IT IS usual for this page to confine itself to comment on those International events which arc of greatest interest; European Championship qualifiers, the Home Internationals and any other rally which we consider worthwhile. Up till now, we have had little to say about British rallies which are of less than International status, preferring to leave such coverage to the weekly newspaper, Motoring News.
However, since 1970 marks the tenth anniversary of the Rally Championship, which is held in greatest regard by the country’s rally followers, we considered it worth devoting some space to explaining this Championship.
Prior to the decade just past, the only National Championship for Britain’s rally drivers was that arranged by the RAC together with its Championships for other branches of the sport. The general feeling among participants was that it somehow didn’t measure up to requirements. It is difficult to give reasons for this, but perhaps the main one was the choice of its half-down or so qualifying events. Each one was of National status and it was felt that there were several rallies one step lower in the scale—restricted—which were more worthy of inclusion in the Championship.
Then, in 1961, Motoring News announced that it would organise an annual Championship for the country’s Club drivers, the choice of qualifying events having nothing whatsoever to do with their positions in the status scale. The criterion was popularity among competitors. If an event was tough, well organised and not needlessly ridden with complexities, it was popular and that could generally be held as a measure of its success.
Each year throughout the sixties the Motoring News Rally Championship increased its following, and today scores of rally organisers strive to improve their events so that they stand a chance of being selected as one of the Championship qualifiers. But if the competition among organising Clubs is keen, the rivalry between competitors is keener. Each event invariably attracts a full complement of entries, usually is, each participant conscious of the fact that the rally will be devoid of nonsense and will provide a night of tough, entertaining and worthwhile sport.
There are people who regard a one-night British rally as a military tactician might regard a game of toy soldiers. Of course it is vastly different from an International event which might span three or even live days, but the difference in severity is mainly one of time. If several British events were strung together to form an event as long as the RAC Rally it would tax an experienced professional driver just as much as any in the European calendar.
Very rarely has a high place in the Championship brought a driver recognition in the form of a drive for a works team, although Colin Malkin, the 1968 Champion, was rewarded by Rootes for his ability in a Hillman Imp with a place in the Hunter crew which won the London-Sydney Marathon. There are several reasons for this not the least being the completely amateur status of all but a handful of the regular Championship contenders. Most of them have jobs which do not allow them to be absent for the long periods which a works drive would necessitate. Others, navigators in particular, are highly skilled when working on familiar terrain and using the excellent one inch Ordnance Survey maps upon which nearly all British rallies are based, but do not have the temperament to become a co-driver instead of a navigator—a sort of office manager of the car to whom accurate navigation represents only a fraction of his work.
Up to twenty events have been selected annually as Championship qualifiers with the best scores on half or three quarters that number being taken into account at the end of each year. Originally, points were awarded to the first fifteen drivers and the first fifteen navigators (fifteen for first place and one for fifteenth), there being separate categories for the two different skills required of a rally crew. More recently, only the first ten crews qualify for points, and this is the case for 1970.
In the selection of events no regard is taken of their status. This is because the difference between a restricted event and a National is merely on paper. Indeed, there are several restricted rallies which are tougher than most Nationals and far more popular for that reason. Furthermore, administration costs are higher for organisers of National events, a fact which results usually in higher entry fees for competitors— and the Championship is intended for amateurs after all. In 1969 Castrol recognised the importance of the Championship and its place in British rallying and offered its support in many ways. The association of this oil company with Motoring News continues into 1970 when fifteen events will be qualifiers, the best ten scores in each case to be taken into account at the end of the year. Although the Championship qualifiers appear in MOTOR SPORT’s fixture list each month, a complete list of the 1970 rallies would enable readers to view the series as a whole and not just as single events month by month. Such a list appears on this page. Should any reader desire more detailed information, such as the area in which an event will be run or the address of its secretary, we will be happy to supply it.
In years past, the British manufacturers who ran rally teams operated schemes whereby private entrants who achieved success in their cars were given bonus payments on a scale which depended on the status of the particular events in which they took part. When BMC was merged with Leyland the scheme operated from Abingdon stopped. But an announcement last month gave details of a new scheme which will be operated by British Leyland throughout 1970. It will be based on rallies, races and hill-climbs at International and National Open level. Payment will be restricted to those driving British Leyland cars (which does not include non-BL cars with BL engines.
The payments vary from £750 to the winner of an event such as the East African Safari Rally to £25 for a second place in class on, say, the Welsh Rally or the Tour de Corse. Additional payments will be made to those successful in the World Cup Rally, varying from £1,000 to the outright winner to £100 for tenth place. Of course, to qualify for payment drivers must be genuine private entrants and must be driving British Leyland cars.—G.P.