Why This Brit is Jealous of Rallying in North America
by Jon Scoltock
Yes, that’s right, a guy from one of the biggest rallying countries in the world is jealous of the rally scene in the USA. I know exactly what some of you are going to be thinking as you read that statement, but I would ask you to hear me out before you assume that I’ve gone mad from being in lock-down.
I consider myself very lucky to live in the UK. It’s obviously a pretty nice, safe, comfortable country. As a rally guy, it’s also one of the prime locations on earth. Our heritage with the sport is almost unrivaled with fantastic roads, an iconic WRC round, a current WRC team, and Colin McRae, one of the greatest drivers in rally history, to call our own. On top of that, just across the English Channel, there is a whole continent full of rally-mad Europeans who also have some pretty cool roads, events, teams and drivers.
So, if I have all of that on my doorstep, what am I jealous of? Innovation, that’s what!
That same heritage that makes the UK so special has also meant that our car choices are influenced by decades of following FIA categories, and by a continued obsession with reliving “the glory days”. This has led people to pick the same cars over and over. Once people pick the same cars, they then tend to pick the same modifications over and over too, meaning entry lists full of very similar cars and a real reluctance to do anything that breaks the mold.
Even our governing body, Motorsport UK, has all but snuffed out any chance of innovation by placing severe restrictions on how cars can be modified. Want to fit a rear wing? Sure, but only if it was available from the factory or it was FIA homologated for that car. Want to rally a car with an engine bigger than 3.0 litres? Sure, but only if you have two-valve heads or if it’s a FIA homologated R-GT. Anything else goes into the ‘Rally GT’ category, where modifications are so limited that you will get wasted by R2 cars.
What this means is that rally entry lists, while big on numbers, are small on variety. Aside from the handful of ex-WRC machinery, around 30% of a typical UK rally entry is often made up of one car – the Ford Escort. If it’s a historic rally, that’s probably more like 80%. Once you add in the usual Imprezas and Evos, there really isn’t much variety going on.
I understand of course that, as in the US, most UK competitors are amateurs. And it’s much easier to build a car in your garage at home if you can benefit from the experience of the hundreds that have gone before you. However, there is something special about seeing lots of different shapes (and sounds) going through the stages.
What really excites me about rallying in the United States is the approach taken to the cars. You don’t have the same trickle of ex-factory WRC/R5/R2/Group A cars that we do. Your road car market is pretty different to Europe, which means you don’t follow that well-trodden path – And that’s where the beauty is.
You want to go rallying? You guys just build a car and go for it. It doesn’t matter if no one has rallied that model of car before, you just find ways to make it safe, reliable, and fast; fitting different engines, transmissions, suspension, seemingly even if they weren’t designed for that car in the first place.
I can’t tell you the last time I saw a Mazda RX-7 at a rally in the UK, or a VW Golf, but you guys seem to have plenty of them. I’ve even seen footage of a front-wheel drive Ford Focus, that looked like a World Rally Car, but had a turbocharged Duratec engine and a sequential transmission. There is absolutely zero chance someone would build that car here. ZERO. It’s too far outside of our comfort zone.
The growth in popularity of rallying in the USA does mean that we’re now starting to see regular appearances from R2 and R5 cars, especially with arrive and drive options opening up, which I think is awesome, because I hope that growth is paving the way for a round of the WRC in North America. But, while I am excited to see the growth, and I know that the draw of the WRC and its thoroughbred racers is massive, I am worried that US rallying may be forced to change to the FIA’s one-size-fits-all overly restrictive approach.
If the WRC comes knocking, it should be welcomed with open arms, but always keep that rebellious spirit that has long been lost from rallying in the UK – it’s something that many of us long for.
Jon Scoltock is a motorsports and auto journalist from the UK, producing content on the WRC, national rallying, and a range of motorsport engineering subjects. Formerly an engineer, Scoltock has been involved with building and running cars on events around the UK, as well as driving his own cars and volunteering.
For more of Jon’s view from across the pond, follow him at the below social media links: