2016 Year in Review – Rally

A Skoda Fabia navigates a gate on Wales Rall GB.

2016 Year in Review – Rally

A Skoda Fabia navigates a gate on Wales Rall GB.
A WRC2 spec Skoda Fabia R5 on SS2 of the Wales Rally GB.
A Vauxhall Adam R2 Rally car jumping a crest.
The Vauxhall Adam R2 started life as an Opel rallying in Germany. The return of the BRC also brought the return of the Griffin to national motorsport.

MGJ Engineering Brands Hatch Winter Stages Rally.
Riponian Stages Rally.
MSA BRC Mid Wales Stages Rally.
Rainworth Skoda Dukeries Rally.
FIA World Rally Championship Wales Rally GB.

I said in the Britcar section of the review of 2016 that the year was a year of firsts. Most notably it was the year I covered my first rally.


Before the MGJ Engineering Brands Hatch Winter Stages Rally I had never seen a rally car moving in anger. To be honest I wasn’t particularly impressed at Brands Hatch either because while it was nice to be able to see the entire days competitive action, confining these cars to the boundaries of a race track is like sticking a cheetah in a 40×40 meter cage. Yes you will see the animal and yes it will be able to move, but it wont be able to hit its stride and really impress.


I spotted this early on in the shoot, which was made a lot more complex by the fact that I didn’t qualify for an MSA Rally accreditation, which meant that while Tom at Brands Hatch was happy to have me there as media, he wasn’t allowed to let me in. I developed a newfound respect for the members of the public who get a good photo at the top of Paddock Hill Bend. I stood there for a good hour and didn’t keep a single shot.


Whoever thought overlapping three layers of catch fencing in one location is a good idea needs shooting!


So having thought wrongly that a circuit rally would be a good way to get used to rallying while staying somewhere near my circuit based comfort zone, I realised I would have to up my intake of ‘real’ rallying to get a feel for this unique discipline.


Cue a trip to the Riponian Stages Rally near Thirsk in Yorkshire. I realised several mistakes very early on. The first mistake has now been rectified, because a rally based atop Sutton Bank is a good idea, trying to get to it with only 75 bhp was not. I loved my Vauxhall Adam road car a lot, but it really did struggle with the Riponian so thoughts of more grunt were already in my head when I got to the first stage.


Time for the second mistake; listening to the organisers, and this one will take a little background. Back in 2014 a few spectators and photographers got themselves in a bit of suspect position on a rally in Scotland. Of course the chances of a car coming off at that particular location were not overly high, the chances of it coming off and hitting someone were even lower. A car came off, it hit and killed a few people, it was a very sad day in motor racing.


Of course the Scottish Parliament went to town on it. There were investigations, recommendations, rules and more regulations; all of which could only be made binding in Scotland. The MSA however panicked and implemented every jot and title of the resulting report, desperate to be allowed to continue rallying in Scotland. To protect against further legal action they rolled the new requirements out across the entire United Kingdom.


Now it was the turn of rally organisers to panic and over apply the rules. So when we got to the Riponian Rally, spectator access was shocking. Several hundred people were crammed into a tiny area around two of the slowest corners on one stage. There was no access to other stages, no access to anywhere else on the stages and about as much chance of getting hurt as if you spent your entire life in a psych ward’s padded cell. Of course it was very safe, but trying to get a clear shot of the cars was almost impossible because of Joe Public, or Max the Marshal stepping right in front of the camera at the critical point.


I came to the opinion that I wasn’t going to get a great amount done in the special stages so went off to find the route from one stage to another. This turned out to be an inspired idea because I got several shots of racing cars on public roads. All of them clear, crisp, with no-one in the way and just a little bit different from what everyone else got.


Time for the first of the big events this year. The MSA BRC Mid Wales Stages Rally was the first round of the newly reborn MSA British Rally Championship. It was also my first taste of a number of things:


  1. A proper rally – over big distances.
  2. Proper rally cars on the limit – the main class in BRC is all R5 cars like the WRC2.
  3. Hiking my somewhat oversized rear end up a Welsh mountain.


I thoroughly enjoyed two of the three and as Meatloaf once said, very sagely indeed, two out of three ain’t bad.


I had properly caught the bug, and even the somewhat timid closure of SS2 to the public due to a sudden and unexpected downfall of snow on the Saturday didn’t drive me round the bend. They opened the stage  for the second run on Sunday and of course in the daylight it was a lot more manageable than at night. It also prompted a second re-evaluation of my small but cheeky mode of transportation.


Ill be honest, I loved my Adam with a passion. I still do, and should I win the Lottery tonight I’m going to buy my little man back. I did however think he wasn’t quite the car for the job of driving up a forestry track, in the ice and snow, with shear drops to one side, on low rolling resistance tyres. Good for economy, not good for the stress levels when following a rally in March in the Welsh mountains.


I learned a lot on that rally which I put to good use at the next. Unfortunately the next rally was a long way away because the season was starting proper and my 33 weekends of race-chasing was starting to get intense.


I knew my final rally of the year was the big one and by now it had been drummed into me that shooting a rally was very different from shooting a GT race so I looked for a rally nearby to get my eye back in. All I could find was another circuit rally but it was a Donington Park so I headed off to the Rainworth Skoda Dukeries Rally. Again, being at a circuit and not being media was a culture shock but over the course of the day I got several good or even great images.


The photos were just a bonus really, what I was really after was a chance to get back into rally mode, the way a rally car moves differently to a circuit racer and in that respect, it hit the target nicely.


Time for my first ever World Championship event. The WRC was coming to Wales and I headed down on the Thursday to capture some of the service park and ceremonial start activities for the Wales Rally GB. Good job I did really as for the second day I had the day from hell. Road closures, traffic and an attempt on my wallet all conspired to cut short my jolly around Wales but to be honest I didn’t care.


I thought R5 cars were impressive, and they are, but they are nowhere near as impressive as a properly handled WRC spec machine. Many a rally fan think the current WRC spec is a poor relation to the Focus WRC, the C4 or the Imprezza or the Celica. Anything would be a poor relation to the Group C monsters of the late 80s and early 90s, but people think a Polo isn’t impressive at all.


I disagree. The Volkswagens were highly impressive, (and quite noisy), the Fords were pretty quick for chaved up rust boxes, (I’ve never liked the Blue Oval) and the Hyundai i20 WRC was both good looking and very committed. WRC2 was equally impressive and the Junior World Rally Championship cars were good too, if a bit of a let down after the bigger cars had come through.


Not saying that 2016 has turned me into a rally nutter but I have enjoyed this years off road action immensely. 2017 is looking good too with 6 rallies already planned, only 1 of which is circuit based.



From Club to WRC level.



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