Fear And Frustration Mount As Rally Return Is Blocked By Blanket Bureaucracy

Fears are growing that rallying won’t return in Wales until the spring of 2021, unless the Welsh government allows non-spectator Covid-19 compliant trial events to take place.

Some motor clubs have tried to organise experimental rallies, but optimism is turning to despair and frustration as the 30 maximum mass gatherings rule – which doesn’t apply to many other areas of indoor life, including supermarkets, pubs and restaurants – is preventing motorsport events from taking place in some of our largest outdoor arenas.

Take Aberystwyth & District Motor Club for example, where hopes are fading that it will be allowed to run the Select Security Services Rally Time Trial at the vast Sweet Lamb complex in mid-Wales at the end of October.

By limiting it to a 50 driver only event, and restricting the number of people in each service crew, it has calculate that – when you add marshals, timing, rescue, medic and other essential officials – the minimum number of people present would be 240.

But that’s in a remote 5,000 acre site, where physical social distancing measures would be easily maintained.

There is more than enough space to have ‘competition bubbles’ – as per the latest Motorsport UK guidelines (motorsport’s governing body in the UK) – or have separate pods of extended households.

It’s a similar situation with Carmarthen Motor Club and its Coracle Rally Time Trial at the 1,800 acre Walter’s Arena in the Vale of Neath.

Postpone from its original summer date and now pencilled in for the autumn, that event has now been postponed indefinitely.

That said, given a bit of common sense latitude by the Welsh government, it could go ahead this year.

While the Welsh government says that one blanket face mask rule for reopening schools doesn’t work, it’s happy to enforce an illogical blanket rule in rallying.

And that is potentially causing catastrophic long-term damage to the sport.

What about spectators, I hear you ask?

True, it’s not as easy as keeping a stadium’s turnstiles locked, but it’s far from impossible either. After all, non-spectator stages have become commonplace.

And if you really want to guarantee that not a single fan will trek across moorland, forest or field Bear Grylls-style in an attempt to sneak in to view an event – and therefore ensure that the Motorsport UK guideline stating that even uninvited fans are the responsibility of an event organisers, are fully met – what better place to hold a rally than in an active military training area?

But not even that is currently possible – as Forrester’s Car Club failed attempt to run the Lofty Rally Time Trial at Caerwent in Monmouthshire in September have demonstrated.

A glimmer of light briefly appeared when a trial event for 100 people was announced at Anglesey Circuit.

However, the Welsh government got its terminology wrong. It’s not a ‘car rally’ that will take place there on 6 September, but a 750 Motor Club race meeting.

Despite the 90 acre Trac Môn site in Ty Croes being one of the remotest (and most picturesque) racing circuits in the UK, this race meeting will be limited to just 50 competitors – when normally 250 race cars would take part.

Even though spectators can, and to shelter from the Irish Sea wind often do, watch the racing from inside their parked cars, no spectators will be allowed in.

It’s not as if racing circuits don’t know a thing or two about risk assessment either, but this illogical snail-speed approach to restarting motorsport is killing the sport in Wales.

And the current devolved rules won’t even allow you to run an event on a beach.

While there is no restriction on the number of sunbathers that can enjoy the sandy shoreline, providing their social bubble keeps two (or is it one and a bit?) metres apart, the Vintage Hot Rod Association’s annual race meeting at Pendine (postponed from its original date in July to run in October) has been cancelled.

What is adding to rallying’s frustration is that some events can side step the rules.

A three-day off-road event for 4×4 vehicles called The King of Britain, a round of the Ultra European Championship, took place at Walter’s Arena (30 July – 2 August).

Because it was given elite status, 340 people were reportedly on-site and involved in the event.

Social distancing was observed and PPE compliance was implemented – and no reported spike in coronavirus infections have seen been recorded in the Glynneath area since.

So it’s too dangerous for a smaller club rally to take place, but a much bigger event at the same venue that has elite status is perfectly safe?

Each country has dealt with coronavirus differently, so it is difficult to compare Wales to the rest of the world.

That said, it is clear that other countries care more about rallying than the Welsh government does.

Italy, once the European epicentre of the outbreak, has been back rallying for over a month now – it even hosted a round of the European Rally Championship.

The World Rally Championship is about to restart in Estonia.

If restarting rallying on secure private land, a race circuit and on a military area is providing so difficult in Wales, how long will the sport have to wait before it returns to the forests – its traditional and much loved spiritual home?

You can argue that Wales is perhaps in a better position than its neighbours, as Forest England has announced that rallying will not take place on its land until the spring of 2021.

Natural Resources Wales has made no such announcement.

However, a rally called the ‘M-Sport Return to the Stages’ did successfully take place in Cumbria last weekend.

Held in the privately-owned Greystoke forest, 45 crews took part.

Ruthin driver Hugh Hunter, co-driven by Dale Bowen, finished runner-up in a Ford Fiesta R5.

And what about the catastrophic economic impact of rallying lockdown?

There are dozens of rally-dedicated teams based in Wales – Geoff Jones Motorsport, Harry Hockly Motorsport, Melvyn Evans Motorsport, Spencer Sport, Group B Motorsport, Scott Williams Motorsport, Viking Motorsport, Team Duffee, Dylan Davies Motorsport; the list goes on and on.

It’s a world-class industry that has been largely closed and left abandoned for six months and counting.

The cancelation of seven rounds of the Pirelli Welsh Forest Rally Championship, 11 rounds of the Welsh Road Rally Championship, the entire nine rounds of the JD Tyres Welsh National Tarmacadam Championship and every event on Epynt and on other MOD land is also a massive economic blow to the local communities in which they are held.


Posted on: August 28th, 2020
Posted in: Dai-Sport