Gone are the days of manufacturer-funded drives in British rallying.
Gone are the days even of manufacturer participation in British rallying.
Gone are the days of prize funding full stop.
If you’ve ever had a conversation of any length with anyone embedded in the UK rallying family, you’ll have heard it all before. Funding and opportunity, or rather the lack of either, are topics never far from people’s lips.
But evidently nobody has included the team at the 2300 Club in those conversations. Because what it is doing through the annual John Easson Award dramatically bucks that trend – and its efforts are largely being slept on!
First run in 2004 and named after former rally driver John Easson who sadly lost his life in an air accident in 1999, the award is open to young British drivers and co-drivers under the age of 27.
With names like 2019 European Rally champion Chris Ingram and 2022 British Rally champion Osian Pryce on the roll of honor, the pedigree of the accolade is clear.
But what undoubtedly matters most to its applicants is the prize money on offer. The winner of the award receives £5000 ($6046) for the following season, with the potential to earn another £1000 ($1209) if they win their class in the championship they’re contesting.
Gone are the days of prize funding? Think again. What the 2300 Club is doing with the John Easson Award is extraordinary.
“I really don’t know why there’s not more up-and-coming youngsters in UK rallying applying for it, because it is the best award and the only really financial help that you’ll get from the UK,” says 2021 winner, Ioan Lloyd.
“It was a no-brainer for me to apply – we were looking to do the BRC and it basically covered all our entry fees for the following year.”
For the latest winner, Johnnie Mackay, the cash prize will help ease the burden on his shoulders after he makes the step from a front-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta to a four-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Evo.
“As a young driver in motorsport, which is very much a financially driven industry, the opportunity to receive this sort of backing is huge,” Mackay says.
“Obviously you can get sponsors but this is the only real funding for young drivers that there is in the UK. The more money we can have to support our season, the better it’s going to go.
“If we got a sponsor that offered us that amount of money it’s a huge boost but this is an award that is just about yourself, what you’ve achieved and what you’re hoping to achieve.
“The John Easson Award allows you to let you, your background and your future do the talking rather than anything else.”
And that’s a huge thing for any youngster.
Other conversations you’ll hear, in any service park or paddock, will always revolve around money and the advantage some competitors have over others because they have a larger budget to play with.
The John Easson Award eliminates that issue. It’s an independently judged scheme that rewards a driver for what they’ve done, what they’re planning to do and how they’re planning to go about it. It’s all about their own skill, not the power of their wallet.
So not only does winning the award provide a handy cash boost, it comes with amazing kudos too.
Even if it wasn't for the money - which is great - I'd still apply because the recognition and kudos that comes with it is amazingJohnnie Mackay
“The financial side is one point, but even to win this award without the money behind it would still mean a lot because it’s still effectively saying here’s a really promising young driver with a good plan and a good future,” Mackay explains.
“They could’ve chosen any one of the however-many drivers that applied but they chose me, so effectively I’ve got the best plan and situation of British young drivers, and that’s fairly huge.
“As I say, even if it wasn’t for the money – which is great – I’d still apply because the recognition and kudos that comes with it is amazing.”
Lloyd feels the same. Even if he is no longer the active winner who will receive support, guidance and promotion from the team behind the award, he will always be a past winner of the award. That’s something he can leverage when talking to sponsors because it marks him out as a true talent.
“Exactly,” he says.
“It’s definitely something we can carry and I think that’s something important to me anyway. I’ll always try to give the John Easson Award and 2300 Club the best exposure I can because it needs to be known.
“Winning it last year definitely built skills in how to be a good ambassador,” Lloyd adds, “so I think the award can do much more than it shows.”
Mackay will become the new face of the John Easson Award this season as he bids for the Challengers title within the Scottish Rally Championship – a division open to drivers who haven’t scored an overall top 10 in the last 10 years.
So the fact that we've got this support... they're all great guys at the club so it's great to have them there for advice or assistance for everythingJohnnie Mackay
He’s already felt the benefit of being the award winner, but can’t wait to get stuck into a season that he can prepare for better than ever with money available to go testing and receive some driving tuition.
“They’ve been great, they really have. They’ve been in touch a lot about press releases and stuff like that, if I need any help with that,” Mackay explains.
“Likewise if I want them to push anything or whatever they’ve been really, really good with that. So again it’s not just financial, they’re helping me along in that way and I’m now going to get a mention in DirtFish because of that! So the benefits are really good in that sense as well.
“Obviously it’s a big step for me this season and it’s a bit of a step into the unknown but we’re trying to go in and be as organized and as best prepared as we possibly can so that it is less of an unknown, because obviously the Fiesta was a known quantity but this car [the Mitsubishi] is a completely unknown quantity.
“So the fact that we’ve got this support… they’re all great guys at the club so it’s great to have them there for advice or assistance for everything, basically.
“I’m very much a man of preparation, preparation, preparation and testing always comes last because if you don’t have the car ready you can’t do the event and if you don’t do the event you can’t win the championship.
“Last year I didn’t do any testing because I was doing such a big championship and so many events that I can’t really afford to do it, but this year things can change.
“We’ve got backing now specifically for tuition and entry fees and stuff like that so we can justify putting it into testing.”
The future is promising for this young Scot, but more than that the future is reassuring for the rest of UK rallying.
Next time somebody moans that there’s absolutely no opportunity left anymore, gently remind them of the efforts of a small motor club to keep this fabulous award running.