Wales Rally GB
Wales Rally GB is the largest and most high profile motor rally in the United Kingdom. It is a round of the FIA World Rally Championship and was formerly a round of the MSA British Rally Championship and is based in and around the city of Cardiff in Wales. From its first running in 1932 until the 53rd event in 1997, it was known as the RAC Rally until adopting its current name in 2003 except in 2009 when it was Rally of Great Britain.
1932 Royal Automobile Club Rally and Coachwork Competition
The inaugural event was the 1932 Royal Automobile Club Rally, which was the first major rally of the modern era in Great Britain. Of the 367 crews entered, 341 competitors in unmodified cars started from nine different towns and cities (London, Bath, Norwich, Leamington, Buxton, Harrogate, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne and Edinburgh.)
The Official Programme explained, "Different routes are followed from the nine starting points, each approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 km) long, but all finishing at Torquay. On every route there are four controls in addition to the starting and finishing controls, and these are open for periods varying from seven to four hours. Competitors may report at these controls at any time during the hours of opening.......At the final control they must check in as near their fixed finishing time as possible, and any considerable deviation from this time results in loss of marks."
As well as completing the route to a time schedule the competitors were required to perform a special test involving slow running, acceleration and braking. Additionally a Concours d'Elegance was held at the finish in Torquay. There was no official winner, although Colonel A H Loughborough in a Lanchester 15/18 was recorded as having the fewest penalty points in the decisive test at the finish.
Pre- & post-World War II years
The following year's RAC Rally followed a similar format, but with Hastings as the chosen finish. Over three hundred competitors entered, and this time Miss Kitty Brunel, driving an AC Ace, was the driver with the fewest penalties.
The rally was run annually until 1939, after which the outbreak of the Second World War forced its suspension. However, it resumed in 1951, and has been contested every year since with only two exceptions, 1957 (Suez Crisis) and 1967 (Foot and Mouth Disease). This latter incident was on the eve of the event, so competitors staged a mock rally at the Bagshot proving ground as consolation for the press and television (ATV had been persuaded to provide major coverage with in-car cameras for the first time).
In 1960, organising secretary Jack Kemsley negotiated with the Forestry Commission to allow a two mile (3 km) section of forest road in Argyll, Scotland to be used as a competitive section. It proved enormously successful, and the following year forest roads all over the country were opened up to the drivers. This, combined with the introduction of special timing clocks and seeding of entries, secured the rally's future, and cemented its reputation as one of the most gruelling and unpredictable fixtures on the calendar.
Mickey Mouse stages
In 1971, 'Spectator Stages' were introduced and, by 1975 had become an important part of the event, usually at stately homes and other public venues like Sutton Park. The first day was, by then, devoted to these stages. Drivers did not enjoy them, and referred to them disparagingly as "Mickey Mouse stages" because of the lack of challenge they offered, but nonetheless they contributed to the results. More recently, they have given way to the 'Super Special Stages', which are equally maligned by the drivers, but just as popular with spectators.
The 1986 RAC Rally was the last European event for Group B vehicles. These highly-tuned turbocharged cars were to be banned as they were deemed too powerful and dangerous, in light of the various accidents in which they were involved. In the end, the Peugeot 205 T16 Evo. 2s of Timo Salonen, Juha Kankkunen and Mikael Sundström took three of the top four places, with only Markku Alen's second position in the Lancia Delta S4 preventing a monopoly of the podium.
There were 83 finishers out of 150 starters in 1986, compared to year of worst attrition in 1981 when only 54 of the 151 starters reached the end. This was in stark contrast to the early years: in 1938, there were only 6 retirements from 237 starters.
Scandinavian drivers have enjoyed rich pickings in the RAC Rally. Home drivers won the first six runnings of the race from 1953, when an outright winner was first declared. However, in 1960 Erik Carlsson of Sweden drove his Saab 96 to a hat-trick of victories in 1960–62, and of the six drivers to have won three or more titles since then, all but three - Colin McRae (1994, '95, '97), Richard Burns (1998–2000), and Sébastien Loeb (2008–10) - have been Swedes, Finns or Norwegians. The record for most victories is four, shared by Hannu Mikkola (1978–79, '81–82) and Petter Solberg (2002–05), whose consecutive streak is unique.
Until 1970, there was no overt sponsorship, but in that year advertising decals appeared on cars and the Daily Mirror newspaper sponsored the event. This deal lasted four years before finance company Lombard North Central took over in 1974. The event became known as the Lombard RAC Rally, and Lombard's name became synonymous with the event.
Following Lombard's withdrawal of sponsorship after nineteen years, the rally became known as the Network Q RAC Rally and later, the Network Q Rally of Great Britain. The rally has moved its operational base to Cardiff and competitive stage mileage is concentrated in Wales. With sponsorship from the Welsh Government, the event is now known as Wales Rally GB.
However, with such an extensive history covering the whole country, there were demands for the "glory days" of the old RAC Rally. In this spirit, two events have recently been established, and cover the same classic stages which are no longer part of the WRC itinerary. The RAC Revival Rally uses modern, but less powerful cars, while the Roger Albert Clark Rally is a historic event using only pre-1972 machinery, and named after the first home winner of the race as a World Championship event.
On stage fifteen, Peugeot driver Markko Märtin crashed heavily into a tree, and while he was unharmed his co-driver Michael Park sustained fatal injuries. It was the first death in the WRC in over a decade. The final two stages were cancelled and Sébastien Loeb, who would have won the event, voluntarily incurred a two minute time penalty in order not to win under such circumstances, leaving Petter Solberg to be declared the victor.
A memorial for Park was unveiled in Märtin's homeland of Estonia and the damaged tree on the Margam Park stage of the rally where he died bears a plaque in memorial of him.
Cardiff was both the start and finish point for the rally, while the service area returned to central Swansea. For the first time since 2000 the rally featured stages in Mid-Wales and there were special evening stages inside the Millennium Stadium.
- "History of the RAC Rally", UKMotorsport.com, September 23, 1997
- "Jack Kemsley And The Forests", Ross Finlay, CarKeys.co.uk, December 9, 2001
- Francois Duval, "Unofficial Leaderboard after Stage 16 (final stage), Rally of Kent (Formula Rally)", RallyNews.net
- "Michael Park, Motors Blog:WRC". Scivi.air-nifty.com. 2007-09-17. Retrieved 2012-04-24.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wales Rally GB.|
- Wales Rally GB official site
- World Rally Championship official site - watch Wales Rally GB online
- British Rally Championship official site
- Endurance Rally Association, organisers of the RAC Revival Rally
- Roger Albert Clark Rally, official site