The history of the BTRDA Rally Championships
The BTRDA began life in 1938 as the British Trial Drivers Association (BTDA) but as motoring and the availability of cars developed there were many competitors who wished to participate in longer and more arduous motorsport events. To meet this demand the BTRDA Rallies Committee was formed in 1953 and created the BTRDA Gold Star® and Silver Star® Rally Championships.
The original championship events included the RAC Rally, Circuit of Ireland, Morecambe Rally, Scarborough Rally, Scottish Rally and Rally of the Dams as these were the most challenging rallies in the UK at the time and were mostly long distance, endurance road events. This was the era of British sports cars such as the Triumph and the Austin Healey. At the end of the 1950s a very young Stuart Turner was the champion navigator for three successive years. As the championship developed so the events were changed to include many of the most competitive night-time road rallies in the UK including the Express & Star, Mini Miglia and the London Rally.
By the 1960’s most of the rally cars being used were a reflection of the cars being sold on the high street, but with relatively simple modifications to make them more suitable for use on night-time road rallies. Moving through the decade the most successful rally cars were Ford Anglias and Mini Coopers, through the Cortina GTs to the Lotus Cortinas and early Mk1 Escorts.
In 1967 Jim Bullough and navigator Don Barrow in a Mk 1 Lotus Cortina won the BTRDA Gold Star®, Motoring News and RAC Rally championships. As a reward for his British title Bullough got one of the first Escort Twin-Cams for 1968. This was a period when British rallying was moving from road to stage rallies and Bullough showed that he was part of that change by finishing third on the RAC Rally that year, thus helping Ford to win the European manufacturers title. [More insights about UK Rallying in the 1960’s can be found on the Autobiography section of Don Barrow’s website www.donbarrow.co.uk.]
In the mid 1960’s some events began to incorporate timed ‘Special Stages’ in addition to a competitive night road rally. An example of these combined road and stage events was the 1970 Dukeries Rally. This started on the Saturday evening with six special stages using private roads (including a then unused Donington Park). A brief supper halt was followed by a full 200-mile Derbyshire / Staffordshire road rally with ‘selectives’ timed to the second. At dawn the event changed back to a stage event and ran six stages in Sherwood Forest before a lunchtime finish at the Olde Bell at Barnby Moor. Note: On this event in 1970 the leader, until he crashed out on the last of the night-time selectives, was Brian Bell who was still actively competing on BTRDA Rally Series events 48 years later.
By 1970 competitors and cars were beginning to specialise and 1972 was the last Gold Star® Rally Championship to use both stage and road events. The last of the multi-tasking champions were Will Sparrow and Nigel Raeburn in their Mini Cooper S.
From 1973 the Gold Star® Championship was contested exclusively on stage rallies, whilst the Silver Star® Championship continued for road rally competitors and often ran alongside and complemented the Motoring News Road Rally Championship. Both these championships were very popular throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s with good events and huge entries attracting some of the best competitors from around the UK.
Commercial sponsors have been an important element of stage rally championships since the 1970’s. The original title sponsor of the BTRDA Gold Star® championship in the 1970’s and 1980’s was Esso and Esso Uniflow followed by European Motorsport. In the 1990’s it was Ashley Competition Exhausts followed Peugeot Sport and since then, Clear System Solutions, Dunlop, Silverstone Tyres, Get Connected, REIS Insurance, Ravenol and now JORDAN Road Surfacing. Their financial support over the years has enabled the BTRDA stage rally championships to develop and flourish and helped provide coverage and publicity for the championships as well as pay for some of the essential admin costs.
For 40 years Tynemouth Computer Services [TCS] have been providing computerised results for the various championship events, and as the BTRDA Rally Series has grown in popularity, TCS has become an indispensable partner, undertaking the huge task of collating the championship class, category and overall points after each event. Martin Liddle and David James have an excellent results archive of events and championships which can be found at https//tynecomp.co.uk/Archive and https://archive.djames.org.uk
The BTRDA rally championships have been a natural home for the one-make stage rally competitions targeted at the club competitor. These have included the Escort Mexicos, Escort 1300’s, Faberge Fiestas, the Astra and Nova Challenges, some rounds of the Lada Challenge, various Peugeot Cups and Trophies, Ford KA Rally Championships and more recently the revival of the Fiesta ST Trophy. 1979 was a particularly busy year in this respect with Ford promoting both the Ford 1300 Championship and the Faberge Fiesta Ladies Championship which created a huge demand for entries on some events.
In 1983 an Audi Quattro driven by Darryl Weidner became the first 4-wheel drive car to win a BTRDA Rally Championship, but was followed by three years of Gold Star® Champions all driving Opels; 1994 Clinton Smith / Stuart Dytham (Ascona 400), 1995 Vince Wetton / Chris Allen (Ascona 400) and 1996 Pete Doughty / Lyn Jenkins in a Manta 400.
Because of a rising demand from club competitors the BTRDA Rallies Committee introduced a BTRDA Clubmans Stage Rally Championship in 1987, which placed more emphasis on lower cost forest rallies. That year also saw Ron Beecroft / Mike Kidd crowned as the final champions of the very competitive Silver Star® and Motoring News Road Rally Championship, the demise of which is still much lamented. Also in 1987, Ian and Pat Beveridge became the first BTRDA Gold Star® Champions driving a Metro 6R4 and that model continued to be the dominant championship winning car for the following five years.
The BTRDA Rally Championships are organised and administered by the BTRDA Rallies Committee, (a specialist committee of BTRDA Ltd) which has always encouraged the involvement of competitors and former competitors. Mike Broad, Ron Crellin, Phil Short, Chris Lord, Stephen Bye, Mike Sones and Jon Ballinger have all had a big influence on the work of the Rallies Committee over the years.
The idea of ‘reverse seeding’ which was first used in the mid 1980’s, came about at the BTRDA Rally Committee from a suggestion by Phil Short and based on the idea of creating a build-up of tension and excitement as the final competitors (who were the likely event winners) approach the finish of the event. Likewise, the Rallies Committee also developed a ‘second per mile’ time handicap system and later a bonus points system to try and balance out the performance differential between the various rally cars and, thus, increase the level of competition and participation.
Ian Butcher [Gold Star® Champion 1994/95] was Chairman when the BTRDA became the first rally championship to switch to Formula 2, and Richie Holfeld [Gold Star® Champion 1991] was Chairman when the current successful format was adopted. Richie Holfeld on the 1991 Wyedean Rally >>>
1993 was a year of consolidation for UK stage rallying with the Gold Star® and Clubmans Rally Championships running on the same calendar of events. The BTRDA Rally Championships maintained their popularity throughout the 1990’s with eight successful years (1993 – 2000) when the Gold Star® championship, supported by Peugeot Sport, was exclusively for front wheel drive Formula 2 cars, whilst the Silver Star® Championship was contested by non-homologated two and four wheel drive cars. This change was a great success and attracted competitive fields of up to 70 Formula 2 cars in addition to the traditional mix of two and four wheel drive rally cars.
Ricky Evans and Ian Butcher were the Gold Star® champions in both 1994 and 1995 when a hard-driven Peugeot 205 GTi was initially the car to have. This changed to an Astra GSi for a couple of years and by 1998 when Adam Kent and Andy Bull were Gold Star® champions, it was a Peugeot 306 S16. Nick Elsmore used a Nissan Sunny to win in 1999 and in the final year of F2 cars Martin Meadows / Ian Oakey won using a Proton Compact and were chased by a whole host of Peugeot 106 GTi s. Whatever the make and model of car, one constant throughout the Formula 2 era was the very close competition.
Andy Burton also made his mark during this period winning the Silver Star® Championship in 1995 and again in 2000. (Who can forget Andy’s hilarious speech at the Championship Awards presentation where he brought out all the mechanical parts of the Peugeot Cosworth that had “stopped him winning” during the year?) It was partly Andy’s success on events in 2000 which led the Rallies Committee to review the format of the stage rally championships for the new millennium.
In 2001, to reflect rally car trends and competitor demand, the format was changed, with the Gold Star® Championship again being open to all stage rally cars, the Silver Star® Championship exclusively for the two-wheel drive cars, and the creation of the BTRDA 1400 Championship. The aim was to encourage participation in forest stage rallying by providing a range of well supported and competitive rally championships which were accessible to the clubman competitor. The BTRDA 1400 Championship quickly became very popular and developed a devoted following and some of the event results achieved by 1400 crews have been truly amazing. That camaraderie was sadly tested in 2010 when one of the leading 1400 drivers, Martyn Lewis, tragically died in an accident whilst competing on the Dukeries Rally. The Martyn Lewis Trophy presented by his family, is awarded to the BTRDA 1400 Champion each year.
It was around this time that the term BTRDA Rally Series was introduced to better describe the growing number of championships and categories. The Rally Championships’ Golden Jubilee year in 2002 was one of the most popular with 210 drivers and 230 co-drivers registered, including a very young Jari-Matti Latvala, and full entries on every event.
The role of the BTRDA Rally Championship Co-ordinator has also developed and expanded over time. During the 1980’s the official Championship Co-ordinator for the Stage Rally Championship was Ron Crellin with Mike Sones undertaking this role for the Silver Star® Road Rally Championship. Since then the BTRDA Stage Rally Championship co-ordinators have included Chris Lord, Phil Short, Keith Baud, Andrew Kellitt, Howard Wilcock, Andy Bull, Steve Gregg and more recently Ian Arden.
<< Photo of the Gang of Four..!
From left to right… Steve Gregg, the late Tim Hobbs, Norman Robertson & Howard Wilcock at the Trackrod Forest Rally in 2016.
One of the main reasons for running any championship is to bring together competitors so that they can compete against each other on a number of similar events over a season. This competition creates a great sense of camaraderie between the crews and their supporters which is often illustrated by the help that rival teams give to each other during the season.
A key benefit of being part of a successful championship is that bringing together a large number of competitors means that the championship events become financially viable. It’s all about the numbers! The current break-even point for a UK forest event has gradually increased over the years and is now around 110 entries. Therefore, being part of a championship that is able to attract 60, 70 or even 80 crews is a huge advantage to any rally organiser and means that they can plan their event with confidence. In turn this should mean that they are able to set the event entry fee at a ‘reasonable’ level – although stage rallying is never going to be cheap! A bumper championship entry also makes it a little easier to attract enough marshals and officials, without whose support rallying would simply not happen
The individual rallies that have been included in the BTRDA Rally Series over the past 66 years are one of the key reasons for its success. Since 1993 the BTRDA Rally Series has had a more settled calendar of events with only small changes from year to year. Some of the traditional BTRDA events such as the Dukeries and the Somerset Stages are no longer included because they are unable to run as forest stage rallies, but events such as the Malcolm Wilson Rally, the Nicky Grist Stages (formerly Quinton), the Woodpecker and the Plains rallies have all been part of the BTRDA Rally Series for more than 30 years.
The ‘specification’ for a successful BTRDA Rally Series event has not changed much over recent years and is really quite straightforward. The aim is to provide a one day 45 stage mile event with good stages that competitors will enjoy.
Time is a very valuable for the vast majority of competitors, service crews, officials and marshals so any event needs to be structured to make the best use of the time needed to participate. All the formalities of scrutineering and documentation should be completed on a Friday afternoon / evening and the competition should take place within an 8-hour envelope, finishing by late Saturday afternoon so that competitors can travel home Saturday evening and spend Sunday at home with their families.
Just like the BTRDA, all the individual event organisers are volunteers who make a huge commitment to their events in order to provide the platform for the rally crews to compete. Unfortunately, the recent ‘Rally Future’ Stage Safety Requirements, whilst necessary, have significantly increased the burden on the event organisers. One of the most coveted trophies that the BTRDA award each year is the Bill Turner Trophy for the ‘best event in the BTRDA Rally Series’. A list of the events / clubs that have won this award can be found at the end of this article.
Andy Burton and the Peugeot Cosworth became synonymous with the BTRDA Rally Series not only by winning the Gold Star® Championship in 2003 and 2011, but also for winning many BTRDA events, including a remarkable run of victories on his home event, the Woodpecker Stages. Andy Burton and Shelly Rogerson after one of their many event wins >>>
Graham Middleton also completed a unique feat of being Gold Star® Champion in 2004, Silver Star® Champion in 2007 and finally the BTRDA 1400 Champion in 2009.
Jon Ballinger has competed in the BTRDA Silver Star® Championship for many years and became a triple BTRDA champion by winning in 2002, 2003 and 2010 in his trusty Opel Manta. The feat was matched by Matthew Robinson who was Silver Star® Champion in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
During this period Julian Wilkes and Will Rutherford (photo) were the dominant crew in the BTRDA 1400 Championship, winning in both 2012 and 2013, and achieving some memorable results way above what was expected of a 1400 Nova.
The BTRDA Rally First Championship was introduced in 2008. This innovative idea was to create a category for essentially standard cars based on any of the popular small hatchbacks that are readily available at a modest price. Only very limited modifications are permitted to keep costs to a minimum. Better to spend a limited rallying budget on competing on events and gaining valuable experience, rather than on buying expensive performance modifications which are often unreliable and may only help you to go off quicker!
Rally First cars are very economical in fuel and tyres and have generally been more reliable than other more modified rally cars. They also do very little damage to the gravel roads, so they are relatively environmentally friendly. This idea quickly caught on and by 2011 there were up to 20 of the Rally First cars on events, some of which were being hired by relatively new competitors as an ideal introduction to stage rallying. Dave Bennett and Alistair McNeil were the first BTRDA Rally First champions in 2008 and again in 2009 and went on to win the BTRDA 1400 Championship in 2015.
For 8 years up until 2017 the BTRDA Rallies Committee was led by Norman Robertson and had to successfully negotiate significant challenges within UK stage rallying, the BTRDA Rally Series and the Committee.
The restriction on the stage rally running order imposed suddenly by the MSA in 2015 at the time of the Stage Rally Safety Review was a significant blow to the BTRDA Rally Series and especially competitors in the popular BTRDA 1400 and Rally First championships and the those with older Historic spec rally cars. These cars were – and still are – an essential part of any BTRDA rally entry. The decision was imposed without consultation and was a knee jerk reaction without justification or evidence base. It soon had an effect on competitor numbers and by the start of the following season there was a 50% reduction (approx. 25 crews) in the 1400 and Rally First entries which had a detrimental effect on the BTRDA events as well as the BTRDA Rally Series. It was not just an issue of running first through the stages, but also the loss of identity and the camaraderie that had been created in these groups.
This restriction was thankfully rescinded midway through 2018 and this year more competitors have returned to the BTRDA 1400 championship, but unfortunately the BTRDA Rally First numbers have not yet recovered. Competitors cannot simply be ‘switched on’ and from making the decision to compete on stage rallies, it takes significant time, money and effort to get both the car and crew to the start line.
The Fiesta ST Trophy has been a valuable addition to the BTRDA Rally Series since 2016, and thanks particularly to the enthusiasm of Ian Arden it has become an ideal starting point for forest stage rallying. It was also a precursor to the introduction of the BTRDA Rallye R2 Cup in 2018 which has been a great success, with 15 crews registered this year. The more modern range of R2 cars are perceived as more relevant by younger competitors and the Rallye R2 Cup will certainly be an important element in the future of the BTRDA Rally Series.
The 2018 Gold Star® and Silver Star® Champion drivers both had a long-standing association with the BTRDA Rally Championships. For Matt Edwards his success in 2018 was the culmination of a long journey which began in 2004 when he first started to compete on BTRDA events in an old 1300 Astra. Since then he became the BTRDA 1400 Champion and English Rally Champion in 2010 in a MG ZR, and then, in 2012, he was the runner up in the Gold Star® Championship in a Mitsubishi Evo. 2018 started with a difficult result on the Cambrian Rally, but from then on Matt and co-driver Darren Garrod dominated with four event wins to give them an unassailable lead. Matt and Darren had a stellar rallying year, also securing the British Rally Championship title.
George Lepley and Tom Woodburn (Fiesta R2) were the 65th BTRDA Silver Star® Champions, and at age 21, George is the youngest ever winner. Quick and consistent throughout the year with 6 class wins in 6 events, they wrapped up the inaugural BTRDA Rallye R2 Cup on the Woodpecker Stages. They often finished events as the highest placed 2WD crew well inside the top 20. In recognition of his domination of the BTRDA R2 Cup and for being the youngest ever BTRDA Silver Star® Rally Champion, George also received the Phil Price Trophy for Rally Man of the Championship. However, George was not the first ‘Lepley’ to compete in the BTRDA Rally Championships. His father Jason was a serious competitor in the Silver Star® Championships in the 1990’s and grandfather Graham Lepley was runner up in the Gold Star® Championship in the mid 1970’s.
The 2019 Gold Star championship was in many ways a repeat of 2013 when Euan Thorburn and Paul Beaton dominated the Gold Star events, but this time winning the first 5 events. If that was not enough they also won the Scottish Championship title. The phrase ‘veni vidi vici’ was never more appropriate! Meanwhile George Lepley and Tom Woodburn repeated their domination of the BTRDA Silver Star® championship but this time in a Historic Hillman Avenger!
The present committee under the Chairmanship of Neil Cross continues to include a number of current and former competitors as well as experienced event organisers and officials so it has first-hand experience of present-day stage rallying and is able to understand what competitors want. The BTRDA is always on the lookout for new members to join its Rallies Committee – so, if you have an interest in helping to drive the future of the most successful Rally Championships in the UK then please get in touch.
The 2020 MRF Tyres BTRDA Rally Series is the 67th consecutive year of the BTRDA Gold Star® and Silver Star® Rally Championships. It is open to all Motorsport UK licenced competitors and includes a wide range of competition classes to ensure that all stage rally cars are accommodated. As well as the BTRDA Gold Star®, Silver Star®, Bronze Star and Rally First Championships, there is the Historic Cup, Production Cup, the BTRDA Rally R2 Cup, the new BTRDA R5 Cup and the Fiesta ST Trophy. The 2020 calendar includes seven one-day forest rallies with the best five scores to count and plans for 2021 are already being progressed.
Lots more information about the BTRDA Rally Series can be found elsewhere on this website.
The BTRDA Rally Series > A continuing commitment to provide Serious Fun
NOTE: BTRDA Ltd also hold the Permit for the Motorsport UK 2020 Asphalt Rally Championship, the Motorsport UK 2020 English Rally Championship and the 2020 MRF Tyres Mixed Surface Challenge.
|2019||Quinton Motor Club|
|2018||Trackrod Motor Club|
|2017||60 & Worcester Motor Club|
|2016||Quinton Motor Club|
|2015||Burnham-on-Sea MC & Minehead MC|
|2014||North Wales Car Club|
|2013||Burnham-on-Sea MC & Minehead MC|
|2012||Quinton Motor Club|
|2011||60 & Worcester Motor Club|
|2010||Quinton Motor Club|
|2009||Forest of Dean Motor Club|
|2008||North Wales Car Club|
|2007||Knutsford & District Motor Club|
|2006||Dukeries Motor Club|
|2005||Quinton Motor Club|
|2004||North Humberside Motor Club|
|2003||60 & Worcester Motor Club|
|2002||Forest of Dean Motor Club|
|2001||60 & Worcester Motor Club|
|2000||Port Talbot Motor Club|
|1999||Morecambe C C, Kirby Londsdale M C & West Cumbria C C.|
|1998||60 & Worcester Motor Club|
|1997||60 & Worcester Motor Club|
|1996||60 & Worcester Motor Club|
|1995||Quinton Motor Club|
|1994||Dukeries Motor Club|
|1993||60 & Worcester Motor Club|
|1992||Knutsford & District Motor Club|
|1991||Hadrian Motor Club|
|1990||Hawick & Border Motor Club|
|1989||Hawick & Border Motor Club|
|1988||North Wales Car Club|
|1987||Knutsford & District Motor Club|
|1986||Forest of Dean Motor Club|
|1985||Hadrian Motor Club|
|1984||Knutsford & District Motor Club|
|1983||Hadrian Motor Club|
|1982||Hawick & Border Motor Club|
|1981||Trackrod Motor Club|
|1980||Welsh Counties Car Club|
|1979||Hadrian Motor Club|
|1978||Teify Vally MC & Vale of Cothi MC|
|1977||Knutsford & District Motor Club|
|1976||Forest of Dean Motor Club|
|1975||Teify Valley Motor Club|
|1974||Morecambe Car Club|
|1973||Lincolnshire A C & Louth M C|