British Rally Championship returns to 4WD cars in 2016

All reasons against 4WD cars aside, it’s really the only sensible solution for British rallying, and I would think any rallying in general. If a country and its drivers can afford it, then by all means it should be 4WD cars, ideally built to latest specifications and supported by major car manufacturers that are not Ford. The purpose of such cars and categories is to either serve as an elite category in a particular championship or to provide a stepping stone towards even higher classes on the international level. If national is all we care about, than 2WD, RWD or even 1WD cars can be the next top class, it really is that simple, but if the final goal is to find talented drivers and provide them with the best possible education, then I think there is only one possible solution; 4WD cars. They will be expensive, yes, but top classes usually are, and motor sports are shaped in such a way that being competitive will never really equal being affordable, not on top levels and especially not if you’re aiming even higher than national titles and laurels. Top classes and categories cannot be cheap because they represent the latest in technology, gone are the times when changing dampers from one rally to the next was considered car development. If WRC isn’t pushing the car manufacturers to invent and develop, then there is no future for the sport – it has to stay relevant, and even more so in order to successfully fend off challenges from other motor sports series. To make it as a driver in such series, you need a relevant experience, and knowing your way around in a 4WD cars counts as a relevant experience me thinks. It’s just another step above the current levels, you don’t end up your development as a driver by reaching top 2WD classes but instead you have one more mountain to conquer (and finance). Financing it is part of the challenge as well, not many will be able to afford it, but again, if the economic situation is healthy enough and if sport is properly promoted then talented drivers should be able to secure sponsors and money needed to compete in R5 cars. Knowing your way around sponsors and money is another very important part of growing as a driver, especially if your goals are European or even World Rally Championship series.

The most important thing, to me, is the promise MSA and promoters IMS made regarding the 2WD cars and classes, as those are even more important than the top level R5. A clever system of classes and categories must be devised and then heavily promoted in order to draw attention to upcoming drivers and help them find their way towards sponsors and money needed to progress to higher ranks. It’s a very active concept of treating all classes with equal passion and dedication and I do hope MSA is going to do just that. I like to think that R5 cars were picked in order to provide drivers with relevant experience while also enabling them to take those cars to international events. Let’s also not forget the appeal of R5 cars compared to 2WD machinery – they will be much more attractive to spectators and media.

There is also another aspect of R5 cars switch – the cars themselves, or rather, manufacturers. By using R5 cars as top class in a major national championship rally sends out a clear message to manufacturers; R5 cars, with their almost road car appearance, are excellent marketing tool and should be used in order to compete against other manufacturers and brands. Britain’s move to 4WD and R5 cars is a good way forward for rallying in general and it further strengthens the position of the sport on the motor sports scene. It’s a positive affirmation in my book, but I really enjoy reading and hearing different opinions on the matter. Maybe I missed many important aspects in my simplified “analysis”, if so, please let me know.

Here’s MSA’s official press release.

IMS CONFIRMS 4WD FOR 2016 MSA BRITISH RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP

The promoters of the new-for-2016 MSA British Rally Championship have confirmed that when the series returns to action next year it will feature 4-wheel drive machinery in its leading classes, supported by a strong 2-wheel drive class structure for career-minded drivers.

The announcement made by International Motor Sports (IMS) at the Autosport show at the NEC in Birmingham today, confirmed that from 2016 the BRC will welcome all homologated rally cars, up to and including the R5 class. In addition, an extension of five years can be granted after the expiry of a car’s homologation, further increasing the pool of eligible vehicles to contest what will be the UK’s premier stage rally championship.

Sharing top billing alongside the championship-leading R5s, the 2016 BRC will feature a strong and competitive class structure in the 2-wheel drive categories, in recognition of the championship’s importance as a development environment for young rally drivers – something achieved with great success by the BRC in recent years. This will provide the essential formative training required by those career-minded drivers before they head for international competition and IMS will work closely with sponsors, teams and manufacturers to create meaningful incentives that will retain aspirational drivers in these classes.

Commenting on the announcement, IMS Managing Director Ben Taylor said:

“This is an exciting move and one which will help to establish the BRC as the pinnacle of UK rallying next year. We understand that competitors and teams need to make long-term plans, so we have made this early announcement about vehicle eligibility to give them as much notice as possible about the future.

“The R5 concept was created by the FIA to bring in much needed cost control without compromising on performance. It has been widely adopted throughout the sport, so now seems like the right time to welcome it properly to the UK market. The cars are exciting to drive, great to watch and should provide the perfect excuse for the best drivers to come and test themselves in a championship that is still revered around the world.”

On the importance of the 2-wheel drive classes, MSA Performance Director and 2001 World Rally Champion co-driver Robert Reid said:

“It is clear that the best apprenticeship for young drivers is to learn their trade in the competitive 2-wheel drive classes. It is essential that young drivers understand that they do not have to win the outright championship in order to progress, or try to prove what they can do in an R5 car too early in their careers. So the challenge is to ensure that the incentives for winning in R3 or R2 are great enough to keep them at this level – drivers need to see that it can be an important stepping stone that helps them graduate into ERC Junior or Junior WRC the following year.”

Taylor also announced that experienced event organiser Iain Campbell – Clerk of the Course of the Mull Rally and Deputy Clerk of the Course on Wales Rally GB – will be working with IMS on a freelance basis to assist with preparations for the new championship.

“I am delighted to have been asked,” said Campbell, who also played an important role in the creation of the IRC Rally of Scotland. “The start of the 2016 season may be more than a year away, but there is a huge amount of work to do in the next few months to put things in place. I look forward to making a contribution to the creation of the new championship and bringing a fresh perspective to the challenge.”

Speaking on the main Autosport Stage this morning, Taylor acknowledged the challenge ahead and the importance of getting it right:

“We know that the sport is looking on with interest to see what shape the new BRC is going to take and its success is important for the greater good of UK rallying. Our target is pretty simple: to have the best drivers in the best cars on the best events. We look forward to continuing to work with drivers, event organisers, teams, manufacturers and sponsors in the coming year to ensure that we deliver on that ambition in 2016.”

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