Club Corner – Getting rallying up and running

Sunday 18 October 2020

West Cumbria and Eden Valley Motor Clubs Cumbrian clubs teamed up with M-Sport to host a triumphant return to the forests for post-lockdown stage rallying Every motorsport discipline has been hit hard by coronavirus but rallying has suffered more than most with, amongst other things, the cancellation of Wales Rally GB, the British Rally Championship and other national rally championships. Having been patiently waiting while circuit racers and others returned to racing in early July under Motorsport UK’s ‘Getting Back on Track’ COVID-19 guidance, rally fans were in need of a good news story.

The M-Sport Stages event at Greystoke Forest was exactly that, with West Cumbria Motor Club and Eden Valley Motor Club working with M-Sport to hold an inspiring post-lockdown return to stage rallying. For all the excitement, the pressure was very much on the organising clubs, not least for the incredibly short space of time they had in which to make it happen. “When you’re organising this kind of event normally, you’ve got ten or 11 months to set things up – for this we had six weeks,” admits West Cumbria Motor Club’s Roger Fisher.

“We’re fortunate that Malcolm [Wilson] agreed we should base the event on the Greystoke Stages format, which is an event we’ve run for 12 years now,” says Roger. “Early on we agreed we’d effectively repeat the 2019 Greystoke, so that meant both clubs were familiar with the structure of the event, how we were going to set the stages up and suchlike. That helped enormously but we depended extensively on the knowledge and experience of a very small team of people.” The Greystoke Stages usually runs each July, with planning normally starting as early as the previous October or November. This time, new ways of working had to be adopted with Zoom chats and WhatsApp groups replacing in-person meetings.

In some ways, the enforced shift to remote, preevent signing-on and scrutineering has provided an opportunity to adapt to new technology. “Undoubtedly some of the systems we’ve been forced to utilise will become the norm and, from the organisers’ point of view, it can simplify some things,” he says. “One or two competitors did struggle with some of the processes relating to self-scrutineering but, by and large, it worked well. I think it’s just a question of familiarity.” Technology is all very well, but Roger admits social distancing requirements do have an impact on the all-important camaraderie underpinning all grassroots motorsport.

“Normally signing-on is a chance for people to chat, have a joke and catch up, so doing it electronically does impact the social side,” he says. Needs must, but this has at least inspired a spirit of innovation in all those involved, not least on the timing side. Here Roger credits the hard work of Matthew Atkinson of and Richard Blackshaw of RAB Timing, who were quick to recognise how reliable, socially distanced timing was key to COVID compliant events and pulled out all the stops to have a system up and running.

“This was the first event in which it was used in anger and everyone was very happy to see it work so well,” says Roger. Frontline experience like this can now be shared by Roger and his colleagues in the two clubs with others looking to hold their own events, confident the processes and technology are fit for purpose. Rallying still faces considerable challenges, but through the hard work of Motorsport UK in establishing the guidance, and successful application of it by clubs such as West Cumbria and Eden Valley, proof of concept has been established, to the good of the sport as a whole.