Rally GB has has had its forest stages driven solely in Wales for the past 23 years. Would there be a way to arrange the British WRC round further in the North for some classic stages in Scotland, Lake District and last but not least – Kielder forest?
Cover photo by Jaimie Wilson / Flickr. Map backgrounds from OpenTopoMaps.
It was recently announced that Wales Rally GB has cancelled a “radical revamp” on its route because of the COVID-19 situation. The clerk of the course Iain Campbell said:
“We had plans to do something different this year.”
“…we’d come up with something a bit more radical.”
“It’s that age-old thing with Rally GB, isn’t it? Because it once toured around the country, we feel we have to apologise for it staying in one place – but then you get into the car and drive through Myherin or Hafren and you realise that actually, these really are some of the best roads anywhere in the world.”
It will remain a mystery what their plans would have been. While it’s difficult not to agree with Campbell’s last statement, I’ve often thought whether the WRC could return to Kielder or Grizedale one day, for the first time since 1995.
In fact, I’ve created a fantasy route for such rally, using the current WRC rules but old RAC stages. Almost all of the stages which I picked are still in frequent use in local British events, and onboard footage is well available on YouTube. Some of the stages were altered in order to make them slower for the fast WRC cars, sometimes suggesting the route would use a road never actually rallied on.
I picked Carlisle as the center of the rally, as it would be geographically close to all of Grizedale, Kielder and Scottish forests. It also has history and heritage as a rest halt location for RAC Rallies of the past.
I have never visited Carlisle, but I thought the service park would be set at the Racecourse. I don’t know about the ceremonial start though. Carlisle castle perhaps?
For the shakedown I chose to take a part of Kershope. It’s a quite nice and twisty section of the dark Kielder forest roads.
The shakedown route can be seen on this onboard from about 2:36 until 5:39 where it would proceed straight instead of turning left.
I had trouble coming up with an opening super special for the rally. There’s really no big parks or motor circuits in Carlisle. The only RAC park stage I knew from the area was Lowther, about 40 km South from Carlisle, used in the 80’s. I have extended the twisty park section of the stage and reduced the amount of almost straight driving.
A tight hairpin on the route upon exiting the woods in the park can be seen on this 1984 video at 2:49
For Friday, I have chosen a traditional combination of Scottish and Kielder forests. A loop of five rather short forest stages can be repeated during the day, as the liaisons are modest.
The day would begin on Scotland’s side, combining the two classic stages Twiglees and Castle O’er by crossing a public road, as it’s nowadays again allowed. This stage becomes 23.73 km long and I’m naming it simply Twiglees on geographical basis.
First up is the section from the old Twiglees stage. This onboard from The Scottish Rally shows the stage’s character well – a quite narrow and somewhat soft road with some fast parts but also tight bends and rolling crests.
The version they use nowadays is slightly different to what was in the RAC. At 2:45 there would be a shortcut onto the left, rejoining the route at 7:55. The Scottish Rally version also turns left at 9:27 onto a straight road, which was not a part of the RAC version. Continuing straight would give more technical bends, thus the RAC version is selected for this event.
Crossing over the tarmac main road takes us to Castle O’er’s side. About three kilometres of fast and flowing roads plus two junction turns are used to get to the Castle O’er start, but the actual stage is more technical, with a similar character to Twiglees. At 3:38 on the onboard there is a deviation from the RAC route, but I’ve chosen to include it.
The next stage I’ve chosen is Craik. I’m basing it on the 1986 version but in reversed direction. I have also shortened the beginning to remove a kilometre-long straight.
This onboard from 2012 approaches the stage from a different direction, but joins it at 4:56. We can see instantly that the character is similar to Twiglees, but the road is a bit rougher and softer. There’s also more of a mountainous element with steeper uphills and downhills as well as banks and ravines. I’m especially fond of the tricky section at 5:55. The road becomes a bit narrower at 6:19.
Now, I planned to go through Kielder on the East side of the complex back to Carlisle. I thought I would have plenty of roads and stages to choose from. Easy? Yes and no. There’s plenty of roads and stages indeed, but most of them seem outrageously fast, especially for today’s cars. I tried to pick and combine the most technical and twisty sections of the stages, using as much of previously rallied roads as possible.
The first Kielder stage is Redesdale. It has been often the fastest or one of the fastest stages in the rally, so route modifications were necessary.
I’m starting my version on the beginning of the 1996 version with a small additional loop used in 1990 and a bit of roads never rallied before. I also preceded the stage with a small bit of road outside the forest with a river crossing on the way.
At about 4.5 km into my version of the stage, we meet the start of this video from the Roger Albert Clark 2014 historic rally. Already at 0:40 on the video you see what Kielder is about. The deep forest puts its shades on the narrow road, making it difficult to see far, and suddenly there’s a 90° corner in the middle of a long straight! In the days of blind rallies you had to take it carefully enough to get through – or if you had confidence and experience to go fast, you could pull off a big margin!
At 1:46 on the video the 2014 stage turns right onto a very fast section, but my version takes a shortcut straight, rejoining the video route again at 4:08. At that point the stage climbs onto a hill.
On the top of the hill, at the finish flag of the 2014 stage my version would turn left onto a small road used in the RAC Rally in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It descends steeply down from the hill.
The last 850 metres of my Redesdale version is probably never-rallied before. The very ending is straight and on a wider road, but I thought these crests would make it spectacular.
The next stage on the way is Falstone, but upon seeing this onboard I realized there will be more problems with those long straights. I ended up using nothing from the route of that 2017 Roger Albert Clark Rally stage. However, based on that we could expect even narrower and rougher roads with grass growing between the tracks.
After scratching my head for a while, I decided to start the stage on a tarmac section which would also include a hairpin and some other nice bends
The forest would be entered at 2.5 km but still on roads which haven’t been probably rallied ever. At 5.9 km the old RAC route is joined, although the route pops in and out of it to add more junction turns onto the route. The final section has been used in the Roger Albert Clark Rally 2019, whereas the spectator-friendly very ending is again new.
The logical next stage would have been Pundershaw in its 1991 format, but it seemed outrageously fast. After I took the most straight sections out, the stage started looking more like Roughside, as used on the Pirelli International Rally.
On this video it’s driven in the other direction, and the beginning section from Pundershaw 1991 isn’t shown. At 6:28 my version would come from the right, and I’ve put the finish line where they had the chicane at 0:50.
Although the title suggests otherwise, the road is probably the widest and smoothest of the whole day. Even though I tried to remove the fastest parts, there’s still quite a bit of flat out driving. It’s possibly the fastest stage of this imaginary rally. Hopefully FIA would not order chicanes like in Pirelli International Rally!
Saturday would take the crews South from Carlisle, to the Lake District, with a surprise on the way.
First up is an old RAC stage Wythop, which is still being raced frequently in the Malcolm Wilson Rally. It’s essentially a hill climb stage, very technical at first. This hairpin near the start is infamous.
After 3.65 km Wythop starts becoming very straight and fast. I decided to just end the stage there, at 3:43 on the video.
The nearby stage Comb seems to have been always paired with Wythop, and this is no exception. It’s a stage where I don’t feel the need to make any changes to the route. I don’t even know if that stage has ever had any other configuration. It’s a mountainous and technical stage with many nice hairpins.
The pinnacle of the day and my personal favourite is definitely Grizedale, the longest stage of the rally at 33 km. In here I’ve combined the West and East versions through a short tarmac section. You can’t really go wrong with any configuration, but I tried to open it up a bit for spectator access.
The route on this video stays on the West side. It shares some sections with my version, some in reversed direction, but it doesn’t really matter, because all in all it’s just quite awesome all over. Technical and twisty but still somehow flowing over the crests.
I couldn’t find any onboards for the East side stage, but Ari Vatanen’s quick roll in 1989 (4:13 on the video) happened there on a tight kink. On this version, the route would go to the other direction.
After Grizedale I saw that the total stage count of the leg was only 45 km but I didn’t really know where to find new stages. Greystoke would be near, but we can’t go to M-Sport’s testing location. In addition, most of the stages used in the local rallies are very short.
I decided to take the crews East towards Middlesborough for the Hamsterley stage. It creates a long liaison, but repeating the stage instantly would allow the second leg of the day to be shorter.
Hamsterley has been driven in many configurations in the RAC and local rallies. I tried to go for the most technical sections, leaving the longest straights out and also keeping the stage accessible for spectators. One section I also had to omit because it looked so rough on a 2012 video.
At 4:26 into this 2013 video we can see the first section of my version of Hamsterley, in reversed direction. We can see that there’s both decent gravel road but also small grassy forest tracks.
After this there would be a couple of fast sections and tight junction turns. At 2:38 into this video we can see another more technical bit of my version of the stage starting Westwards from an open area.
At 5:40 my version would turn tightly left onto an uphill road, which is seen here in reverse direction until 1:36 at the very same junction.
The ending would proceed further onto these open hills, which I believe would make for a great television broadcast.
Between the two runs of Hamsterley there’s a tarmac-surface spectator stage, Raby Castle. It has been used in Tour of Hamsterley.
Compared to this 2015 version I have shortened the stage to start from the first chicane at 0:46, and turn a bit differently at the end.
As mentioned, the second leg would consist only of Wythop, Comb and Grizedale, with darkness falling. This configuration is similar to Wales Rally GB 2017, and the Saturday night stages were filled with drama!
The main point of the Sunday schedule is the power stage, which must start at 12:18 and be preceded by a regrouping in order to get the cars starting in the right order and time for the television cameras. Thus I chose to have the Sunday stages near the service park and close to each other.
First up is Bewshaugh, in West Kielder. The stage has been driven in various formats in the RAC Rally, but this video from Pirelli International Rally 2018 shows it in fresh form and the correct direction. At 4:56 my version would turn right and finish two kilometres later at the Scottish border. Had we turned left, there would have been a very fast section.
For the power stage, I have chosen Newcastleton. It has appeared once on RAC Rally, in 1990. However, I’m more interested in the routes of Kershope 1994-1996 which ended towards Newcastleton on smaller roads, and I’ve also modified the route a bit to make it even more technical.
On this following onboard until 1:24 we can see a bit of the ending section of the stage in reversed direction. It’s going along the riverbank, making great helicopter footage.
The ending would again extend on tarmac, going through a tricky junction-bridge-bend before the finish line.
The podium could be celebrated up on the hill, creating the backdrop which the locals would want the world to see.
Full schedule and map
The length of this fantasy rally is within the boundaries of a WRC event – no more than 80 km between services and 300–350 km in total. The schedule is created by estimating the liaison lengths and settinng the starting times like on real WRC events: SS1 at 20:08, Saturday TV stage at 14:18, power stage at 12:18 and its first run at 10:08 for TV as well. The Saturday regroup is added to make sure the first run of Hamsterley is finished before the second starts – and to ensure everything’s in line for the TV broadcast.
|Day Total||3.33 km|
|8:45||SS2||Twiglees 1||23.73 km|
|9:45||SS3||Craik 1||10.30 km|
|11:00||SS4||Redesdale 1||13.72 km|
|11:40||SS5||Falstone 1||16.83 km|
|12:05||SS6||Roughside 1||12.13 km|
|Leg Total||76.71 km|
|15:55||SS7||Twiglees 2||23.73 km|
|16:55||SS8||Craik 2||10.30 km|
|18:10||SS9||Redesdale 2||13.72 km|
|18:50||SS10||Falstone 2||16.83 km|
|19:15||SS11||Roughside 2||12.13 km|
|Leg Total||76.71 km|
|Day Total||153.42 km|
|7:53||SS12||Wythop 1||3.65 km|
|8:23||SS13||Comb 1||8.70 km|
|9:28||SS14||Grizedale 1||33.08 km|
|12:13||SS15||Hamsterley 1||13.81 km|
|13:03||SS16||Raby Castle||4.15 km|
|13:28||Regroup||Barnard Castle||20 min|
|14:08||SS17||Hamsterley 2 (TV Stage)||13.81 km|
|Leg Total||77.20 km|
|17:48||SS18||Wythop 2||3.65 km|
|18:18||SS19||Comb 2||8.70 km|
|19:23||SS20||Grizedale 2||33.08 km|
|Leg Total||45.43 km|
|Day Total||122.63 km|
|9:33||SS21||Bewshaugh 1||10.92 km|
|10:08||SS22||Newcastleton 1||9.80 km|
|10:58||SS23||Bewshaugh 2||10.92 km|
|12:18||SS24||Newcastleton 2 (Power Stage)||9.80 km|
|Day Total||41.44 km|
|Rally Total||320.82 km|
The map can be viewed, panned and zoomed in detail here.
Although this is a fantasy rally, I still wanted to take it seriously. Even if we could get the permissions for all roads, it wouldn’t still be a walk in the park.
Many of the stages in the region turned out to be very fast-looking, perhaps too fast for WRC cars. Chicanes could be needed at least for dangerous places, where going off at high speed could have serious consequences.
In turn, this led into using a higher number of shorter stages – although that is the general trend anyway. Only Grizedale is over 30 km and in addition only Twiglees is longer than 20 km.
Some of the roads are frequently used in rallying, but some have not been, so they could be deteriorated. I don’t have any evidence of Grizedale West driven since the RAC days, and Hamsterley hasn’t been driven since 2015. This picture is from the latter, not sure which part of the area, though.
It’s difficult to give the rally a title. Most likely it would have to do something with who is sponsoring it. The route is spread over England and Scotland, five counties/councils (Cumbria, Durham, Northumberland, Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway). None of them could host the rally alone (but then again, Wales Rally GB also spreads over multiple counties).
In turn, having one of the areas or cities sponsor the event would probably have them require more route or televised stages on their soil. This is possibly the biggest reason why this rally could never be run actually. But we can always dream and look at the onboards of the great stages! For now, that’s the closest we get to rallying anyway.