There was a time when rallying was considered somewhat less than respectable. It all took place at night in the bleakest parts of the countryside, in circumstances which decent citizens associated only with footpads and their nefarious deeds. Sponsors were unheard of, no-one had any trumpets to blow, nor had need of any, and there was something almost surreptitious about the way in which people drove around unpopulated roads when they should have been in bed.
There was a British Rally Championship at the time, but there was very little interest in it even among those who took part in the sport, and when the weekly newspaper Motoring News launched its own championship in 1961 it became the only national series in the country worth talking about. Indeed, it was generally the cars that won the Motoring News Rally Championship usually picked up the RAC’s series on the way. There have been big changes since that time and Britain now has so many rally championships of various grades and types that people are sometimes confused. Special stages have become popular, though very expensive, and sponsors have emerged from all manner of business concerns to invest in a spot of publicity.
However, one championship has remained virtually unaltered throughout all the metamorphosis going on around it, and the Motoring News Rally Championship continues to be based on rallies which do not use special stages and are therefore far less expensive to organise and to contest. The events attract full entry lists, and the enthusiasm of all those concerned with them is boundless.
There are regional championships organised by associations of clubs, but the one remaining national series of road rallies (that phrase came into vogue to distinguish them from events which used special stages) is that organised annually by Motoring News and which in 1980 is in its twentieth year.
The 1980 championship has now reached its halfway mark and so far the charioteers of the night have visited areas as far afield as the desolate moors of Devon, the bleak Yorkshire moors, the deserted roads of the Brecon Beacons and the tortuous mountain roads of North Wales. Still to come are visits to the Lake District, the borderlands of the North of England, the picturesque Island of Mull off the West coast of Scotland and the navigationally difficult roads of South Wales.
In years gone by, the ubiquitous Ford Escort RS2000 has taken on all-comers during these night long battles and has emerged victor as dawn breaks over some distant hills. This year the tables are turned. No fewer than six marques are represented, although the current championship leader, Steve Hill (top left) drives the popular RS2000.
Second in the series and past champion, Mick Briant is pictured (top right) splashing through a Welsh ford in his Escort, he now drives a Sunbeam Lotus.
Other marques are represented by young South Walian, Neil Jones, (middle left) in his Triumph TR7, and Kendal’s Geoff Bickers in his Opel Kadett GT/E (middle right).
Further challenges come from (bottom left to rightl the rear wheel drive Fiat Strada of past champion John Bloxham, Yorkshireman Ron Beecroft’s Talbot Sunbeam, twice past champion Bill Gwynne in his Vauxhall Chevette and Welshman Danny Owens (Escort RS1800).
Road rallying attracts a great following of enthusiastic spectators, who endure long and sometimes cold, wet nights without sleep, to watch their heroes. Organisers take pride in laying on taxing routes which will nevertheless satisfy legal requirements and the whole provides an atmosphere second to none within the sport of British rallying. — SF.