For the first time in its 63-year history, a round of the British Rally Championship will be held entirely within a racing circuit as the Neil Howard Stages at Oulton Park becomes the new 2021 season opener on Monday, May 31.
Championship organizers had unveiled a revised six-round schedule just last week that kicked off with the Nicky Grist Stages in July and ended with Ulster Rally in November, but the addition of Oulton Park bolsters that number to seven and brings the start of the season forward by six weeks.
The rest of the calendar comprises the Grampian Forest Rally (August), Trackrod Rally Yorkshire (September), Mull Rally (October) and Cambrian Rally (October). Both of the Scottish events – Grampian and Mull – are also brand-new to the BRC.
The Neil Howard Stages has been held every November since 2012, but the 2020 edition of the event had been rescheduled twice as a result of the coronavirus pandemic to the point where it is now being held in May 2021.
It is a counting round of the UK’s Circuit Rally Championship and has been tackled by several BRC drivers in the past – including double champion Matt Edwards and 2020 M-Sport WRC2 driver Rhys Yates.
While Oulton Park might be more synonymous with Britain’s two biggest circuit racing series – British GT and the British Touring Car Championship – it does have rallying heritage.
The venue hosted the opening stage of Rally GB in 2019 and plans were in place for it to be the powerstage in 2020 before the event was canceled and then ultimately lost from the World Rally Championship calendar.
The news also follows in the wake of other major rally championships having a greater reliance on racing circuits. The WRC closed its 2020 season with the Monza Rally – an event where over half of the itinerary took place on and around the famous Italian Grand Prix venue.
BRC manager Iain Campbell told DirtFish the rally will be “a really good toe in the water and just a great way to get us restarted”.
“We’ve got seven rallies and the Ulster and the Cambrian are the only ones that were there in 2020 and in 2019, the last time we actually ran,” he said.
“We’ve got new events in there and we’ve got returning events. I like that, I like fresh, I like change because boy is it stale doing the same thing every year after year.
“You shouldn’t have to know that in June you are going to be doing Ae [a special stage in Scotland] or something like that, you shouldn’t know that in February you’re going to be doing Penmachno. It shouldn’t be that repetitive in my mind, there should be mixes that are thrown in.”
All BRC-registered competitors from 2020 were informed of Oulton Park’s addition prior to today’s announcement, and Campbell admitted the response has been positive.
“Generally it all was ‘we just want to go rallying’,” he said.
“There was one comment of ‘that’s not a BRC round’ but as we all know you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
“As we do like to do we like to change things, we like to try things and I do not see this being a bad thing at all. I think it’ll be a really good toe in the water and just a great way to get us restarted.
“And Oulton Park, as we’ve seen from when we were there with Rally GB, is not an easy place to have a rally stage either so I think the competition will be good.”
2021 British Rally Championship calendar
May 31 Neil Howard Stages
July 10 Nicky Grist Stages
August 14 Grampian Forest Rally
September 24/25 Trackrod Rally Yorkshire
October 8/9 Mull Rally
October 30 Cambrian Rally
November 19/20 Ulster Rally