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Despite there being several rays of sunshine peeping through the clouds, Australian rallying is still in a depressed state at many levels, and the ‘good old days’ are but a distant memory.

Without putting too fine a point on it or dwelling in the past, it would take a brave person to suggest that rallying is currently enjoying good health. As a result there have been a number of victims of the downturn, not the least being the death of the printed versions our own RallySport Magazine and Chevron’s Rally. That and the decrease in the number of firms who were once making a living from the spin-off from rallying, confirms that we may well have reached the bottom of the trough for our much-loved sport.

For those of us who can remember the heady days of rallying when almost every weekend was taken up with a rally somewhere close by, today’s rationalization of events has reduced the impact that rallying has had on the public. Various bans and restrictions on the sport have seen traditional events fall by the wayside, while the continual shrinkage of available areas for rallying has made things even more difficult. As a result, many towns and cities no longer reap the benefits that the annual rally circus once brought into their towns. As a consequence, less visual presence means that fewer and fewer potential competitors get to be reminded about the sport and the ways in which they can be involved.

Until recently, ARCom had done little to enhance the viability of rallying at grass roots level, instead focusing on the top end of the sport that is out of the reach of the large majority of existing and potential competitors. With all the actual and perceived ‘negatives’ that rallying seems to be burdened with, maybe the time is ripe for us to take things into our own hands and become a lot more pro-active in the way that we promote our sport.

It must have something to do with my Irish heritage that attracts me to constantly refer to the way that rallying is conducted in the British Isles. In a country so small in comparison to Australia (albeit much more densely populated), rallying is enjoying incredible publicity, capacity fields and a huge range of local, one-make and national championships. In addition there is a bewildering array of small and large companies who are making a living from the sport providing all manner of services from rally car hire to the complete building, preparation and maintenance of almost any rally car you care to name. Rallying in all its forms in the UK (and much of Europe, for that matter) is a multi-billion Euro business.

Yes, British rallying does have its problems, its in-fighting and its disputes, but it is nevertheless recognized as a legitimate sport which impacts in many ways on the way the Brits go about their daily life. Entry fees are, in comparison to Australia, enormous, thanks to the exorbitant charges that the Forest Commission levies on every event conducted on their land. Many single venue events are amazingly short but extremely popular, national events are expensive to compete in on a pound-per-mile basis, but many other events are running with over-subscribed fields. Ireland, by the way, has the largest number of World Rally Cars competing than any other European country, a sure sign that rallying is strong and healthy in that neck of the woods.

Can we learn anything from the state of rallying in the UK? Certainly there are many areas where we can improve our lot here in Australia by taking a leaf out of their book. Firstly, their Motorsport Association (MSA), the equivalent of our CAMS, appears to treat rallying as a branch of the sport as legitimately as it does circuit racing. They recognize that rallying is one arm of the sport where people can become involved pretty much in their family car with few modifications. Road rallies, single venue events and one-make championships allow even the most destitute competitor to compete. The MSA actually appear to be in favour of rallying – it’s a pity that CAMS doesn’t share the same ethos.

Much of the British Isles is heavily populated, is connected in many instances by narrow roads and lanes through frequent towns and villages. Yet the relationship between the residents, the police, car clubs and competitors, seems to be harmonius, presumably because they are aware that a rally in their area is worth quite a lot in revenue. Road rallies, those navigational events that used to be the cause of lots of late night aggravation of residents, is now controlled sensibly, running as a legitimate arm of rallying.

One of Australia’s biggest problems as far as the publicity of rallying is concerned is the enormous population spread. In Britain you can, in some instances, drive for 50 miles and pass through ten reasonable sized towns. Each of these towns may have 20 enthusiasts who own rally cars, whereas if you travelled the same distance in Australia you could expect to pass through two or three towns or villages, one or two of the residents who might own a rally car or be involved in rallying. As a consequence, rallying’s presence in the community is much less, so we need to work harder to publicise the sport.

One major, mega, publicity day in the UK is the annual Rally Day which is a huge show put on by the rally community and showcases every aspect of rallying from cars on display to super-stars of rallying putting on full-on driving displays in the sorts of cars they used to rally over the years. As each Rally Day comes around the event gets bigger and bigger with more stands appearing, more cars on display and more of the world’s rally stars competing. It’s something that we could do in Australia in a major city or cities, even if it turned out to be initially just a relatively small affair until it got onto its feet.

Rallycross and stadium racing are other areas where the British public are introduced to rallying in a positive manner. They also acknowledge the importance of historic rallying in the overall scheme of things, and this is but another branch of the sport where there is a huge growth potential.

If Australia is to follow Britain or Europe’s lead in rallying, we need to marshall ourselves into a vibrant action group who can come up with an overall plan to push rallying in front of the public. Rallying faces so much competition from the one hundred and one entertainments that are available today that we need to look outside the square and organize ourselves in a manner which will take rallying to the next upward level. Gone are the days when we could leave this to CAMS or ARCom – we need to be positively pro-active ourselves. If that means forming a separate or a breakaway body whose sole agenda is rallying, then that is the way it must go. And we must all work as one with the same aim in mind, the same agenda and the same strength of purpose.

If we’re really serious about rallying, we can all make a difference. It won’t happen overnight, but it can happen in the manner of the British model mentioned above. Think about how you individually, or your car club, or your rally panel, can help to change the direction that rallying is heading today. You’ll find that there’s lots that can be done for the overall enhancement of rallying and the good of the sport generally. How many ways can you think of where you can be rallying pro-active?

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