Motorsport UK chairman David Richards is encouraging discussion about new directions for rallying’s future, rather than “just trying to recreate the past all the time” in the higher categories.
The 68-year-old, who co-drove Ari Vatanen to the 1981 World Rally Championship title and then led Subaru to WRC success via the Prodrive company he is still a chairman of, spoke to DirtFish about the position the United Kingdom’s motorsport governing body needs to take going forward and also how the wider industry perspective needs to change.
“I fear the die is set,” Richards said of rallying’s short-term fate in the UK.
“It’s no good continuing pushing water uphill and expecting the situation to suddenly change. We’ve got to rethink the whole way we compete in this sport now. We’ve got to look at the costs of participation, we’ve got to look at who our customers are.
“For far too long we have neglected the participant, the competitor who pays from his own money to build his own car to compete on the rally, only to be left sort of at the back, and given all the glory to the frontrunning teams, the manufacturer teams.
“We’ve got to start to think where the customer is, and give them the support they really deserve. Cut our cloth accordingly, and we will bring the sport back again in the future.”
In addition to attracting competitors, rallying has had declining footfall in the UK since the heydays of Colin McRae and Richard Burns’ WRC title wins in 1995 and 2001 respectively.
Had Toyota driver Elfyn Evans become champion last year, the Welshman would have boosted the promotional value of his local round of the WRC – which is now off the calendar for the second season in a row.
But besides relying on big-name drivers bringing in the money through footfall and sponsorship, how can rallying stay relevant in the coming years?
“I haven’t got the answer, all I’m suggesting is we should take a very open view of it,” Richards says.
“We should not be prejudiced by our views of the past. As much as we would love to go back to the past, sometimes that’s not possible.
“And you know, people of my age tend to think that you can somehow recreate the past, but I’m a great believer in youth and listening to youth, listening to new ideas and creating new ideas and to my mind that’s what the British championship needs and that’s what the world championship needs.
“The older fanbase are just trying to recreate the past all the time, and we’re not getting the youngsters to come on board. And that’s what we need to be appealing to.
“If I were to ask a load of schoolchildren at school what they want to be doing in the future, my biggest concern was they’d have no interest in motorsport at all.
“They would feel it was the wrong thing, because of the environmental issues that we’re not addressing, the climatic issues, they would be saying ‘no, you don’t want to be doing that sort of thing, we’ve got to be doing something else’.
“So we’ve got to address that as a fundamental problem as a starting point, and then what direction in motorsport we take people? Electric racing, hybrid racing? All sorts of different solutions for the long term.”