The months of high summer have always been regarded as the close season for rallying; not for the same reasons as cricket isn’t played in the winter nor grouse shot in March, but because of a desire to cause little inconvenience to people not connected with the sport.
In Britain, for instance, most one-night rallies are confined to wintertime, and not only because conditions then are more difficult than they are in summer. The real reason is that nights are longer and organisers are better able to provide routes of worthwhile length without adding to the congestion of daytime roads. Daytime rallies, and those longer events which run throughout day and night or several days and nights, are invariably those which confine the daytime parts of their routes to special stages on private land, with public roads being used merely to link the private ones. The RAC Rally is one such event.
In 1970 the RAC Rally of Great Britain was the best supported event of the year, indeed of more years than most people care to remember, reflecting the esteem in which the rally is held. Since it abandoned acceleration, braking and manoeuvring tests and replaced them with tough special stages on loose-surfaced roads its reputation has soared. To most team managers winning the RAC Rally has become more desirable than winning the Monte Carlo Rally.
Adding to the attraction of the event is its total ban on practising. Most Continental events allow practising, and to have any chance at all of success a crew must spend several weeks making accurate notes, a wearying and costly business. In Britain the roads of the State forests are made available only for the rally and not for recceing. Indeed, in any given forest it is not possible to work out beforehand which of the network of tracks will eventually be used for the stage, and that is as it should be, for the element of the unknown is then at its greatest.
The RAC Rally is the biggest international event to take place in Britain. It covers the entire country and attracts crowds far bigger than any Wembley, any Wimbledon or any Silverstone or Brands Hatch for that matter. But it is only in recent years that its publicity potential has been realised. The attraction of up to a dozen professional factory teams is considerable; this and the prestige which the rally brings to the country has resulted in a degree of co-operation between organisers and other parties which has never before been achieved.
The event’s reputation owes much to the use of forest roads which are near perfect for rallying. If anyone ever considers constructing his own special stage I would suggest he takes a course of instruction from Forestry Commission engineers. But these roads are expensive. A fixed fee, based on the number of cars starting a rally and the total forest miles used, has to be paid in advance as an insurance against damage which may be caused to road surfaces. These fees are not returnable, nor are they reduced if the damage is slight.
Finding other suitable roads is not easy, but this year various landowners, including municipal corporations and owners of stately homes, have offered their estates. Furthermore, some of them have generated their own publicity and have taken steps themselves to cater for spectators, building grandstands and providing car parks. It is too soon yet to detail the various arrangements, to outline the route of the rally and to talk of the competitors themselves. Depending on how soon the information will be available, the November issue of Motor Sport will either contain a guide to the rally or will indicate how the information might easily be obtained.
Basically, the rally will consist of two legs, the first being largely confined to the North of England and Scotland and the second to Wales and the West Country. Start, half-way and finish will be at Harrogate. It will be an event well worth watching somewhere or other.
British organisers and advisors are renowned the world over for their ability to produce competitive rally routes seemingly from a hat, and many a regular British competitor has been asked by foreign organisers for advice. Spain’s International Sherry Rally (September 21st-23rd) will have a 1,800-kilometre route translated into road-book form by none other than Henry Liddon. With a prize fund of more than £7,000, the rally is one of the richest in the world and is expected to attract a strong field of competitors, many of them British.—G. P.