EDITORIAL: Rallying revolt just the beginning
- 4th January 2008, 9:31am
To understand why these new ideas and initiatives are being introduced, we need to understand the background behind 2007’s year of turmoil in rallying, and there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, Australia’s premier event, Rally Australia, was dumped by the Western Australian government after the 2006 event after the government conducted an internal revue on the cost to the state, claiming that they were no longer prepared to prop up the event to the tune of something like $6 million a year.
Just when it was feared that the WRC round would be lost to Australia for all time, it was announced by CAMS that a consortium of businessmen had secured the rights to Rally Australia and were forging ahead with an ambitious plan to base it at a proposed new motorsport complex on Queensland’s Gold Coast, in 2008. Just how this consortium was given the nod by CAMS when a number of other serious proposals were rejected, was never disclosed, however it transpired that negotiations with the local authorities for approval to build the complex had stalled and the consortium were forced to advise CAMS that they would not be in a position to stage the event this year.
However the secrecy surrounding the awarding of the event, the location and, in fact, any information at all, was beginning to make the rally fraternity very nervous. The hard-won reputation of Rally Australia, gained over 19 years, as being one of the best rounds of the WRC, was being seriously tarnished. A revised WRC calendar omitting Australia was hastily drawn up, Australia being pencilled in for a round in 2009 rather than 2008, but the FIA’s new, two-year, rotation system, which left room for three possible new inclusions, Bulgaria, Russia and the Phillipines, immediately cast doubts over Australia’s (and perhaps New Zealand’s) inclusion in the WRC in the future.
With 2008 now upon us, we know little more about the consortium’s intentions, neither are CAMS or the group of promoters willing to tell the rally community what’s going on. Certainly it’s a very unsatisfactory situation.
The resignation of Garry Connelly as chairman of the Australian Rally Commission (ARCom) late in 2006 to pave the way for Ed Ordynski, and the brains behind the original Rally Australia from its inception, and one of those on the group appointed to oversee the “new” Rally Australia, indicated that there was light at the end of rallying’s tunnel.
The official CAMS release announcing the change at the helm boasted that Ordynski had been hand picked and nurtured by Connelly and Deputy ARCom Chairman, Steve Ashton, to lead rallying into the future and to re-invigorate the sport at all levels. Ordynski, whose determination and resolve was seriously underestimated by those in charge at CAMS, immediately began making changes for the better to the way ARCom and rallying operated, and quickly began treading on a few toes. The South Australian could see that it wasn’t going to be easy to change the way the old guard operated, but resolved to press ahead with a reform of the sport, with the support of many on the ARCom board.
But the way that rallying operated, was managed and existed, was deemed by CAMS heirachy as sacrosanct, and Ordynski’s aim of reform and restructure struck a raw nerve. He was regularly summoned to CAMS head office for a carpeting, and was made aware that the Confederation were not going to be railroaded into anything that would diminish their overall control over the sport.
Ordynski, the golden boy of rallying and everyone’s favourite when he was a works Mitsubishi Australia driver, suddenly found himself at odds with the Board of CAMS. After all, the Board knew (or think they know) what was best for rallying in Australia and they were not prepared under any circumstances to allow any of their power to be undermined or stripped away.
The major point of contention was that Ordynski believed ARCom should be representing the widespread rally community's views to CAMS; the CAMS Board (or the vocal members of that board) wanted ARCom to be the voice of the Board to the rally community. Things rapidly came to a head when Ordynski organised a two-day conference and invited representatives from a wide, cross-section of events to provide input, something the hierarchy tried to block, requesting only the high level ARC and FIA event stakeholders to participate. Ordynski won that battle, but it was made clear it was the last one he would.
Ordynski quickly became the fly in the ointment, rather than the saviour of ARCom. But he would accept the umpire’s decision. Or so CAMS thought. Just when almost the entire rally community were seen to be supporting his plan to re-invigorate rallying, the constant stand-offs with CAMS, the constant carpeting and the resistance by CAMS to change at all levels, became too much. Ordynski decided he would be better off walking away from the voluntary job (which, after all, he agreed to take on for just 12 months) rather than to sell his soul to the devil.
The CAMS heirachy had seriously underestimated Ordynski’s opposition to the status quo and the CAMS way of doing things. ARCom was back to where it was 12 months prior, the vacant Chairman’s seat being filled by Colin Trinder, thanks to the vacancy left by, firstly, Connelly, and then by Ordynski. But the die had been set, and factions were moving closer behind closed doors.
During all of this, the image of rallying continued to deteriorate. Rallycorp, the commercial arm appointed to promote the Australian Rally Championship, were feeling the effects of the serious in-fighting, as they were also with the fact that there were only two manufacturers supporting the ARC, and thus feeling the effect of seriously reduced income to fund their operations, which included staff salaries, television coverage, and promotion.
In fact there was a dispute that one of the declared manufacturers, the Pirtek Ford team, were protesting their Omanufacturer’ status, claiming to be just a privateer team. Supposedly strapped for cash, Rallycorp now finds itself on a sponsor chase after the withdrawl of NEC, the Series’ major sponsor over the past few years.
Resignations from the Rallycorp board, including that of Garry Connelly, Michael Thompson and Ben Beazley followed, with the rumour mills suggesting that more heads were to roll. There is also serious opposition to the closure of the CAMS State Offices with the aim of running everything from the Victorian National office in Melbourne. Resistance has so far proved futile.
But quietly, progressively, a much more serious threat to CAMS’ control of rallying and motorsport was bubbling away just below the surface, a threat which CAMS failed (and have to this day) to take seriously. There is no doubt that CAMS’ constant policy of slavish and unquestioned devotion to FIA regulations, making motorsport events more difficult to organise and more reliant on satisfactorily completing a growing pile of paperwork, has alienated a large proportion of their once-loyal subjects.
All of this played right into the hands of an organisation called the Australian Auto Sport Alliance (AASA) who had quietly set themselves up as an alternative to the CAMS system. Although they were set up with little fanfare several years ago and immediately began offering licences and permits without fuss, CAMS failed to accep t that AASA were a force to be reckoned with, adopting the attitude that few people would be fooled by the AASA claim of being a serious alternative to CAMS.
If CAMS needed convincing that people were deserting the CAMS system, AASA’s claim that they issued 800 event permits in 2007 (and more are expected in 2008) must surely have made CAMS sit up and take notice.
But did it? The resolve of AASA’s directors to ensure a better deal for motorsport continued with a raft of new initiatives just prior to Christmas. Firstly, a series of new Australian Motor Racing Championships was announced under AASA control with the intention of making motor racing cheaper and easier to participate in, and stripping away the onerous rules and regulations that were endemic with motor racing previously.
The announcement of the AASA Australian Touring Car Championship, along with the AASA Production Car Championship and a new GT Championship which has already garnered sponsorship from Pirelli, took place at a high profile media launch with sponsor, Bob Jane declaring, "We're here to conduct a series with no bullshit with everything done in a friendly and enjoyable manner that excites people to come to the events."
If that wasn’t enough, on the day when CAMS staff left for their Christmas break, AASA announced a ground-breaking new Australian Rally Championship concept as a direct alternative to the existing ARC which has existed since the 1960s. With support from a number of different and well-respected areas of rallying, it again strips away many of the regulations which have prevented people competing in the past and, more importantly, reduces costs considerably.
However, these ground-breaking announcements failed to set the alarm bells ringing at CAMS Central. Perhaps a convivial glass of Christmas cheer was more enticing than having to deal with a revolt by the servants just days before the festive season, and their reply suggested that the whole issue was perhaps just an April Fool’s Day joke at Christmas time. We can assure CAMS it was anything but that.
Rallying has been in the news for all the wrong reasons for several years. The handling of rallying at grass roots and state level by CAMS had had a disastrous effect on the sport and has brought matters to a head at a time when rallying in the rest of the world is booming. It is now time that CAMS eats a bit of humble pie and realises that it no longer has the authority to reject an alternative licencing and permit system, as offered by AASA, that provides a real alternative to the FIA-sanctioned system embraced by CAMS.
There is a revolt at hand, and CAMS would be well advised to sit up and take notice of where the revolt is heading. If they needed proof of this, then the recent impasse with the Victorian Rally Panel is a perfect example. Rallying has been given the rough end of the stick for far too long it’s time that those in charge of the sport realised that the control of rallying is no longer a CAMS given.
The sport no longer simply accepts CAMS annointing itself as the sole custodian of rallying, and the growing web of commercial arms of CAMS has shown to all that the days of CAMS being simply a voice representing the car clubs is well and truly over.
With more ground-breaking announcements to be made in the coming months, CAMS should already be setting up their battle stations. This is 2008 and the times they are a’changing.
- Jeff Whitten
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