The Welsh Rally
Try as we might, we couldn’t bring ourselves to use the full 1971 title as a heading; Fram Castrol International Welsh Rally is too much of a mouthful however generous the sponsors concerned. There are ways of generating publicity and obtaining the necessary exposure other than insisting on the inclusion of one’s trade name in the title of an event. Think of the ridiculous title which would emerge if the financial backers of the Tour de France demanded—and the event organisers agreed—to have their share of the title; The Dunlop Elf Bic BP Ford Martini Craven A Tour de France Automobile. Even Woolmark Grand Prix is going too far. I have already been asked the obvious question concerning that event—whether it is a race around the Brecon Beacons for Welsh Mountain Sheep.
Many and varied are the ploys of publicity seekers, and buying a piece of a title is not among the best of them. What earthly good would it do the sponsor if an advertisement appeared announcing that the Christopher’s Crunchy Cornflakes Rally had been won by a confirmed porridge eater. The same applies in the case of tyres, lubricants, fuels, accessories and the like, and the sooner the battle for banner headlines ends, the better.
I am not decrying the activities of sponsors, nor denying that their very being does the sport a lot of good. Indeed, such is the situation nowadays that many worthwhile rallies would fail miserably to get off the ground were it not for the good offices of someone with a cheque book beneath his pen.
All of which brings me by a somewhat devious route to the relationship between sponsors and spectators, and to a situation which was highlighted during the Welsh Rally. In racing there are enclosures from which turnstiles produce a steady income, thus reducing the need for a race organiser to seek financial help from a commercial sponsor. In return, the sponsor gets his publicity exposure in front of the paying audience.
In rallying there are no turnstiles, no source of ready income to help an organiser pay his bills. Consequently the need to find a sponsor is greater. There is no enclosed, admission-paying audience, but there is nevertheless an exposure which spans a fair chunk of countryside, not just the occupants of a handful of enclosures and grandstands, so whatever sponsor comes forward stands to reap a fair harvest from his seed.
From very modest beginnings, when rallying was considered by the man in the street to be no more than a playground for strange young men in woollen hats, the sport has grown tremendously and there are very few people today who fail to be stirred by a television film of the East African Safari and who do not appreciate the excitement of a high speed trip along a special stage in one of Britain’s forests.
Forest rallying creates more spectator enthusiasm than any other kind of rallying, and that is where the aim of any sponsor must surely be directed. But something is happening which is threatening to break the chain reaction by reducing the number of spectators, thereby cutting a sponsor’s effective exposure. If that is allowed to continue, the sponsor will lose interest and the rally which he formerly supported will be left to shrivel with an empty pocket. If a rally needs financial support, it needs spectators. It’s as simple as that.
As forest rallying increased in popularity, so the crowds flocking to the woods for the bigger international events increased, eventually causing the Forestry Commission to be concerned about the safety of their trees, the police to be concerned about traffic jams at forest entrances, and rally organisers to be concerned about what the legal position would be if a spectator were injured, even through his own negligence.
The consequence has been an attempt—which has so far only been applied in Wales for some odd reason—to prevent spectators entering the forests when a rally is passing through. This year, the South Wales Automobile Club compromised by coming to an arrangement with the Forestry Commission whereby spectator parking areas were set up at four forests (from a total of twenty-four) and visitors allowed to enter only those forests. Presumably they were thought to be safer there than in any other forest, though to me, passing through as a competitor, they seemed to be at no greater, no less, risk than flanking any forest road.
As a result of the active discouragement (barriers were even put up in some places) spectators were fewer this year than during any Welsh Rally I can remember in recent years. If that trend continues it will do the sport a lot of harm. On the other hand, if the idea is to set up more and more parking areas so that public roads are not obstructed whilst spectators have their pleasure, then only good will come of it, for no sporting event has the right to bring ordinary traffic to a standstill.
As for the Welsh Rally itself this year, it was perfectly ordinary. Ordinary, that is, inasmuch as it was as tough, exciting and closely contested as ever. Nearly two hundred competing crews took part, all of them thoroughly enjoying themselves whether they had a fault-free run to the finish or a premature end in the middle of a vast pinewood.
It was interesting to note that all three major British manufacturers with former associations with the sport were again taking an interest. British Leyland may have withdrawn from competitions, but there was nevertheless a factory-owned car in the field with factory support. Chrysler UK were similarly represented and, naturally, so was Ford. It is indeed encouraging to see that Coventry and Abingdon are keeping feet inside the door. Who knows, one day they may kick it open again.
From a variety of well-driven cars, including various breeds of Escort and Mini, Triumphs, Imps, Datsuns, Vivas, Capris, Dafs, MGs, BMWs, Saabs, Cortinas, Skodas, Alpine-Renaults, Fiats, a Rover, an Alfa Romeo and a Lotus Elan, it was the same model Datsun that won the East African Safari which took the premier award. The 240Z, driven by Tony Fall and Mike Wood, was factory owned, but on loan to them for the event and supported by staff from the dealer at Old Woking, Surrey.
Escort Twin Cams of both eight and sixteen valve configuration were leading in the early stages, and even an Imp emerged as a serious challenger, but it was the sturdy and powerful Datsun which finally made it, with a Mini Clubman GT in second place. Thankfully, no one make is ever dominant for long in rallying.—G. P.