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THE END OF THE MN SERIES - A whimper not a bang

First published in Motorsport News 5th December 2012

Today (5th December 2012) is the 25th Anniversary of the final Motoring News Championship event, the JJ Brown Memorial Rally. The rally brought to an end a type of road rallying where a commercially supported national series was the pinnacle of the sport; where at times ex-works cars charged through the lanes.

In 1988 new regulations were being introduced that would bring an end to the era of road racing. In particular Targa Timing was outlawed, principally because it could be used to hide the true average speed of sections.

Before we get too misty eyed about the past, it should be noted that the JJ Brown wasn’t a grand finale; in many ways it was a mere shadow of the rallies that had taken place in the heyday of the MN Championship. This was probably inevitable given the ‘dead man walking’ state that the sport was in at the end of 1987.

Under pressure from the authorities, the total length of the JJ Brown was kept to just 110 miles, not the 200 plus that had been the standard. Also, as a nod to the new rules, map markings had been banned, a move that caused some ‘navigators’ to struggle.

Cilwendeg 1987

The rally itself didn’t go too well, although it utilised an excellent route, taking in the best roads on the Llyn. The result was only decided after one section was scrubbed, never a satisfactory situation for anyone. On the crucial test a number of leading runners were delayed after a farmer drove a cattle truck against rally route and eventually collided with the Escort of Ron Beecroft and Mike Kidd. The cancellation of the section meant that Beecroft and Kidd took the rally win; the result also secured for them the final MN Championship. Further down the field a number of crews went OTL after arriving at Petrol to find a 20 minute wait for the pump.

In truth the series had been in decline since the introduction in 1984 of rules that limited vehicle specifications. The 1987 Championship had only eight rounds, less than half the number that was included when it was at its peak. And some of those rounds had severe problems with either a strong police presence, rows about rules or sabotage as rocks were placed in the path of competitors.

Most commentators were of the opinion that this was the end of road rallying, it wouldn’t survive the changes. No one, at that time, predicted that it would still be going strong 25 years later.