Most sport and recreational activities are impacted by economic downturns and fluctuating exchange rates, motorport is no different. Rallying in South Africa has not escaped unscathed from the continual financial pressure on corporates and individuals – particularly in those sectors that are dependant of internationally sourced components.
The cost to enter the sport and run teams has become prohibitive and, as a result, the number of participants in the sport has declined over the past few years. Some work has already been done to reduce costs and there has been a move towards more compact events – with scrutineering, recce, drivers’ briefing and the first few stages of the rally all happening on the Friday, with the balance of the stages happening on the Saturday. This has definitely helped take a load off the teams but it is not enough. Chris Andrew, Chairman of the NRC Steering Committee, says: “If we want the sport to survive, we need to think about making radical changes.”
A task team has spent the past few months determining the current situation and evaluating options for the future. The final conclusion made by the task team is that the NRC needs to ‘go back to basics’. On this basis, a number of changes will take place in 2017. The biggest change will be a shift to a single national championship class only. From 2017, Super 1600 will be the national championship class and all other cars (subject to conditions) will be able to compete in an ‘open class’. “Whichever way we look at it, the benefits are huge”, says Andrew. “Barriers to entry will be reduced, running costs will be cut significantly and, hopefully, as a result competitor numbers will increase and people will be drawn back to the sport”.
Some of the positive spins-offs from the move to a single national championship class will include a highly competitive, more exciting competition, a more stimulating story to tell and better returns for the NRC’s partners and sponsors.
“This is the first part of the transition of the National Rally Championship. More aspects of the sport are under close scrutiny, including route safety base notes, recces, testing and other facets of events”, says Andrew. “In addition, once we have the shape of the series finalised, more effort will be put into growing the sport at a grassroots level and ensuring that we have future drivers lined up to keep the championship growing.”
The teams and the NRC’s partners have been consulted in the process. All are in agreement that change is needed. At just under halfway through the 2016 season, the belief is that this early statement of intent will give teams sufficient time to plan so as to be ready for the start of the 2017 season.
It is also hoped that the changes being made will be sufficiently attractive to lure back drivers and teams who have left the sport over the years.