Look at what goes on behind the scenes to organise a rally

April 5th, 2020 1:30 PM

By Southern Star Team

Ardfield’s Eoghan Calnan and his brother Conor (Ford Escort) were the top local crew in the 2019 Westlodge Hotel Fastnet Rally. They finished 24th overall. They are pictured on the scenic opening stage at Mizen Head.

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WITH a resumption of sport looking somewhat distant and understandably far from a priority, Motorsport Ireland, like other national governing bodies, will be guided by government policy.

Currently, all events permitted by Motorsport Ireland are suspended until June 1st. Realistically, that date is highly likely to be extended. Unlike other sports, the organisation of a rally requires much pre-planning.

Here we take a look at what’s involved. Firstly, the organising club or its board of directors appoints a clerk of the course. Essentially, this is the captain of the team.

He/she then selects a group of people for particular duties including a deputy, who is expected, should the need arise, to be able to take over the running of the rally. Ideally, each member of the team should be proficient in their role, this is often achieved by filling the role in a shadow capacity in previous events.

Nowadays, all officials are licensed. They are required to attend courses that are provided by Motorsport Ireland and attendance is a pre-requisite.

For most rallies, the event officials include two Motorsport Ireland (MI) appointed stewards and an MI Safety Delegate, who inspects the route months before the rally.

While each clerk of the course has his/her own style of organisation, choosing the route is one of the first duties involved and it is advised that they seek the advice of an experienced competitor in that regard. Route selection should and can often be preceded by the preparation of a budget.

While many view rallying as a sport, it is in fact a business and events regularly provide a financial boost to the local economy. Costs vary from club to club but it’s not unusual for a single-day rally to have a budget between €70,000 to €100,000.

Given the monies involved it’s not difficult to see why a budget is required. The budgets are often based on a set number of entries at a cost of some €800 per crew. Other sources of income include sponsorship (title and associate) and sales of rally programmes that also generate revenue through advertisements.

Ireland is one of few countries where public roads can be closed for specific reasons. One of the early tasks involved is advising the residents and business interests along the proposed route of the date and times of the rally. It is vital that they be accorded this courtesy.

Once this PR is completed, the clerk of the course will lodge maps of the designated route and time schedule with the local council. This must be done well in advance to allow council officials time to prepare a public notice listing the relevant townlands and road numbers, complete with alternative routes along with times of the specific road closures. Such notices are carried in the local paper – in the case of the Fastnet Rally they are published in The Southern Star – and provided there are no major objections, are passed by the members of the council and are subsequently advertised with the notice of closure. At the same time, the clerk of the course will discuss matters and meet regularly with the local Gardaí and medical officials. Another important official is the chief marshal, who will liaise with other clubs and contacts to ensure that all the necessary marshals can be provided.

Geographical locations can often define an event. For instance, in Killarney, the stages at Moll’s Gap and Beallaghbeama provide an instant foundation and with few residents along the route, requires less work in terms of pre-event PR.

Events such as the Fastnet Rally operate around a loop of three stages that are repeated three times and may involve more intensive PR. Such work needs to be carried out within certain hours and should never inconvenience the residents.

In tandem with all of this, the organising club will have applied to Motorsport Ireland for a permit to run the event and will also have submitted a detailed safety plan. Indeed, the safety plan is crucial to the event as it contains how the organising club is going to deal with every aspect of the rally. Aside from having a diagram of every junction and how it should be marked off (tape/bales) it also qualifies the amount of marshals required at the particular location.

Details of the service park and, indeed, the finish ramp are also required to be submitted and how the club plans to provide a safe environment for the public as well as the competitors.

While the date of the rally varies little from year to year, it allows the clerk of the course and usually another senior club official to finalise details with the hotel management. As in the case of the Westlodge Hotel with the Fastnet Rally, this also involves agreeing sponsorship details. In addition, support may also come from other sources, such as the Bantry Tourism and Development Association and other secondary or associate sponsors.

Publicity, whether it’s print, television or social media, will be very much part of those discussions. Most sponsors will be keen to maximise their profile with brand placement being a key element. Nowadays, it’s very much a reciprocal process and successful branding is the key to a strong synergy.

Within the organising team, there are many separate facets like the stage set-up crews who mark the roads in advance and step up their duties within 48 hours of the rally; this particular preparatory work is key to the success of the event.

Meetings, especially within the final two months of an event, are on a weekly basis while apps like WhatsApp allow the clerk of the course stay in touch on a day-to-day basis. Discussions with hotel management and other key stakeholders will also be ongoing.

Within two weeks of the event the organisers will prepare a seeded list of entries for inclusion in the rally programme. The list is based on the ability of the drivers with previous results taken into consideration. It is normal practice that the winner from the previous year is given the number one slot. Once printed, the rally programme is delivered to retail outlets, another team looks after this aspect.

On the weekend of the rally, the whole team swings into action and the more detail that was spent in preparation will lead to the smooth running of the rally.

In general, that is what is involved in events such as the Fastnet Rally. We haven’t gone into too much detail, but hopefully it provides people that are not too familiar with the process a better understanding of what’s involved.

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