Currently reading: What's it like to compete in the Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship?
With single-venue circuit rallies growing in popularity, we've previewed the second season of the Motorsport News-backed series based on these practical, affordable events
News
4 mins read
14 November 2016

Circuits aren’t just for racing.

After a successful inaugural year, the 2016-2017 Motorsport News Circuit Rally Championship kicked off its second season with the Neil Howard Stages at Oulton Park on the 5th November. The championship is run in association with Jonathan Palmer’s Motorsport Vision Racing (MSVR) and consists of eight single-venue asphalt stage rallies running at various UK circuits, including Motorsport Vision’s four locations.

Except for a two-day rally at Rockingham, the single-venue events are run in a day in the same way as a club race, hillclimb or sprint, making them affordable and practical for clubman rally crews on a budget. Events consist of around eight special stages based on four different layouts and cover 55 to 60 miles.

With the popularity of singlevenue circuit-based rallies growing in recent years, the idea of forming a championship based on them became a “no-brainer”, according to championship organiser Darren Spann of the Bolton-Le-Moors Car Club (BLMCC). “James Bolton, the national rallying editor of Motorsport News at the time, mentioned in his column that it might be a good idea to start allocating points to the circuit rallies on an unofficial basis,” says Spann, “so I rang him and suggested we do it properly and start an official championship.”

With an agreement signed between BLMCC, Motorsport News and MSVR in May last year, the new circuit rally championship was born. Michelin quickly got on board to support the series, although competitors are not obliged to use Michelin tyres. For those who do, a separate element, called the Michelin Cup, awards prizes of tyres in a kind of mini-championship.

Good access to the paddock areas gives plenty of opportunity to get a close look at a wide variety of rally cars from different eras and chat to the crews. With cars starting at 30-second intervals in what is effectively a stadium environment, the events are great for spectators and growing in popularity. 

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WHAT’S IT LIKE TO COMPETE?

I’ve been competing in single-venue asphalt rallies for four years and several of the rallies I do are now incorporated into the Motorsport News championship. I generally meet co-driver Mike Askew at the venue the day before for scrutineering and signing on, ready for an early start the next morning.

My car is a ‘modern’-spec Group 4 Ford Escort Mk2, so it has a sequential motorsport gearbox and a 309bhp, 2495cc Millington engine. A power-to-weight ratio of 343bhp per tonne makes it competitive against machinery from any era in the dry, including former WRC cars.

About 30 minutes before our start time, I thoroughly warm up the engine, axle and transmission on the stands, otherwise something expensive will probably break. Most crews are nervous prior to the start, but 15 minutes before we’re due at the first control, we’re strapped into the car ready to go and I start to relax a bit. When the final 30-second countdown on the start lights begin, the adrenalin starts pumping again.

The Escort is super-quick and driving it is like having a tiger by the tail, so care is needed at first until the tyres begin to heat up and grip. Conditions vary from skating rink to grippy, so it’s always challenging driving flat out from the off.

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No practice or detailed pace notes are allowed, so Mike calls the corners from a stage map. It’s important to get focused and try to be quick straight out of the box, because time dropped dithering early on is tough to claw back.

We usually do three laps of a stage, merging with other cars seeded behind or in front of us on each lap, so there’s an element of car-to-car action that conventional rallies don’t have, adding a bit of drama and excitement for crews and spectators.

If we make it to the end unscathed, we head back to the paddock ready to do it all again 20 minutes later. It’s an incredibly exciting way to spend a Sunday, and as long as there are no mishaps, it’s the best way I know to put a smile on your face.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

Cars cost anything from a few thousand to six-figure sums, depending on how deep your pockets are. High-end cars soak up lots more on engine and transmission rebuilds, and moulded slick or wet rally tyres cost from around £150 to £350 each new. Entry fees are usually between £240 and £270 per event, but the cost of registering for the championship is a mere £40.

WHERE AND WHEN?

NHMC Cadwell Stages, Cadwell Park 20 November 2016

Rockingham Stages, Rockingham 3-4 December 2016

MGJ Engineering Winter Stages, Brands Hatch 21 January 2017

Snetterton Stages, Snetterton 19 February 2017

Donington Rally, Donington Park 5 March 2017

Lee Holland Rally, Anglesey Circuit 19 March 2017

Alan Healey Memorial Stages, Cadwell Park 9 April 2017

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