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The announcement that there will be no endurance rally championship in 2016 was sad but far from unexpected news. The format has struggled for both competitors and events for most of its existence.
The concept, the brainchild of Philip Young’s fertile mind, was developed at the turn of the Millennium, first seeing the light of day on the month long World Cup Rally in 2001 and then, eighteen months later, making its UK debut with the Welsh Endurance Rally in June 2003, with Hywel Thomas in charge. The event ran, almost non-stop for over 24 hours and included not only tests but a night road rally section. The cars had a maximum engine capacity of 1400cc for petrol cars and 1700cc non-turbocharged for diesel. Little modification was allowed – limited slip differentials were outlawed for instance. That was the concept and it worked.
The following year the Revival Rally was launched. It was an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of the 1970s RAC Rallies. Philip had managed to get both Lombard and the RAC involved, although, for political reasons, the event was never officially referred to as the Lombard RAC Rally. It started in York and finished in Cheltenham, taking in many of the classic forests along the way. It was a tremendous success attracting 120 starters and seeing close competition throughout the event.
By 2006 there was enough interest for the Torqbar Championship to be launched. This consisted of six rounds, although neither the Welsh, in its fourth year, nor the Revival were included. The standard format for these championship events was to have a Saturday afternoon of tests followed by a road rally night leg, with some rallies having further tests on the Sunday morning. These were expensive competitions for clubs to put on; entry levels were reasonable but most rounds made a loss.
The majority of clubs decided that they could bear the loss for the first running of an event; they saw it as an investment for future success. However, competitor numbers dropped in the following year and, to make matters worse, the favourable forestry charges initially enjoyed by endurance rallying were increased. It was rumoured that vested interests didn’t want a cheap alternative to stage rallying. Heaven forsake that there should be low cost access to forestry rallying.
Organisers therefore cut back on the duration of rallies. There was also an issue that some competitors weren’t keen on the road rally sections; a few used to pack up and go home once the test element of a rally was done, not waiting for the night leg.
The championship struggled on. The road element became negligible or simply non-existent. In recent years there have been just four or five rounds, and those than ran were single day jobs, not really endurance events. When Targa rallies arrived, the writing was on the wall.
Endurance rallying was seen as a low cost form of motorsport. And as far as the vehicles were concerned this was true, unfortunately it was the events that were expensive.