Garry Jennings won the 2016 Lurgan Park Rally last month. This was the Kesh driver and his co-driver Michael Moran’s fourth win in a row at the popular Co. Armagh venue. The car was Garry’s usual Subaru Impreza S12B WRC, engine rebuilt after his stage one Donegal retirement. In fact that particular S12B has won here five times. Kevin Lynch drove it to victory in 2008.
Kenny McKinstry was second again this year, as he was in 2015, with his newer S14 Subaru. Noel Orr accompanied the Banbridge man as he has done so many times in the past. In fact the pair won twice in 2000 and 2003. McKinstry has of course had 11 victories here but the 12th still eludes the “King of the Park”. Kenny finished the short 8-stage event 13.9 seconds behind the flying Jennings.
Declan Boyle returned to the park after a few years, but this time in his Fiesta WRC as apposed to an Escort Mk.2. Boyle and his usual co-driver, cousin Brian, finished third ahead of Derek McGeehan’s Mini WRC and Derek McGarrity who was in his Fiesta WRC. Stuart Biggerstaff brought the family Subaru S9 home in sixth while Robert Woodside was seventh in his new Fiesta R5, just .1 of a second ahead of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.9 driven by Pat O’Connell.
Top two-wheel-driver finisher and winner of the Escort Mk.2 Challenge was the on-form Damian Toner from Armagh and co-driven by Thomas Treanor. Keith White and Frank Kelly were second and third in class.
For us fire marshals (two of us also covered radio points) the day was uneventful, in fact there were very few incidents. Of the 49 starters 45 cars made it to the end of the final stage. The bad weather in the morning kept the crowds down and although things brightened up considerably in the afternoon, this was the lowest number of spectators I had seen for some time. A long way from the 10,000 who flocked to the park in the glory days! Perhaps the format needs shaking up. Maybe next year there will be more of the evenly-matched R5 type cars and we might see a bit of a battle for the win! This year was predictable with the 2-litre WRC cars dominating at the front followed by the smaller 1.6 World Rally Cars. Even the Escort’s weren’t as entertaining as usual!
Anyhow, I would just like to thank all of our BMMC/BRMC marshals who signed on and helped make the 2016 Lurgan Park Rally a successful and particularly save event. This had been my 36th year assisting North Armagh Motor Club in the park and my 20th year as Fire Officer.
Sponsored for the next three years by John Mulholland Motors, the 2016 Ulster Rally will be based in Londonderry at Ebrington Square. Expect a capacity entry as the event is a round of the British Rally Championship as well as the Irish Tarmac and Northern Ireland Championships. The stages will be in counties Derry and Tyrone and include the infamous Rousky plus many other well used classic tarmac tests. Although I will not be there due to my youngest getting married that weekend, I know lots of marshals will be signed on for two days of fast exciting action. Good luck to you all whatever you are doing. Timekeeping, radio cover, rescue crew or stage marshalling.
Listed as a reserve round of the Northern Ireland Championship this year, the Enniskillen MC’s Lakeland Stages Rally is round 5 of the 2016 Irish National Forest Rally Championship. Expect the usual gravel tests close to Derrygonnelly and Belcoo with a finish in Enniskillen. We will be asked for assistance as usual.
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,