Quiet, you scumbags!” yells Pat Doran at the assembled competitors and media, his big grin obvious despite being hidden beneath a mask. We’re gathered at Lydden Hill race circuit near Dover for the launch of the rebooted British Rallycross Championship (BRX), which will start this bank holiday weekend, and Doran – series boss and Lydden owner – clearly doesn’t believe in formalities. Jonathan Palmer he certainly isn’t.
Rallycross is a fantastic but too often overlooked form of motorsport that combines the best aspects of rallying and circuit racing in a spectator-friendly, quick-fire format. It’s also made for TV. Literally: the first rallycross was held at Lydden in 1967 as a new means to create Saturday afternoon entertainment on ITV’s halcyon World of Sport show.
An official FIA World Rally Championship (WRX) has yumped and bumped along since 2014, but Britain’s well-regarded national series has stalled in recent years. That’s why governing body Motorsport UK now feels compelled to breathe new life into the sport, and Doran – a four-time British Rallycross champion and folk hero from the 1980s Group B glory days – has been chosen as just the sort of gregarious character with enough puff to do so.
Getting in a scrum
The British series reboot is based around a marketing drive that takes some inspiration from rugby. “We’re promoting it as the Five Nations BRX,” explains Doran, whose vibrant plans for 2020 have inevitably been disrupted by the pandemic. “That’s because we’re going to five nations: Lydden in England, Knockhill in Scotland, Pembrey in Wales, Mondello Park in Ireland and Valkenswaard in Holland – although we can’t run the Dutch round this year, because of Covid. We’re giving it an international flavour, adding some spice and doing something different on the marketing.”
The rallycross community may be strong and well established, but can Doran rekindle the kind of interest from the days when it was a TV staple on World of Sport and the BBC’s Grandstand? “We’re going to give it a good go,” he says with feeling. “We’ve got a three- to five-year contract and we’re investing quite a lot of money into the showmanship. Group B was the last great era, and I was part of that: me, Will Gollop, Martin Schanche. Now we need to get today’s interesting drivers back, including those who didn’t want to be involved before because they weren’t happy with how it was being run.
“By the end of five years, I’m hoping this will be the sport the world is coming to watch. I’m not interested in touring cars that are so fast they can’t overtake each other, and Formula 1 is like watching paint dry. We’re here to put entertainment back into motorsport.”