Graeme Sedgwick remembers the good old days of Rallycross and suggests that it’s time it was brought back as a TV spectacular.   

In 1968 England’s famous RAC Rally was cancelled at the eleventh hour because of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease which was sweeping the British Isles’ cattle stocks.  

The decision caught the RAC Rally organisers by surprise and would have all but completely destroyed television broadcasting arrangements and commitments for that year’s RAC had it not been for some creative last-minute thinking by the organisers and the broadcaster who was locked into providing a live telecast of the event to millions of viewers.  

The inspired creative thinking that saved the day and changed the way rallying was perceived, involved hastily converting an army tank testing track into a closed rally circuit and securing a handful of prime but unassigned RAC rally cars which were ultimately sent out on timed do-or-die laps of the redefined army tank testing complex.  

Cameras were located at strategic action points around the track and caught the action which featured cars leaping through the air and sliding around the makeshift course, providing fantastic action television that rated its socks off. In short, by default, the idea immediately became the inspiration for the ITV World of Sport team to conscript British rally aficionado John Sprinzel to organize a similar event in south east England the following year.  

ITV’s event was also a hit, but even more so because it featured four cars running at the same time over a much wider course. A new sport was born and branded ‘Rallycross.” Ratings soared and within a short space of time both ITV World of Sport and the BBC networks were on to it, televising the new outrageously spectacular and super-competitive thrill-a-minute sport to audiences of six million-plus.  

Not bad when you consider the size of television viewing markets back in the late 1960’s. Such was the sport’s impact and appeal, it wasn’t long before manufacturers were also climbing on board, entering factory-backed teams allowing the new sport of Rallycross, in a very short space of time, to become a valuable promotional arena.  

It was an arena where new car sales were won and lost on the result of what was essentially a five minute battle around a course that combined a formula of high speed, close quarter competition, over tarmac, dirt, water, gravel, bumps and ‘yumps‘ that captivated audiences and the attention of marketers.  

In Australia news of the sport’s frenetic style captured the attention of Jean Pasco, who, sight unseen, decided to put the necessary cash on the table to immediately establish the sport of Rallycross in Australia in August of that same year -1969.  

The sport took off, accelerated by a clever deal with Channel Seven Television who took live coverage of the new highly-energetic sport’s format which rolled all kinds of motor sport into an exceptionally marketable television package, which Seven ran immediately following its Sunday midday footy panel. The results were sensational.  

Appealing to drivers from both rally and race backgrounds, it combined all the unpredictability of rallying’s loose surface driving skills mixed with skills of wheel-to-wheel racing over tarmac surfaces, bumps, dips and a special water bath to make the competition competition just that little bit more interesting - as if the prospect of four drivers racing each other over such a course wasn’t enough.  

The package had it all. Manufacturers Holden, Ford, Renault, Datsun and British Leyland, jumped into the excitement, directly and indirectly fielding entries. Furthermore, almost overnight a previously invisible group of driving talent also became public, because up until then the sport of rallying was essentially conducted at night.  

So you had the likes of track racers Peter Brock, Colin Bond and Alan Moffat being challenged and beaten by drivers like Bob Watson, Graham Alexander, and Bruce Hodgson fronting up in cars they’d been driving (on some occasions) all night because they’d just finished competing in a Championship rally which had started a day or two earlier.  

If that wasn’t enough there was also another band of equally skilled punters like journalists Michael Browning, Evan Green and even actors such as Toyotadriving Leonard Teale – whose prominence in those days was as visible as Blue Heeler’s John Wood. It was action, action, and great television sport. Thirty seven years on, it’s about time the sport of Rallycross was re-launched. Timing could not be better.  

Television networks are scrambling for new program content and reasons to capture flagging and/or new viewing audiences. Rallycross offers huge scope, its core attributes masking a television sport that’s bursting at the seams with energy and marketing opportunity. The scope for a ‘new generation Rallycross‘ is breathtaking.  

Here’s what’s required: The venue. It needs to be ‘special‘ and definitely not one that’s only about slipping and sliding over a mud – slicked bump and bash track without facilities, kilometres from civilization.  

Today’s ‘new generation Rallycross track needs to combine some, if not all, of the following qualities to capture the attention of all stakeholders and to establish itself as one of the nation’s greatest high-energy television motor sport action events around.  

The course. Ideally it would probably need to be somewhere around two kilometres in length. Competition would start on tarmac and eventually veer off onto a hard-packed gravel surface which could feature fast sweeping bends leading on to a long-topped rise which could be followed by a series of shallow undulations. It could then sweep either left or right onto a concrete causeway that could incorporate a long, wide but shallow water splash, followed by a sequence of bends and dips over hard packed sand before heading up and over a rise and into a banked left or right hander.  

The track could then run downhill towards another long yump rather than a suspension busting abrupt jump, before re-joining the tarmac with a sweeping corner back into the start finish line straight. The competition. The format should reflect that of the 70’s winning style which broadly consisted of a number of 3-lap heats, the winners of which moved through to 4-lap semi finals and ultimately into a 5-lap grand final.  

Eligibility would clearly be an area of keen discussion and opinion so it would be important to consider manufacturers’ interests, and offer categories that promote and foster rear, front, and all wheel drive vehicle entries, with the possibility of some other categories such as ‘Classics‘ and or ‘Specials‘ for the likes of purpose built rally cross vehicles.  

The sport of ‘Rallycross‘ is there for the taking as a proven format that’s ideally suited to television whilst also boasting a special blend of competitive action that has its own distinctive character and magnetism to capture the attention of a diversity of competitors and spectators as never before.  

The only question that now remains is who is going to seize the opportunity that’s now before them? The prospects and scope, at least on paper, are certainly refreshing.  

Team owner and racing driver, Larry Perkins, has enjoyed the glory of being the country’s only nationally-recognised Rallycross Champion, a title that in itself is deserving, after all these years, of a new Champion’s name. So bring it on. Bring it back!  

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