Is British rallying at the start of a renaissance?

A healthy entry list and new TV deal are good signs the BRC is leaving the doldrums behind

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There’s a real buzz about Britain’s domestic rallying scene right now.

Last November’s Roger Albert Clark Rally inspired memories of the World Rally Championship’s epic five-day Rally GB marathons from years gone by. Now the British Rally Championship, Britain’s premier rallying series, is having its own throwback too.

The entry list for the opening round of the 2024 BRC, Garstang’s North West Stages, features the best of the best from the British Isles; something which hasn’t been the case in recent years as the championship struggled to find an identity within the European rallying landscape.

Several BRC champions like Keith Cronin and Osian Pyrce, and former championship regulars like Oliver Mellors and Meirion Evans, have returned to the series. But the intrigue doesn’t stop there. A pair of WRC2 stars, in the shape of 2019 European Rally Champion Chris Ingram and 2023 Junior WRC champion Will Creighton, will also undertake BRC campaigns.

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Will Creighton is doubling up his WRC2 commitments with extra mileage in the UK

That’s two world championship-level drivers seeing the BRC as a viable option for supplementing their WRC2 campaigns. It harks back to the series’ glorious past, when the likes of Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Malcolm Wilson would compete at both British and World level simultaneously.

Granted, a lot has changed since then. But there’s no doubt that this year’s BRC season is the most hotly anticipated among British rallying fans for years. So, why have the star drivers returned, and how has the BRC managed its latest resurgence? According to M-Sport team principal Richard Millener, it’s going back to basics was the key.

“I think the series kind of lost its way a little bit,” he told DirtFish. “To be fair to the BRC, it did a lot over the years to try and get more competitors to participate, but perhaps the series was trying to be bigger than it could have been at the time.

“Taking in the big events like Ypres [Rally, the legendary Belgian event which has featured regularly on the BRC calendar in the last decade], it’s great to go and experience it, but when you do the maths, if you’re in a Rally2 car you can spend £20-30k trying do that event.

VANNESTE Davy / D'ALLEINE Kris - VW Polo Rally 2

Long heralded as a crown jewel in the BRC calendar, Ypres is now off-schedule

“All the costs that go with it add up eye-wateringly quickly, and we’ve got to remember that these are the best semi-professional drivers in the country, so most of them are simultaneously working to afford their rallying.”

The championship listened to the concerns of its would-be competitors, announcing a revised six-round 2024 calendar back in October. All its events are based in the UK: three in Wales, two in Scotland and one in England – and there’s an equal split between gravel and Tarmac rallies.

With no overseas trips required, and the opportunity to compete in a diverse and compact series of events, the BRC suddenly became a realistic possibility for several drivers who had given it a miss in recent years.

One such man is Osian Pyrce, who is returning to the BRC for the first time since winning the title in 2022. After electing to compete in Europe last year, the Welshman hadn’t intended to return to the British series this term. But as details of the BRC’s 2024 plans came to light, he reconsidered.

Chief among those plans is the BRC’s return to terrestrial TV for the first time in six years, with an hour-long highlights package being broadcast on free-to-air channel ITV4 following each event. For Pyrce, the TV deal was key in selling a potential BRC program to his sponsors.

“I wasn’t planning to do anything [this season] as I’d had a deal fall through,” Pryce told DirtFish, “but seeing details of the media coverage is really what swung it for me. I thought I’d try and put something together, and try to use the coverage to our advantage [for securing sponsorship] as well and go from there.

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Osian Pryce is one of two BRC champions coming back. The other is Keith Cronin, who's been on top form so far in 2024

“[TV coverage] is something that’s been lacking for a long, long time. And I think from a sponsor’s point of view as well, something like this is quite relatable. It’s a question that I get asked quite a lot when approaching potential sponsors: ‘Is it televised?’

He added: “Most of my sponsors are non-corporate. They’re family businesses, smaller businesses, and generally they’re people doing this to help me out. They follow me with great interest and they want to be a part of what I do. So for them, the TV thing, for a small business to be advertised on national TV, that’s a pretty big thing for them and it’s like a feather in their cap.”

While Pryce doesn’t yet have the budget for a full BRC season, he hopes some time in the media spotlight, and some success on the stages, will help encourage more partners to attach their logos to the side of his Ford Fiesta Rally2. After all, he started 2022 in the same position and ended the year with the BRC trophy on his mantlepiece.

One team that will certainly be in the BRC for the full season is M-Sport. After winning the series with current WRC star Adrien Fourmaux last year, the Cumbrian squad will enter three Fiestas on this weekend’s North West Stages, with DirtFish-backed driver Max McRae joining the team for the first of four British championship events this year, alongside full-season duo Garry Pearson and Will Creighton.

For Millener, maintaining the Ford-partnered WRC team’s presence in the BRC was always a key priority, especially given team founder Malcolm Wilson’s status as a past champion of the series in 1994.

“It’s clear, that Malcolm has strong links with the BRC from his driving career, and there’s the fact that it’s the premier championship within the country where we’re based.

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A trio of cars will fly under the M-Sport banner in BRC this season

“Malcolm’s philosophy has always been to support younger talents and grassroots rallying all the way through to the WRC, and that’s something that we’ve done in the BRC for the last 10 or 15 years in some form, whether it be single-make championships or works-supported entries.

“That said, we weren’t expecting to run three cars a few months ago,” the M-Sport team principal added. “The deals for all of our drivers came together pretty late, so to go from maybe running zero cars and just supporting customers, to running three cars was very good. A lot of that was down to the [positive] perception and the view around the championship, so it’s good to see and I’m very happy that we’re there supporting drivers again this year.”

While Millener is pleased with level of M-Sport representation on the entry list, with nine Dovenby Hall-built Fiesta Rally2s entered in addition to numerous Fiesta Rally3s and some older generation Ford machinery, BRC fans will be glad to see the increased depth of competition that this year will bring.

Last season Fourmaux destroyed the competition, while the battles behind were few and far between. In 2024, that won’t be the case; and we can expect battles throughout the top-10 right from the get-go.

“It’s a massively strong entry,” confirms Millener. “Meirion Evans has got his brand-new Toyota [GR Yaris Rally2] now, there’s Chris Ingram; we’ve got some Fiestas like Keith Cronin, there’s plenty of Škodas. It’s very strong competition throughout.

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The Fiesta has taken two wins from two on Irish Tarmac so far this year – could it be more of the same in BRC?

“The first event is kind of a sprint event in some ways so, it’s going to be difficult. We’re firmly concentrating on winning the championship rather than trying to win the first event outright, but I think some of the local guys there will be very hard to beat. It’s Chris Ingram’s home event so he should be fast, but the weather will be tricky.

“It’s been wet for the last few weeks, so any cuts will be very wet in the banks [meaning mud will be dragged onto the road]. That will make it harder for people lower down the order, but all things considered, I think we’re in for a really good event.”

The North West Stages takes place on Saturday March 23 and features 10 Tarmac tests over 58 miles (93km). DirtFish will be on the scene to bring you news and reactions from round one of this year’s BRC.

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