BHRC / 2024 SEASON PREVIEW

BHRC / 2024 SEASON PREVIEW

02/02/2024 Off By admin

The Forests of North Yorkshire will witness the commencement of the 2024 FUCHS Lubricant, Motorsport UK, British Historic Rally Championship on February 11th. The Riponian Rally, serving as the season opener, will once again take centre stage, marking the beginning of three consecutive Gravel events that will ignite the new season. Following this Championship curtain raiser, the attention will then turn to Wales for Rally North Wales, taking place on March 16th, and the Severn Valley Stages which will follow suit on April 13th.

This year, the British Historic Rally Championship will undergo a transformation to its calendar; not only will the season be extended, but there will also be an increased number of Asphalt events as it has seen in the past.

Xlerate had the opportunity to speak with Championship Manager Colin Heppenstall in anticipation of the upcoming season.

Q: Last year there were seven rounds, with a single event, Epynt on the Asphalt. This year that increases to nine rounds total with three events mid-season back-to-back on Asphalt. How do you think the jump from seven to nine will fair up with entry numbers with consideration for the cost of stage rallying?

“That’s a fair comment, the Historic competitors haven’t liked Asphalt, but there’s more and more doing it now that there are closed roads. So yes we are doing Epynt which is well known, but we’ve also gone to two well-known closed roads events which have a good reputation, being the Manx, and everybody loves the Manx and Rally Argyle which the Asphalt Championship go to and rave about.”

Photo: Richard Tutill – Tour Of Epynt 2023 | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media

Of course, the Championship has adopted this very formation in the past, the 2017 season for example also having run three back-to-back Asphalt events sandwiched mid-season between the gravel.

“We’ve said we are going to try this, we are not expecting huge entries, and there are only seven rounds to score out of the nine rounds, so they can do the Championship and not do tarmac. At the end of the day, it’s down to each competitor to what they like. We know they like the Manx, we know they like Epynt, and Argyle has a good reputation, but we do still have some competitors that do like Tarmac so why not? 

We like to give choices to the competitors and we’ve picked what we think are some of the best events out there on the market which also fit into our calendar and we’ll see where that goes.”

Q: Was it competitors’ feedback that they wanted more tarmac or was it your choice to move to give them that choice?

“It’s my choice, I speak to an awful lot of people and we’ve run a separate tarmac championship for a number of years where we’ve had a healthy 10 crews who used to do it; all we need is a few more of the gravel people to do a few more and it then becomes worthwhile. 

People are looking at doing more Asphalt events, so yes we are trying to pre-empt it and the feedback that we have got since we published it has been very very favourable, so hopefully, the season will turn out to be a good one, even with the Asphalt events.”

The first of the Asphalt events, The Manx was last seen in the Championship in 2017 (cancelled in 2018), it is an iconic event in its own right and is among the additions to this year’s Championships schedule. However, this particular rally does incur additional expenses when it comes to travelling to the Isle of Man for the event.

Q: The Manx is a doubleheader when scoring championship points, do you think this will be a big enough incentive for crews to travel to the event with a significant cost compared to a mainland rally?

“I think so, the Manx is an iconic event, from speaking with competitors you either like it or you loathe it, if you like it, you will go, if you don’t, there are lots of other events in the Championships and you don’t need to worry about it.”

Photo: Jason Prichard – Tour Of Epynt 2023 | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media

The Manx will be followed up by a newcomer to the series, The Argyle Rally in Scotland, scheduled for June. Following that, the series will return to the military roads of Epynt, Wales, which although featured last year, did see a number of regular participants choosing to sit it out.

After these three Asphalt events, there will be a pause in the proceedings of over a month until the action resumes in September, this time back onto the loose at the Woodpecker Stages. The season will then make a return to where it all began in the North Yorkshire Forests at the end of September, where the crews will take on the legendary Dalby Forest in the dark during the TrackRod Rally. Finally, the season will come to a thrilling conclusion in late November with an all-new bi-annual event on the gravel.

Q: Tell us about the season final, the new Anglo-Caledonian event, It’s a two-day event? is that two full days of rallying?, are any night stages included?

“Two full days of rallying, starting in Carlise doing England on Saturday, looking about 80 stage miles on Saturday, it gets dark from about 4-O’Clock so there will be some dark stages, finishing around 7 or 8 O’Clock. Then Sunday it’s into Scotland, looking to do around 60 miles so around 140 miles in total over the two days. It’s open to all cars, modern and historic and we are hopeful that we should get a good entry.”

Photo: Seb Perez – Roger Alvert Clark Rally 2023 | By Andrew Scott

Q: Are we likely to see forests used on the Sunday/Monday of the RAC?

“Similar…. it will be traditional Kielder Stages and traditional Scottish Stages, some of the special ones haven’t been used for a while so we’ll see how we go. All I can say is that it’s a tried and tested organising team bringing a new event to the market, it’s going to be 140 miles over 2 days based in Carlise, and it’s going to be a good event.”

Q: Let’s talk Categories, the big concern is the lack of entries in Cat1; last year Terry Cree was the only registered Cat 1 to come out on a handful of rounds in a Mini, what could be done to get more Cat1 cars back out on the stages?

“Cat1 in the current climate will only work on tarmac/asphalt, forests are just too damaging to these cars. HRCR Masters Championship are doing a Category 1 Championship just on tarmac, that’s brilliant and absolutely the right thing to do, but it’s not the right thing to do for the BHRC. I’m really pleased that they’ve done that, so that allows the ones that want to come out and it gives them somewhere to go. And if they want to come out with us on our asphalt events then brilliant they can do, but there is a Championship out there for them at the moment. As far as I’m concerned, I am glad to see historic cars out there no matter what Championship or event they are doing; they don’t have to do mine, I’m certainly not precious about it, I just want them out there doing something.”

Q: Cat2 was better supported and was won by young Josh Carr, we also saw at times another youngster, Seb Perez challenging for rally wins in the Porche (also noting that epic RAC performance in the Stratos). How important is it for Historic Rallying to attract younger competitors? and why do you think it is that the BHRC is seemingly an option for them to get out a compete on?

“Historic rallying is in the main, historic competitors because they’ve got the cars from when they were new and they look after them but we are attracting a number of youngsters or younger people and it’s great for the sport.”

“With Historic rallying, we take the politics out of rallying. There’s a lot of that in modern-day modern stuff and there’s very little to none in historic rallying and it’s a lot more friendlier. So we do get a lot of people who come for the camaraderie and it’s not just the one competitor before or after you, it’s the whole field, and that’s what we’ve pushed throughout our tenancy of the British Historic Championship and it’s worked. People come to do it for the laugh and the craic and to see the organisers at the start of the rally. So yes we’ve attracted a few youngsters in, but pure historic rallying is expensive and the competitor base is always going to be the older end but the more we can encourage, we will welcome as many as we can.”

Photo: Josh Carr – Plains Rally 2023 | By Andrew Scott

Josh Carr, the reigning BHRC Cat2 champion, is set to make a comeback in his MK1 Ford Escort to defend his 2023 Category title. He will face competition at the season opener from Jeremey Easson, who finished as the runner-up to him last year, as well as Phill Harris, who secured fourth place. Additionally, Terry Cree will be trading in the Cat1 Mini Cooper for a BMW 2002ti and will be hoping to mix it up with them in the Cat2 field.

Andrew Stokes, who claimed the third spot in the previous season will join the fight at the second round, Rally North Wales and although Seb Perez will also be out in Wales in the Porsche 911, at the time of writing he is not registered for the Championship. There is also no news yet on the participation of several others, such as Warren Philliskirk, Craig Jones, or Mark Tugwell, although Ian Beveridge is set to join the Category 1 party at Rally North Wales in a Toyota Corolla TE27.

Q: Last year we also had appearances from another youngster, George Lepley in that stunning Mitsubishi Galant, should there be a bigger push to encourage more numbers in this category (Cat 4b) and that era of cars? perhaps the move away from the Escort?

“What we’ve said as a championship is, once we get half a dozen competitors regularly competing in these cars we’ll look at bringing them into the Championship. At the moment it is a category on their own, they can’t win the Championship but they can win the rallies. 

Once there are half a dozen it makes it worthwhile. It would be unfair to the likes of George as well, saying you can win the Championship overall when you’re the only one and just run away and win it, because it would be unfair on everyone else and unfair on him, it’s not the right thing to do.”

“I’ve been open with everyone I’ve spoken with, as long as I can see up to half a dozen on a regular basis coming out, then will bring them into the Championship, if we see that during 2024 then great, or if not hopefully 2025 might be the year.”

Photo: George Lepley – TrackRod Rally Yorkshire 2023 | By Andy Cook – Xlerate.Media

“There are some (of these cars) out there, Baz Jordan’s got a Gallant and he’s using it on the Riponian, Matt Robinsons got a legacy which his wife is using at the moment on a few events, Procter has got the Sierra of course, so there are people who are now out there and have started to use them, we just need them to continue to use them to bring them into a Championship.”

George Lepley and Baz Jordan will both put these machines into action at the opening two rounds, however, like many rally fans, we would love to see a greater number of these machines emerging to participate in the BHRC. Kevin Procter has appeared on the entry list for Round 2, Rally North Wales in the Ford Sierra, but is currently not down as being registered for the BHRC.

Q: We heard a rumour of Nick Elliot has a Lancia?

“Who Knows?”

Nick is down to compete at the first two rounds of the Championship in the Fiat Abarth 131, and it is yet to be determined whether this mythical Lancia will break cover, assuming it even exists of course!

Q: We also understand that Chris Ingram and David Applebie have registered for the Championship in the TR7? 

“Yes, they have registered for the championship, so we are hopeful that during the year, we will see the car out more and get the few little bumps that it’s got ironed out so hopefully, they will be there.”

Building on the Roger Albert Clark Rally outing last year, Ingram is set to take on the season opener in the Triumph, with the hope of making additional appearances outside of his international WRC2 campaign; all we need now is for the Perez family to bring the Stratos out for a play.

Q: Cat 3 & FIA is and has always been dominated by the Mk2 Escorts, last year and the previous Nick Elliot & Matt Edwards proved that the Fiat 131 was a capable and competitive car on the gravel but the 131 is simply not developed for tarmac…. are we stuck with Escorts?

“The 131, it’s there, Matt’s 131 and Nicks are slightly different, Matt did very very well and won lots of events in it, Nicks is nearly there, it just needs a few more tweaks and he knows that and he’s working on it. They are as fast as Escorts, they just need the reliability of what the Escort is. It wouldn’t surprise me if you suddenly see at the end of the season a 131 winning the Championship, it wouldn’t surprise me at all.”

Photo: Nick Elliot – Woodpecker Stages 2023 | By Andrew Scott

Q: Henri Grehan won in 2022 after his season battle with Matt Edwards but neither returned last year where Roger Chilman took the overall honours, have any of those drivers indicated their intent to return this year?

“We’ll find out won’t we at the Riponian, we don’t go chasing people, at the end of the day it’s up to them, if they want to come back, we’ll welcome them back with open arms. Sometimes people win a Championship and say right, I just wanna have a year off or move on to do something else. Matt moved on, Jason Pritchard won it three years on the trot and moved on to do tarmac and that’s what it’s about sometimes.”

Q: and lastly, who’s your money on for the title this year?

“Who knows before the first one, it’ll either be Nick or Roger, Marty might come out and do some, Ben Friend is coming back he will be there, and Simon Webster will be there or thereabouts. You don’t know, it’s the luck of the draw on the event, its reliability and there’s a number of factors so I wouldn’t put my money on anybody.”

From the Yorkshire market town of Thirsk, The Riponian Rally will signal the beginning of this new season, featuring approximately 43 stage miles over three gravel stages that will be run twice. It offers the ideal way for the competitors to dust off those cobwebs and get their British Historic Rally Championship campaign underway.

Notable participants who will be present include Andrian Heatherington, James Lepley, Michael McDaid, and Rudi Lancaster, among others, with local boy Matthew Robinson who could potentially be the favourite for the opening round, having won the event in 2022.

There are, however, some notable absences from the start list, Jason Pritchard, Simon Webster, Richard Tuthill, Marty McCormack (the winner of the Roger Albert Clark Rally), and last year’s overall BHRC Champion himself Roger Chilman (also the 2023 Riponian winner) are currently absent from the lineup, it remains to be seen if any of these will be out at later rounds. Regardless of whether those competitors are joining the Championship at a later date or not, this year is set up to deliver another thrilling season of the finest British Historic Stage Rallying and Xlerate is committed to covering every rally, stage by stage, battle by battle right here on these pages and all free to view.