk.2 left the road and took out quite a substantial tree by the roots before coming to rest on the nearby golf course. The car was badly damaged but thankfully neither crew suffered any injuries. The rest of the rally ran smoothly and without any further major incidents, managed to finish ahead of schedule! We BMMC/BRMC marshals were covering radio points as well as marshalling duties.
A busy month of May for yours truly was rounded off by timekeeping on the Police Motor Club’s Woodside Group Targa Rally. Last year this event had to be cancelled due to lack of entries. No such problems this time. A healthy entry of 67 competitors took the start line at the Ballinderry Inn in Co.Antrim. We as a club supplied marshals as well as timekeepers.
A total of 20 tests were the order of the day, most in farmyards or lanes. I was sent to test 7/14 which turned out to be a mile-long loose surface lane running through two farmyards with a long grassy finish straight. To keep speeds down the competitors had to stop and start twice mid-test. At the second “stop box” they had to collect a playing card which they then had to present to me on the finish line. Even so some of the quick boys were almost touching 70mph on the final straight! Many thanks to Larne Motor Club members who ran the test and particularly to Adam, a very pleasant young man who helped me on the finish control. Clubs need more young people on board!
Of the 62 starters 32 were in Mazda MX5’s which appears to be the idea car for this type of event. As the cars are cheap to buy and run this basic form of motorsport is very popular here in Northern Ireland at present. Almost ALL Motor Clubs in the ANICC are now running a Targa Rally. The only downside is that the events are proving to be very competitive and as many of the cars are soft-tops and most are without roll cages, there may be a safety issue here!
Anyhow the day went well. The weather was excellent which made our job as timekeepers/marshals all the more pleasant. The competitors really liked tests 7/14 and seemed to enjoy the whole event. Well done to winners David Crothers and Barbara Kane whose Mazda MX5 finished just 4 seconds ahead of Eamon Byrne and Robert Dickson’s Toyota Starlet. 57 cars made the finish.
Round 4 of the MSA ANICC Northern Ireland Rally Championship. We will be covering timekeeping, radio and stage marshalling on this closed-road tarmac event organised by Newry and District MC. There will be a total of 9 stages (3 run three times) in Co.Armagh. SS1/4/7 Black Hill: SS2/5/8 Dead Man’s Hill and SS3/6/9 Ballydougherty.
Round 5 of the Irish Tarmac Championship. I will be timekeeping as will other BMMC/BRMC club members. We are also providing stage marshals on this Donegal MC event. A maximum entry of 150 has been received for the main event. Garry Jennings, who won last year, is top of the list in his usual Subaru Impreza WRC, followed by Donagh Kelly in a Focus WRC and Declan Boyle’s Fiesta WRC. Eugene Donnelly makes a welcome return in a Mini WRC at number 4. Top R5 car is Championship leader Alaistair Fisher at 6 in his Fiesta.
We will be covering all the fire points as usual in Lurgan Park. Organised by North Armagh MC some of our club members will also be involved with rescue and radio duties. Sign-on is usually 8am with breakfast and a packed lunch provided.
A campaign Rally4Wales has been launched to fight against a significantly increase in the charges for forest rallying in Wales and with it a petition to the Welsh Government has been undertaken urging that costs are kept at a fair level and in line with costs in England and Scotland.
That petition has now gone live on the Welsh Assembly website and we desperately need everyone involved in motorsport to sign it to show the strength of opposition to these unreasonable proposals. It may be Wales at the moment but there are grave concerns that such level of charges could move to England and Scotland forests.
The link to the e-petition is https://www.assembly.wales/en/gethome/e-petitions/Pages/petitiondetail.aspx?PetitionID=943 It only takes a few minutes to sign and you don’t have to live in Wales to sign it.
The Motor Sports Association (MSA) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) have reached a temporary agreement allowing the Severn Valley Stages to proceed as planned on 4 June, and the MSA is encouraging crews to submit their entries as soon as possible.
The Severn Valley Stages is based in Builth Wells and organised by Midland Manor Motor Club. It is a round of the MSA British Historic Rally Championship and the MSA Welsh Rally Championship.
Rob Jones, MSA Chief Executive, said: “This is excellent news for the dedicated organising team behind the Severn Valley Stages, who have continued to work hard on their pre-event preparation despite the current uncertainty. What Midland Manor Motor Club need now is for the rallying community to turn out in force on 4 June, so we would please encourage all crews considering competing to get their entries in now. The MSA appreciates the fact that NRW has worked closely with us to achieve this accommodation for the Severn Valley Stages.”
Keith Ashley, Clerk of the Course for the Severn Valley Stages, said: “Going ahead as planned is absolutely brilliant news after the uncertainty of the last few weeks. It is also good for both the sport and the volunteers who have spent 12 months organising the rally. We’re extremely grateful to senior management at both the MSA and NRW for their positive approach and willingness to bring forward solutions to a difficult problem. Extending the previous cut-off date for the 2015 fees as a one-off measure will enable the 43rd running of the Severn Valley Stages to go ahead.”
The MSA and NRW continue to work together to negotiate a wider agreement for forest stage rallying in Wales.
Image courtesy of RallySportMedia.
You will be aware that there are no confirmed fees for accessing the Welsh forests for stage rallies beyond 31 May, following the expiration of our previous Master Agreement in December 2015. In contrast, new 2016 agreements for England and Scotland were agreed in January, based on 2015 prices plus RPI at 0.7 per cent.
Due to the fact that negotiations with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) are ongoing, the MSA had not detailed the relevant figures publicly. However, since NRW has now published these figures on its website (click here) the MSA feels it appropriate to respond and bring you up to date with what is a very worrying situation for us all.
As you can see from the NRW figures, last year the MSA paid £339,000 for road repairs in the Welsh forests, but NRW says that its costs for reinstating the roads in 2015 actually totalled £655,000. NRW is currently negotiating on the firm basis that it will seek reimbursement of the total cost of reinstatement.
Assuming the quoted £655,000 figure is representative over more than one season, this would mean a doubling of Welsh forestry charges, and NRW currently intends to introduce these new rates from 1 June 2016.
The MSA continues to negotiate in an attempt to convince NRW (and the Welsh Government, of which NRW is a sponsored body) that rallying’s significance to Wales is felt far beyond the sport itself, and that this bigger picture must be taken into account during negotiations.
For us there are three separate but inextricably linked aspects to consider: the sport; the industry underpinning the sport; and economic impact upon – particularly rural – communities in Wales.
Regarding the sport, it is of course synonymous with Wales, both in terms of its heritage and also in the modern era as the host country for the UK’s round of the World Rally Championship, sponsored by the Welsh Government, with whom we enjoy an excellent and mutually beneficial relationship.
There is then the industry. Quoting from the Welsh Government’s Directory of Welsh Motorsport Companies 2014/2015: ‘Wales has a well-established automotive sector with over 150 companies employing more than 1500 workers generating a turnover of over £3billion annually.’ It continues: ‘In towns and valleys, nestled in industrial estates and enterprise parks are motorsport suppliers on the very top of their game. From high end engineering through to merchandising and clothing and racing circuits through to parts suppliers, Wales has a wealth of world class motorsport companies.’
Finally there is the economic impact. When a rally takes place in Wales, the immediate and calculable financial benefit is that competitors, marshals, officials and spectators visit the area for a day and often longer. The MSA has access to UK-wide data that, although now four years old, gives a good indication of this financial impact.
To summarise that data, based on a one-day forest event with 120 competing crews, to include arrival on the previous day and some staying over to the following day, competitors are estimated to bring approximately £99,500 to the region. Marshals, officials and visitors are estimated to bring £345,000, giving a combined total of £444,500. With 10 national forest events running in Wales, this equates to £4.45million.
If we add Wales Rally GB, which alone creates a staggering £10million for the Welsh economy, we can reasonably conclude that forest stage rallying is worth approximately £15million a year to Wales. And that does not even take into account the promotional value of these events, some of which have a global media reach.
We hope that NRW can look beyond its balance sheet and fully appreciate these many benefits, so that there can be much more opportunity for negotiation. And while we must now accept that there will inevitably be an increase in charges, these could certainly be far more realistic and also introduced over a greater period, rather than overnight, which could potentially have a catastrophic impact upon a proud part of Wales’ sporting heritage.
Your governing body will continue to seek the best possible deal but we should not be in any doubt that the immediate and long-term future of rallying in the Welsh forests is currently very uncertain.
In the meantime, we would encourage those of you voting in Wales on Thursday to contact your new or returning Assembly Member to ensure that they are fully aware of your concerns for what Wales may stand to lose.
And if you do not live in Wales but nonetheless have a stake in Welsh rallying, whether by competing, volunteering or spectating in the Welsh forests and thereby filling your petrol tanks on Welsh forecourts, eating in Welsh restaurants, sleeping in Welsh B&Bs or buying goods and services from Welsh motorsport companies, please also make sure that your voice is heard, before it is too late.
Yours in motorsport,