CEO’s June Message – Hugh Chambers
As the 2019 Wales Rally GB drew to a close on the 6th of October last year, the world focused on Ott Tänak, standing on the top step of the podium. Along the sea front in Llandudno, crowds of fans crammed tightly against the barriers, all trying to get a glimpse of the stars spraying champagne and lifting trophies aloft. And now, almost inconceivably, just eight months later, the whole world has changed in every way; no crowds, no cramming and there is no Wales Rally GB in 2020.
“Our collective responsibility and absolute priority must always be the safety of all involved, whether they be competitors, officials, spectators or the many thousands of volunteers who share our passion for this sport”
While significant progress is being made to combat the virus worldwide, there remains considerable uncertainty regarding mass gatherings, social distancing and travel restrictions, plus the possibility of a resurgence of viral transmissions later in the year. After extensive discussions with our principal partner, the Welsh Government, the very difficult decision was taken to cancel the UK round of the WRC. As with all rallies, we rely on the goodwill of the local community and the integration of all emergency services therein, and as such we could not plan with any degree of confidence.
Our collective responsibility and absolute priority must always be the safety of all involved, whether they be competitors, officials, spectators or the many thousands of volunteers who share our passion for this sport. We respect and understand that rural communities are resisting the influx of outsiders into their midst, and in fact the Welsh Tourism Board has adopted a new tagline of “Visit Wales – Later”. The prospect of 100,000 visitors descending on them in October would be met with much hostility now. I would personally like to thank all of the fans and volunteers who support the rally year after year for their generous understanding of this impossible decision.
All of the feedback has been that this was the inevitable and correct decision. Not that this makes it any easier to bear. Our round of the WRC has been a permanent fixture on the calendar since its inception, and in fact the rally goes all the way back to 1932. Since the war the event has only been suspended twice, in 1957 and 1967. So, it is very distressing to see this year’s event come to a halt, especially as Wales’s own star, Elfyn Evans is in such fine form and would no doubt would have given cause for great national pride. The good news is the Welsh Government is very keen for the rally to rebound next year with an even stronger round of the WRC than before, and we are in discussion with the FIA and the WRC promoter to try to secure this commitment for next year.
“Perhaps the biggest winner through this crisis has been the broad adoption of Esports, demonstrating the sport’s appeal in the virtual realm as well as the real world”
Like all who have been in lockdown for weeks, there has been time to tackle the tasks that have previously eluded us at home; and probably more than a few motorsport enthusiasts have taken the chance to open a box or two of memorabilia and archive materials. As you can see from the image, one I came across, rolled in a cardboard tube for the past 48 years, was a poster I acquired at the 1972 RAC Rally. As I am sure you are aware, that was an historic event, with Roger Clark and Tony Mason scoring their first win on the rally. The next year, 1973, would see the inauguration of the FIA World Rally Championship, and the beginning of a process that condensed and standardised rallies to the compact format we see today.
Looking at the programme for 1972, the rally spanned four days, but within that the competitors only stopped for one night’s rest. Other than that, it was flat out all the way. The event was based in York, but encompassed stages in Scotland, Wales and England, with a presence across the country that made national news headlines. Roads were lined with spectators in the fashion of the Tour de France. There were nine factory teams, each with three drivers, and a diversity of cars you do not see today. Of course, we cannot turn back the clock, but what I take from this is that we need to make rallying more visible, more accessible and more relevant. And I don’t see that as unique to rallying, but across the full spectrum of motorsport.
That is our challenge and we need to look at ways in which we can innovate with formats, presentation, promotion and above all costs. Perhaps the biggest winner through this crisis has been the broad adoption of Esports, demonstrating the sport’s appeal in the virtual realm as well as the real world. The latest edition of Revolution Magazine is packed full of insights charting the rise of digital motorsport disciplines.
On an equally positive note we have been successful in our lobbying of UK Government in Westminster to allow the F1 races to take place in August, and for the free movement of the F1 personnel throughout the season. We have worked very closely with the government in the form of the Department of Culture Media and Sport, presenting the case for motorsport to resume as quickly as it is safe to do so.
The guidelines we have created with a broad range of stakeholders have been applauded by the FIA and are now being adapted and adopted by other ASN countries around the world. Motorsport will restart on the 4th of July, but that is only the beginning of the journey. The biggest challenge will lie in the safe execution of the guidelines. It is our incredible community and network of clubs that need to execute the delivery and decide how to implement them in practice, on the ground. We are providing training to officials, so they are best equipped to deal with eventualities.
The creation of COVID-19 officers will mean we have people with a specific focus on compliance, and also feedback of how these implementations work in the real world. It will take time for the community to gain full confidence in the measures, but the signs so far are that in circuit racing, at least, the grids will be packed, and racing will resume in a surge of activity. I hope that you and your families are well and keeping safe. Thank you for your continued support of the sport we all love. Soon it is time to start our engines again.
Hugh Chambers CEO, Motorsport UK