The limiting factor that afflicts all national rally drivers

Motorsport is inherently expensive and impacts even the top national rally drivers

1 Matt Edwards / Darren Garrod – VW Polo

‘Motorsport is dangerous’. We have all seen this sign as we approach any motorsport venue.

‘Motorsport is expensive’. We don’t see this sign at venues but the subliminal message is there, hidden in the glorious pieces of metal being driven to their limits.

Not all motorsport is expensive. There are lots of varieties to the discipline that allow you to compete in your own road car at very little cost.

But special stage rallying? That is expensive.

One thing all disciplines have in common though is that competitors will, at some time want to talk about “budget” – whether they are starting at #119 in a 30-year-old classic, lovingly prepared in the owners’ driveway with a gang of mates, or  a top line progressive driver starting at car one with a professional team working tirelessly around the clock to ensure the ultimate performance from the car and driver.

The 2021 British Rally Championship was a blistering shoot-out between Matt Edwards and Osian Pryce that went down to the final round to find the coveted British champion. In fact, it went down to the penultimate stage of the entire season before the title was decided in Edwards’ favor. Pryce being caught out under braking and rolling the car into a field sealed the deal for Edwards to become a record breaking three-time British champion.

Another shared factor of both crews, aside from sitting under the Melvyn Evans Motorsport team awning and VW Polo mounts, is that both championship challengers started the season without the budget to complete all the rounds.

5 Osian Pryce / Noel O'Sullivan - Volkswagen Polo GTI R5

It’s often a slight that they are at the forefront of UK rallying thanks to having unlimited funds available to them. Yet to both, finding a backer who can offer a few hundred pounds or maybe a thousand pounds makes all the difference to being able to get to the next round. And their story is likely to ring true with most competitors as they look to raise the funds to get their next adrenalin fix across the special stages.

“I think people don’t understand the work that is put in to fund our season, or perhaps they chose not to understand that we can’t fund this ourselves. There are no endless pockets here,” says Pryce.

“I committed to Melvyn Evans Motorsport [saying] that I had the funds for the first three BRC rounds, which was a ballsy move as to be truthful I only had the budget for Oulton Park, the first round. But that is normal for me. It has been like that for the last 12-13 years I’ve been competing.

Pryce / Noel O'Sullivan - Volkswagen Polo GTI R5

“Every week I have been having meetings, phone calls or e-mails with existing supporters or prospective ones to get me from one round to the next. I’d got a company onboard to help with the Nicky Grist Stages, but then COVID meant no spectators were allowed.

“The company said they would move the funds to the Cambrian and they would take guests there. Ten days before the event, I got the call to say that they weren’t going to support me at all. That was a dark day and left me in a real hole. But we gambled on a result there. We got the win and some loyal supporters helped cover the costs for that one.”

D L Jones and Demon Tweeks are some of the backers that helped Pryce make it to the final round. But he also has a small group of very loyal supporters, who wish to remain anonymous. They love that he is doing well. They get a buzz from his results and knowing that they have helped him fight for the title.

It’s not something that sits comfortably, asking for money. There is no script to it that works Osian Pryce

“D L Jones is not a large company, but they do have a big heart,” says Pryce. “A small amount of budget was allocated at the start of the year from them. They’ve really pushed the boat out to get us to end the of the season.

“To be competitive, to be at the top level, to be semi-professional in a professional championship and have a day job takes a lot. There are a lot of sacrifices made to enable me to compete at the pace I do.

“I am not a salesman. It doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s not something that sits comfortably, asking for money. There is no script to it that works. It all depends on the company, their interest and the timing. It is hard work and can be demoralizing when you don’t get what you are looking for.

“But we can offer companies value and that is recognised by my backers. I’m currently just driving back from a meeting for 2022. It never stops. But certainly, the accident on the last round didn’t help. I’ve still got to find budget to pay for these repairs.”

1 Matt Edwards / Darren Garrod - VW Polo GTI R5

Enter stage left – Matt Edwards. The Conwy driver is the first person to win the British Rally Championship three times in succession and when you look at the names on the trophy – McRae (Jimmy, Colin, and Alister), Hannu Mikkola, Roger Clark, Richard Burns, Ari Vatanen et al – he is in very good company.

Unlike Pryce, Edwards had budget in place for the championship when it started. Well, sort of. When the reserve round, Mull Rally, was brought in, that created a shortfall. Mull was a more expensive proposition than the Jim Clark Rally it replaced and it left him with plenty of work to do.

But securing that all-important budget for the season was not easy. Keeping sponsors onboard during the COVID lockdown was even harder. An impressive feat then that Edwards even attracted a new sponsor during the lockdown period in TPS, the Volkswagen Trade Parts supplier. But this meant that he had to move from M-Sport to a VW Polo to keep them onboard.

1 Matt Edwards / Darren Garrod - VW Polo

Though a budget was in place, this was for the rental and maintenance of the car from the Melvyn Evans Motorsport squad. It did not include the recce costs, accommodation at events or even the event entry fees. These all had to be found on a round-by-round basis, same as covering co-driver Darren Garrod’s costs.

Edwards’ determined nature is clear to see. You only have to look at the Cambrian Rally, where Edwards’ tenacity to nurse a damaged car back to the finish probably secured him the championship. But the damage to the car from the off on the Mull and the Cambrian issues were not budgeted for. The championship trophy may have his name on it for a third time, but the 2021 shortfall is still to be paid and the funds found to clear off his season.

“I’m starting work on finding money for a 2022 program, but I haven’t cleared 2021 yet,” says Edwards. “I’m buying and selling cars to get money together, as well as my driver tuition program. I’m here on a Sunday polishing and refurbishing the cars for sale. It is non-stop to keep these drives together.

“People asked if I had a really big night in Newry after winning the championship. I didn’t. I got a ferry home. I didn’t have the budget for me or the team to stay another night and to have a celebration. Things are that tight. [It] seems poor to celebrate such an achievement sat with a coffee and sandwich in the Stena Line canteen on the Irish Sea…”

The top two drivers in the UK are much like many other rally competitors anywhere, fighting for budget. Every pound is a prisoner, every contribution is gratefully received. Far from being ‘rich kids’ who can drive fast, these are real rally people just like competitor #119, who is building his rally car on his driveway.

Words:DirtFish Media