The British Rally Championship has announced its return to the International rallying agenda in 2016, with a highly anticipated return to four-wheel-drive machinery and a big emphasis on making the series as accessible as possible, as well as aiming for the sort of profile it achieved in the F2 era of the early 2000s.
Among the hopefuls as the Championship aims for the profile of its F2 glory days is British driver Aaron McClure. Like Chris Ingram who you heard from recently on here, Aaron is a source of inspiration for young, aspiring rally drivers in the UK, having followed the newly-defined career path blazed by the Junior Rally Series.
In my role as the face of the Special Stage Rally TV Series, I have followed Aaron’s career to date, and I’m delighted to bring you this honest insight from one of UK rallying’s larger-than-life characters, and surely a star of the future…
PW: Aaron, we’ve already heard from Chris Ingram, a Peugeot works driver who started where you did in the Junior rally series. You’re following a slightly different route at the moment, but how valuable was the Junior experience for you?
AM: Even before I started competing the driver and media training I received set me off on the right path. The championship taught me about all the aspects of competition, not just driving but all the steps needed to become a well rounded competitor. The competition was fierce as we all wanted to win. The camaraderie between drivers certainly helped along the way and still continues today!
PW: British rallying is going through a difficult period, with the British Rally Championship suspended for 2015. What, in your opinion does it need to do ready for the re-launch in 2016 in order to regain its place at the pinnacle of the sport in this country?
AM: With the recent announcement of the BRC returning to include 4wd in 2016 I feel that this should be a step in the right direction. My personal view is that the championship should be structured to attract more competitors and provide incentives for each class to allow drivers of varied budgets to take a step forward.
PW: You’ve managed to attract sponsors to support you with your rallying so far, which is a key part of putting any motorsport campaign together. How have you managed to do that?
AM: As we all know finding sponsorship is hard. A professional marketing plan has definitely helped me to provide my sponsors with as much pr coverage as possible. Seeking out a specialist marketing firm to do this has been most beneficial. It might seem a strange thing to spend your budget on but the benefits certainly out way the costs. By providing this I have managed to retain existing sponsors and attract new ones.
PW: All competitors dream of making driving a career, being signed by a top team and competing at the top level – even I do that sometimes (!). But you’re following a route and in 2015 you’ll be taking on some of the best drivers competing in the UK in the BTRDA Series. At what point did, or will you stop seeing rallying as a hobby and start treating it as a serious career aspiration?
AM: As you say it is possibly every driver’s dream and it will always be an aspiration to me. Since starting rallying this has always been what I have really wanted to do. In reality it certainly isn’t easy to achieve but I always try and put myself in a position ready to take the next step forward in my aim to reach the top.
PW: Why the switch from two to four wheel drive?
AM: Like most competitors in the UK, I anticipated the move in the BRC back to include 4wd and after driving a fwd from the start I thought it would be beneficial to gain some experience in a different class ready for 2016.
PW: Most rally fans only see what happens on the stages, or what you put on social media. Behind the scenes, how much work goes in to putting a championship campaign together?
AM: Most of my spare time and money is taken up with rallying. Whether it be working in the garage on my car or working with MCR Marketing, one of our rallying partners on sponsorship and marketing, there is always something that needs doing. As this is a family run team we do all the preparation and repairs at home. It isn’t only my time either, I do have loyal team members who give up their time to help and support me, I definitely wouldn’t be able to do it all on my own.
PW: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome during your rally career so far, and how did you approach it?
AM: Everything in rallying can be seen as a challenge, from finding budgets to getting to the start of each event. The biggest challenge for me was first stage nerves, it took at least the first stage for me to calm down and find my driving rhythm. As I got to the end of the juniors I was fortunate enough to get a place on the MSA AASE course and was able to seek the advice of a sports therapist. After taking his advice and putting a plan into place I was able to gain more confidence and keep my nerves more under control.
PW: How do you feel things have gone so far – are you ahead or behind where you’d like to be at this point in your career?
AM: After leaving the juniors my aim was to try and make a progressive move each year and I think I have achieved that. My short term goal was always to try and compete in the BRC by using the BRC Challenge as a stepping stone. I always saw the challenge as a 2 year plan but was able to bring this forward a year. The next step was also a 2 year plan, the first year to gain experience in a new car, learn to make pacenotes and gain knowledge of events and then use the second year to try and win rally two. Obviously with the cancellation of the BRC in 2015 the plan had to be changed so I am not able to say if I’m ahead or behind really.
PW: Colin McRae and Richard Burns captured the imagination of the British public in a way that no-one since has been able to. Do you think we’ll see a return to that wide-spread popularity for a British driver again?
AM: I feel that the sport doesn’t get the publicity it deserves. Everybody knew who Colin and Richard were whether they were rallying fans or not as the BRC and WRC had mainstream coverage. With rallying coverage being harder to find this has had an effect on its appeal to a wider audience. Hopefully we will see a return to this as the WRC is on the rise again with more teams and sponsors becoming involved. I hope this happens as there is a great crop of British drivers coming through the WRC ranks.
PW: You’ve had a few different co-drivers so far. In the past co-drivers used to move around a lot at the top level, whereas now many crews will stay together throughout their careers. What’s your view of the way this should be?
AM: I think in an ideal situation it would be beneficial to have the same co driver throughout, but obviously co-drivers face the same obstacles as drivers with budgets and time. This therefore is sometimes impossible. In my opinion trust in each other is the most important aspect of a good working relationship and if you can find this with any co-driver then it shouldn’t hinder your performance.
PW: Finally, can you give one piece of advice to aspiring drivers – something realistic that they can actually work or keep in mind before even getting in a rally car?
AM: As serious as rallying is it is important for the whole team to have fun and enjoy every experience along the way.
Aaron McClure was talking to Paul Woodford ahead of his switch to four-wheel-drive in the BTRDA Rally Series in 2015. (Read down for Paul’s Q&A with Chris Ingram.)