A rally for competitors
The North Wales Rally Services Rally North Wales is proud of its history, just as much as its proud of the event as it is today. From hosting World Rally Champions, to the British Rally Championship and on to regional and national series’ Rally North Wales has long been a staple part of the UK rallying calendar. First run in 1958, the event is proud to have an illustrious list of winners that include:
Colin, Jimmy & Alister McRae, Elfyn Evans, Andreas Mikkelsen, Malcolm Wilson, David Llewellin, Russell Brookes, Stig Blomqvist, Tony Pond, Michelle Mouton, Markku Alén, Henri Toivonen, Ari Vatanen and Pentti Airikkala.
A brief history of "Rally North Wales"
Wolverhampton & South Staffs Car Club’s major rally has, since its inception in 1958, always carried the name of its sponsor in the title. Over the years the sponsors have changed and therefore so has the name. Despite the changes the the event has remained constant to its concept of a major annual motorsport event in mid-Wales.
The event began with sponsorship from the local Wolverhampton evening newspaper, the ‘Express & Star’ in 1958, six years after the club was founded, when the newspaper agreed to provide financial support, awards, and cash prizes. The first event took place on March 8/9th 1958 and continued each year as a road rally in various formats until 1966. In that year the event became one of the first national rallies to include forestry stages. Every year from then on, the rally was always forest based. In 1967 a second sponsor, Goodyear Tyres, became involved and the event became known as the ‘Express & Star/Goodyear’ rally. In 1968 the oil company Castrol joined as a sponsor and the event was known as ‘The Castrol-Express & Star’. The last year of sponsorship by the newspaper was to be 1969. Following insurance problems stemming from the 1967 event there was no rally in 1970 and 1971.
In 1972 the event was revived as the ‘Castrol-Timpson’ when additional support was received from Timpson’s shoes. Despite the success of the event the problems were not over and in 1973 the lack of availability of suitable forestry roads led to the postponement of the rally for another year.
Things were very different in 1974 when Castrol became the sole sponsor of the rally to celebrate the company’s 75 years. This was the first of the two rallies called the ‘Castrol 75’. The second ran in 1975 which made the title a bit more understandable. There followed the Castrol ’76, ’77, ’78, ’79 and ’80, all based in Aberystwyth with a similar format.
In 1981 and 1982 Pace Petroleum replaced Castrol as the name sponsor. The Pace Petroleum National Rally was run to the successful formula of previous years, still based in Aberystwyth.
Audi Sport UK became the title sponsors in 1983 and with the name came a World Rally Team and a massive publicity machine. The sponsorship was much needed it those difficult economic times but with the money came a lot of hard work to keep the event in the top league of cub rallying. This was the only place that Audi would accept and the only way to ensure the sponsorship continued.
The story now enters the years of the super rally cars. 1984 followed the pattern of routes of previous years but in 1985 the changes started with a move to Shrewsbury.
Although Audi no longer had a rally team at world championship level the Audi Sport of 1986 was a classic. There were entries for the full works team of three Ford RS200s, a titanic battle for the National Rally Championship title and a super special stage at Loton Park hill climb course.
By 1987, Audi Sport had been sponsors for five years and the base for the event had moved to Telford with a brand new spectator stage being set up in the Town Park. The outcome of the National Championship was decided on this stage after nearly 70 miles of stages in the usual Welsh forests. The Group B cars had been banned although the 6R4 was still legal at British national level and sure enough there were 6 of them in the top 7 finishers including the winner, driven by David Gillanders.
1988 was the year of the Sierra Cosworth, both the Group A and Group N examples were the cars of choice for the top championship drivers. The rally was essentially run to the same format as the previous year, however there were more entries and more forest miles as the economy improved.
When the rally ran under an international permit for the first time in 1989 the full effect of the group ‘B’ ban could be felt. There were only a couple of manufacturers with four wheel drive cars homologated in Group ‘A’, the rest made do with two wheel drive. Whilst the Sierra Cosworths were up to the job on tarmac they were no match for the little Toyota Celica GT 4×4 on the wet muddy stages of Wales. With this advantage David Llewellyn won both the event and with it British Championship after doing battle over 90 stage miles.
For 1990 and 1991 the rally continued as an international in the Open Championship. The Championship itself was struggling to come to terms with the huge costs and falling entry levels. Without the support of Audi Sport and the various one make championships the event would not have been viable.
Just before the 1991 event it was announced that Audi would not be continuing with its sponsorship. This created a big challenge for the Club and the organising team.
If 1992 was difficult 1993 and 1994 were even more of a challenge to the organisers. A move to Welshpool and sticking to the concept of a properly organised rally for clubmen with a bolt on international was continued. Despite there being no last minute sponsor these years the books were balanced and the struggle continued.
1995 was a year of big changes, the event returned to the National Championship as the last round, the base was moved back to Aberystwyth and a major local sponsor came on board. Things were looking up.
1996 and 1997 were the years of consolidation in the National Championship with Bulldog signing up to a long term partnership as title sponsor. Gone was the international permit event, but in came the British Historic Championship with its own event and the clubman continued with the Meirion resurrected, this time in parnership with Aberystwyth Car Club.
By 1998 the rally had outgrown the facilities in Aberystwyth and the decision to move back to Shrewsbury was taken. This was not all together successful as the Showground down by the River Severn was chosen as a base. A rally show and final stage had been laid out on the site as a high profile finish to the rally. The weather intervened and heavy rain caused the river to flood and the Showground to ultimately be under six feet of water. This was not before the stage was cancelled and a very quick finish ceremony was held on the ramp.
To prevent a re-occurrence of the flooding problems the base was moved to the much higher cattle market site for the 1999 and 2000 events.
British motorsporting events were cancelled in their hundreds in 2001 as a result of the devastating foot and mouth disease outbreak. The Government severly restricted access to the contryside for much of the year. After lengthy negotiations the rally was able to go ahead, although the Shrewsbury Cattle Market was not available for pre event formalities and alternatives were pressed into use.
The next year was a rerun but without the Government livestock controls in place and some slightly different stage routes. The National Championship was in robust health and the new ANCRO Clubmans Championship ensured that overall entries were numerous as well as being competitive.
The event would later be part of the MSA British Rally Championship once again and witnessed some great battles between the all-2wheel-drive series.
In 2015 the event was re-vamped and current sponsor – North Wales Rally Services joined the fray along with the Mintex MSA British Historic Rally Championship, alongside the Pirelli MSA Welsh Rally Championship. This partnership continues to this day…
Above text taken from the History of the Wolverhampton and South Staffordhsire Car Club event page which can be found here: http://www.wssccrally.org.uk/
Express and Star Rally.
The organiser of the first ‘Star’ was the vice-chairman of W&SSCC, Alan Martin, who said “We propose to run this rally on the principle of national rallies where there are fairly easy sections between short difficult ones”. A permit was obtained from the RAC which allowed entries from any members of clubs which had ‘signified their willingness to join in the project’ up to a maximum of 210 entries! There were cash prizes for the first three crews of £35, £25 and £15 respectively and the S. W. Fletcher Memorial Trophy would be awarded to the best placed W&SSCC member.
The Castrol 75.
1974 was the year that really founded the modern rally. The organising team was a strengthened version of the one assembled for the Castrol Timpson Rally. Roger Willis of Castrol and David Stephenson, the Clerk of the Course, worked together to put on an event to celebrate Castrol’s 75th. year. Stage rallying had matured into a specific rally format and the right cars were available, an exciting era was underway.
A route of containing over 60 miles of special stages had been assembled. Of the 15 stages one was a short tarmac dash the rest classic Welsh Forestry. The rally started round the lake in Llandrindnod Wells in a long meandering path northwards then westwards for an hour’s lunch halt at Machynlleth. No servicing in this hour it was for the refreshment of the crew!
It was the north again before turning east and heading for the finish. The rally ended with a prizegiving and disco. at the Lord Hill Hotel in Shrewsbury. The total route was over 250 miles all to scheduled time and no service stops built in. It was a long arduous day with relentless pressure, a well prepared car and a switched on crew was needed.
It came as no surprise that the immaculate and fast Mk I Escort of motor engineer, Tony Drummond co-driven by rising star Dave Richards emerged the winners. What was a surprise was the second place of Russell Brookes and John Brown because it was a Group 1 (Group N today) RS 2000. This giant killing act of beating many more powerful Group 2 (Group A) machines was the first of many to come.
The Audi Sport.
Thanks to Paul Ridgeway and David Sutton a new sponsor in Audi Sport UK was on board for 1983
Not only did this sponsorship bring the expertise of a multi national company with its professional press department but one with its own World Championship rally team.
This was reflected in the event immediately. The rally received previews in many of the national daily papers and a huge injection of excitement in the form of an entry for World Championship contender Michele Mouton in the in Audi’s British Championship Quattro.
Michele duly won in the four wheel drive Audi from Russell Brookes in his two wheel drive Chevette.
Audi Sport was happy to stick with the tried and tested formula of the rally. However economic times were hard and entries were few, the support from the UK Audi importers was necessary to ensure the event ran.
From the entry list it could be seen that the days of the Escorts, Opels and Chevettes were quickly coming to an end and the first of the rally supercars had arrived.
A whole new level of costs for competitors was on the horizon. The clubman was left with the Mk III Escort Turbo, fun on the road but not a very successful rally car.
The Bulldog Rally.
With Bulldog firmly on board as title sponsor the format of the previous two years continued for 1997. Entries were up for the main event and the sun shone making the rally an exciting spectacle for competitors, officials and followers. The icing on the cake once again were entries for Mark Higgins in a Nissan Sunny, Robbie Head and Martin Rowe in Renault Maxi Meganes.
With the Championship came the Nissan Micra and Ford Ka, one make, championships.
For the first time there were more entries on the Historic Rally than on the Clubman Event.
The Mintex Championship title was to be decide on the event, dependant upon the performance of Murray Grierson. This was soon resolved as Murray retired on stage 4 and the title went to Brian Lyall who was sitting out the event.
Mark Higgins retired half way through, in Sweet Lamb and the two Megane’s did not hand their time cards at the end. It was one of the rising stars of national rallying that prevailed over the more established competitors, to take the rally win. Marcus Dodd won by more than 45 seconds.
In the Meirion Rally it was Andy Meirs who won in his Ford Escort Mk II from the Escort Cosworth of Charlie Pye.
In the Historic Rally all cars were models manufactured before 1968 and there were no Ford Escorts on the entry list. It was Porsche 911’s that took first, second, fourth and sixth. Dessie Nutt drove the winning car.
Rally North Wales.
The 2013 Morris Lubricants Rally North Wales was sadly cancelled due to icy conditions on the stages and road sections along the route.
The event re-emerged in 2015 with a brand new format and was won by David Bogie and Kevin Rae in their Fiesta R5.
This marked the change to the format we see today.