On the fourth of December what has probably been the closest fought rally championship ever to be held in Britain comes to an end when its last qualifying event takes place in Wales. The Motoring News Rally Championship, which for the past three years has been held in conjunction with Castrol, has always been keenly contested by British amateurs since it began in the very early sixties. But, just as 1968 was the year in which Colin Malkin and John Brown had a completely runaway victory in their Hillman, so 1971 will be remembered for the close finish between two pairs of competitors.
This year 14 events make up the championship series, all of them one-night road rallies in which performance on closed-road special stages is not what matters. After each event, 10 points are given for outright victory, down to one point for 10th place, and each competitor’s nine best scores are taken into account at the end.
Thirteen events have been held, five of them having been won by Will Sparrow and Nigel Raeburn in a Mini Clubman GT and five by George Hill and Keith Wood in a Ford Escort Twin Cam. Sparrow is a Midlander, whereas Hill comes from Lancashire. Though both have a certain amount of sponsorship, they each look after their cars themselves.
They are so closely matched that the championship position is such that the series could very well end in a tie, even after the recognised tie-deciding method is applied—reference to the number of first places gained during the year, then to the number of seconds and so on.
The remaining qualifier is the Targa Rusticana on December 4th, an event which might be recognised from its name as the work of Oxford University Motor Drivers’ Club. It begins near Brecon on Saturday night and finishes at the Metropole Hotel, Llandrindod, on Sunday morning. If Sparrow wins, he will also win the Championship. The same applies to Hill. But if Sparrow gets second place and Hill finishes anywhere except first, an absolute tie will result. However, to avoid possibility of joint champions it has been decided that in this event the best 10 scores, not nine, will be taken into account, and then 11 and so on until the tie is broken.
It is some considerable time since an amateur championship has created such interest as this one has. Among the rallying fraternity of Britain, both Hill and Sparrow have their supporters and it is very likely that they will travel to Wales in considerable numbers at the weekend to provide encouragement.
Even before the 1971 Championship has been settled the qualifying events for the 1972 series have been announced. For your diaries they are as follows:
Red Dragon Rally (Port Talbot MC): January 29th
Rallye Bristowe (Tavern MC): February 12th
Rallye Dubonnet (SODC): March 4th
Cytax Rally (High Moor MC): March 18th
Nutcracker Rally (Aberdare MC): April 15th
Peak Revs Rally (Ludlow Castle MC): August 12th
Gremlin Rally (Brecon MC): August 19th
Stocktonian Rally (Stockton & Dist. MC): September 2nd
Cilwendeg Rally (Teify Valley MC): September 9th
AGBO Rally (Owen Organisation MC): September 23rd
Plains Rally (Knutsford & Dist. MC): September 30th
Illuminations Rally (Morecambe CC): October 7th
Tour of Mull (2300 Club): October 14th
Torbay Rally (Torbay MC): October 28th
Shenstone Rally (Shenstone MC): November 4th
Whilst making preparations at home for the RAC Rally my ears picked up the words “Monte Carlo Rally” coming from the room in which my family were in the grip of the television set. I entered just as Wheelbase was ending an item on the rally and I was astounded to hear the closing words of Michael Frostick: “If the Monte vanishes into the night it’s the end of the rallying game.”
What utter rubbish. I have a high regard for Wheeelbase, particularly as it seems to be part of the programme’s policy to give coverage to a fair cross-section of the world’s rallies, but whoever wrote the script used by Michael Frostick displayed a singular lack of knowledge of the subject and gave a completely wrong impression to the viewing public.
Perhaps the Monte Carlo Rally will fade away, but that will not be the signal for all other rallies to follow suit. On the contrary, whilst some of the former classics are finding it difficult to get entries, younger events are springing up and are flourishing. In Britain, rallying has never been so popular as it is today. Club events regularly field the maximum number of 120 cars and entries for the RAC Rally were numbered almost to 250.
No, Mr. Frostick, our sport is certainly not in decline; nor will it head that way simply because one famous event in a packed calendar begins to lose its popularity—G. P.