The chances of the World Rally Championship visiting Britain are continuing to diminish, but the people tasked with turning such difficulties around aren’t full of pessimism.
DirtFish’s David Evans spoke to Motorsport UK CEO Hugh Chambers about the WRC, big change within Motorsport UK itself, and more:
What are the chances for Wales Rally GB next year?
We have a contract with the Welsh government and we’re still working with them and the promoter to see if there’s a way we can get slotted into the calendar. But we know the calendar’s full and they already have too many events in the autumn, so it’s a question of whether or not things can be juggled around. We’ll find out this Friday [at WMSC].
What do you think are Britain’s prospects in the WRC?
I think we have a very good future [in the WRC] for a whole bunch of reasons. First and foremost the appetite of Motorsport UK and the rallying community in this country [means] we should have a round of the World Rally Championship; that’s a simple statement of fact and I don’t think anybody would argue with that.
The challenge is making it fit into the modern calendar and the economics of WRC and major events today and against the backdrop of coronavirus – which has changed everything. David Richards and myself are absolutely committed to get WRC in the UK. It’s a massively important event for us to have.
You talk of the coronavirus crisis, is Motorsport UK’s move from Colnbrook to Bicester still going ahead in the crisis?
The move has been confirmed, we’re moving there in January – it’s part of a much bigger strategic plan. It’s the same in any crisis, do you put everything on hold? Or do you look at the risks associated with certain elements of what you were going to do and continue because you think that’s fundamentally the right thing to do? We’ve worked with [accountancy firm] haysmacintyre, our auditors, with the board, with the audit committee and looked very, very, very closely at the financial mechanisms for our move and we’re very, very comfortable [with the move] – even given the current circumstances.
The reason for that is that we own our building in Colnbrook and we’re very confident we can realise a sale on that which is able to fund the purchase of the building in Bicester.
What has changed with Bicester is that we were going to build a bespoke building and we’re now buying – in fact we have bought – a building on their new industrial park. It’s a little bit more than an industrial unit, we’re buying one of 10 units on an industrial park.
You know the reasons for moving to Bicester: it puts us in heartland of motorsport, it’s a modern environment. You know what a pointless location Colnbrook is on the flightpath of Heathrow and culturally for us to be at Bicester will be transformative. For all of the employees to be firmly embedded into a wonderful location surrounded by people who love cars is really, really important. The board is completely convinced this is a fundamental strategic move for us.
Even at this time? When I’m told the purchase of Bicester is going to cost more than £1m and you haven’t sold Colnbrook and Motorsport UK is reckoned to be losing £2m this year. Isn’t this a time to cut your cloth?
Those numbers are inaccurate and I’m not going to divulge our exact finances, but they are inaccurate. As I say, our board and professional advisors are extremely comfortable that this is the right move.
You lost two board members from the Royal Automobile Club at last week’s AGM. Why was that?
You’d need to speak to Ben Cussons* as chairman of the RAC to get his view. The heritage of the two organizations will remain close; there is all that intertwined history that will, by definition, always be there and I think that binds us together.
But as Motorsport UK CEO why do you think they left?
I think it was simply they felt that having a statutory involvement in a separate governing body for motorsport was no longer the right course of action. I believe that was the decision of their board – moving forwards they felt it wasn’t appropriate. Our histories are, as I say, intertwined and there will undoubtedly be overlap in what we do – the British Grand Prix trophy will remain an RAC trophy that sits in Pall Mall and is awarded at the grand prix that we organise. They felt having a right to appoint two directors to the board of Motorsport UK was not something they thought they continued to want to do.
Are you sad, given the history of the RAC Rally, that there’s no formal Royal Automobile Club involvement in British motorsport?
I do personally feel it is a sad moment when you have these transitions, but it’s part of life. At the end of the day it’s the RAC’s decision how they treat this, but at the passing of any moment in history, you’re going to have a moment to reflect and a wave of nostalgia sweep over you.
*DirtFish contacted Ben Cussons, who declined to comment on the Royal Automobile Club’s departure from the Motorsport UK board.