Motorsport UK defends rally return advice

CEO Hugh Chambers responds to British rallying's worries

Rally Great Britain WRC

Motorsport UK CEO Hugh Chambers will clarify the position of British rallying in the coming days following criticism of the governing body’s “Getting back on track” document issued earlier this week.

The document, released on Monday, laid out plans to restart motorsport in Britain once the current suspension is potentially lifted on July 1.

For rallying, the advice was that co-drivers would not be permitted in the car until the government has lifted its social distancing rules. It left teams up and down the country exasperated.

DirtFish was contacted by teams from the grassroots level all the way to the World Rally Championship with grave concerns about rallying’s future in Britain.

M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson told DirtFish: “When you look at what’s happening in France, Italy, Belgium, in the European Rally Championship, people are putting dates together again and there’s no mention of no co-driver in there. I find this statement a little bit bewildering and quite strange.”

The document stated: “It is unlikely that vehicle sharing, passengers or co-drivers will be permitted while social distancing is to be respected.”

Instead of rallying, there could be Rally Timed Trials at a single venue with no spectators or co-drivers.

The document continued: “In the first phase of re-establishing rallying, to respect government requirements for social distancing, the assumption has been made that vehicles must be single occupancy with no passengers or navigators and no shared driving of vehicles.”

Chambers has since pointed out that the document was issued to stimulate conversation rather than regulate. He accepted concerns about the wording and said Motorsport UK was already working towards further guidance specific to rallying.

He told DirtFish: “We positioned this document very much as guidelines, we’re not in a position to lay down the rules – that’s what the government does in terms of what we’re allowed to do in society.

“In terms of the interpretation of every aspect of society in the way that it modifies itself, it’s a constantly moving exercise and we’re very open-minded that people have got creative ways of dealing with it.

“I think we’re open-minded to all suggestions. It’s in all of our interest to do that, the last thing in the world we want to do is prevent any aspect of the sport continuing.”

DirtFish pointed to Motorsport Australia’s equivalent document which, on the subject of rallying, offered the following: “Rallying and off-road racing may commence, but will be the subject of a specific plan developed by Motorsport Australia and the National Medical Committee to ensure the safety of the driver and co-driver while social distancing measure remain.”

Asked if the Australian approach might have been more suitable in the Motorsport UK document, Chambers replied: “We had a meeting specifically on this subject to ask my senior management team to look at alternative ways we could creatively foster rallying within the context of the guidelines that the government introduces.

“Motorsport is suspended until the end of June, so we’re looking at July at the earliest and a hell of a lot’s going to change between now and then.

“I set a challenge to my team to find out what – even if we have to modify the format and certain aspects of it – can be done to be creative and ingenious in order to allow it to continue.

“I have a good deal of sympathy towards some of the feedback you’ve had and maybe that sounds slightly ironic: why publish something you’re not 100% certain about? The answer is, nothing is certain, there is no road map for this. We’re all in it together and trying to find a way to navigate it.

“Hopefully in the next few days we can come out with some clarification. I’d always anticipated that once we put this out to the market place, you’re going to have some good ideas coming out. I welcome it.”

M-Sport Rally Mexico

M-Sport's WRC cars in the Rally México service park. Photo by André Lavadinho

Wilson, like many others, pointed out that coronavirus testing would be the way simplest way forward.

“I’d say an investment there and having testing in place would be a sensible way forward,” Wilson added.

“At the moment, it’s commercial suicide. We’ve got 200-odd folk in the government’s furlough scheme and we just don’t know what this thing’s going to look like when it comes out the other side.”

Chambers agreed with Wilson on testing, adding: “Hopefully testing is going to become more ubiquitous and cost-effective, but as you know Formula 1 is talking about testing everybody every two days.

“At the moment antigens are in the region of £100 and also not necessarily that accurate. The time it takes to get results, it’s far from perfect.

“I think over the next month or so things are going to change a lot and you’re absolutely right: if we can have on-the-spot testing which is effective and reliable then that could unlock the whole thing.”

Another point of concern raised is the tone of the advice offered against a backdrop of Motorsport UK continuing in its preparations for Rally GB and the potential return of the British Rally Championship with the Galloway Hills Rally in September.

Chambers defended that work, saying: “Rally GB is five months away, go back five months and we’re in January and nothing is locked down.

“There’s not some masterplan where we’re saying the BRC can continue and club rallying can’t. It’s on the calendar only in the sense that we hope there are solutions that will be arrived at before that takes place.”