This weekend saw the BTRDA Rally Championship – without doubt the most high profile rally series in the UK – fire back up for the 2015 season. I was there to host the TV show, which once again I’m presenting this year on Motors TV, and I was blown away by the spectacle.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that after the final round showdown for the title in both the Gold Star and 1400 categories in 2014, it would be almost impossible to turn up the heat going into the first round of the new season. But then we thought the same for the last three seasons and look what happened!
There was no doubt during our TV interview with reigning Champion Steve Perez, that part of him wished he was at the Wyedean to defend his title. But equally certain, is that every rally fan and spectator lining the stages and the TV screens in 2015 was delighted to see Perez out in the legendary Lancia Stratos. That the car’s – and the Champion’s – season opener was so short lived made absolutely no difference; a Stratos back in anger in the UK is fairy tale stuff.
Thankfully (for the TV crew!) the big talk leading up to the Wyedean, which takes place in the Forest of Dean area of South Wales, was not the weather. Normally threats of snow and ice dominate the chatter in the week before, and the action during the BTRDA opener, but this time the weather took a back seat. Instead the talk of the town was the spectacular entry, which boasted probably the best line-up of rally machinery, talent and profile of any rally I’ve ever been involved with this side of the World Rally Championship.
WRC machines, from older 2 litre monsters to the current crop of WRC, S2000 and R5 dominated the leaderboard, with highly anticipated debuts and returning campaigners, including the likes of previously dominant BTRDA drivers Hugh Hunter, Steve Simpson and Brian Bell, together with the reigning five-time asphalt Rally Champion Damian Cole.
Adding these to last year’s title challengers, including Paul Bird, Dave Weston Jnr and Stephen Petch, and glancing through the rest of the entry, from the 6R4 of Pete Smith to the highly anticipated return of Neil Matthews in his newly Ravenol’d Nova in the 1400s, gave a real flavour of the drama that was to unfold on the first day of the 2015 season.
I’ll leave what actually happened for the TV Show, which you’ll be able to catch on Special Stage in two weeks’ time (stay tuned to Twitter for the exact time of airing on Motors TV), but needless to say the big build-up to the 2015 BTRDA Rally Championship was completely justified with action, drama and explosive spectacle throughout the field.
Just a look around the service area at Chepstow Racecourse this weekend showed how far the Championship has come in terms of profile. Big name sponsors, international teams and competitors, and the world’s leading cars all lined up to kick off the most eagerly-awaited UK Rally Championship season for decades.
And then there was the atmosphere on the stages itself – spectators lined the banks, laybys and verges for miles leading to the stages were full of spectator cars, and the town buzzed with the noise of rally cars and cash registers as the businesses of Chepstow were served a reminder of just what a positive impact a Championship with the profile of the BTRDA can have on the host town.
I’m proud of the part I’ve played in that profile, as a presenter for the Special Stage Rally Review TV series, and I’m looking forward to bringing audiences across the world a taste of what makes British rallying so awesome in 2015.
See you on the screen, and the stages in 2015!