During the period 2000, 2001 and 2002, World Rally Champion Colin McRae provided funding for a Scholarship Scheme for Junior Scottish drivers (under 25 years of age) This provided funding of £3000 per annum to support a driver in terms of expenses and training per year.
In 2003 the Ecosse Challenge was started as a standalone rally championship to continue the work started by Colin McRae. Some funding came from the old Colin McRae Scholarship. The “motto” of the Ecosse Challenge has not changed since the start:
“The primary goal of the Championship is to provide a controlled and level playing field where the stars of the future can be nurtured and the stars of the present and past can have a play without breaking the bank.”
To deliver on this motto we had to be seen to control things, be proactive with our competitors and appeal to an audience from both inside and outside the sport of car rallying. The Ecosse Challenge is unlike other Championships as it is one big happy family with help, advice and support for our competitors provided by the Organising Team. Every aspect of the sport is covered for our competitors to get the best out of the sport to give maximum enjoyment and competition. Up to the end of 2015, we have seen over 200 people register in the Ecosse Challenge. Over 100 drivers and 100 co-drivers joined our ranks – a substantial number in the Junior category. Some Junior drivers joined just a few days after their 17th birthday and passing their driving test. Many have gone on to achieve considerable success in the Scottish Rally Championship (SRC) and the British Rally Championship (BRC) and one driver even ventured into the IRC
Most notable recent success has been John MacCrone from Mull – our 2009 Champion - who competes in the BRC in a Fiesta R2. His performance led to him being selected for Team UK in 2011 – the highest accolade a
young driver can aspire to in the UK. He rewarded his supporters with overall class wins on the Rally of Scotland (IRC) and Wales Rally GB (WRC)
The second placed driver to John MacCrone in 2009 – Colin R Smith - competed in 4 events in the 2010 Intercontinental Championship in a Honda Civic Type R . We also have several young stars out in the BRC & SRC who cut their teeth on the Ecosse Challenge including Garry Pearson, Mark McCulloch, Garry Pearson, Blair Brown and Euan Thorburn.
How The Championship Has Developed
Everybody involved with organizing the Championship has a passion for rallying and most have years of practical experience. This has been key to the way that the Championship has evolved and changed and for the level of success it has achieved. For the first 4 years there was one option in terms of the car that could be used. It had to be a Peugeot 205 GTi with a 1600cc engine. These cars provided close competition and very good results using predominantly standard parts and were cheap to build and maintain.
In 2007 a second tier was created by allowing more tuning and the use of 1900cc engines in the Peugeot 205GTi. This class was well supported for the first year but when it proved difficult to get the performance required from the ageing Peugeot 205GTi chassis, numbers fell away and the class was abandoned in 2009. But the need for a level of performance above the basic Peugeot 205GTi was still obvious and for 2010 the Championship organisers decided to use the Honda Civic of the 1990s as the base car. This car not only gave excellent power gains but the chassis offered much more potential. Also, it retained the basic benefits of the venerable Peugeot 205 GTi inasmuch as a lot of replacement parts were reasonably priced. It also fitted the price point we were trying to control. But during 2011 we sensed a reluctance among some competitors to invest in older machinery like the 1600 EK4. Forest rally prepared Civic EK4s are not that plentiful and building a full spec car can be expensive. And so we lobbied the controlling body in Scottish Rallying to change their rules and allow 2000cc FWD cars the same privileges as cars with up to 1600cc engines. Our lobbying worked and the executive group controlling Scottish rallies agreed parity in October 2011. This opened the door for the introduction of a Civic 2000cc class in 2012. The popular 205 class still amazes us with its value for money and competitiveness however we had to let it die in 2015 as it was now eligible for Historic Rallying. In 2014 Jordan Black built the first C2 which was used as a development car for our current challenge.
Plans for 2017
This year there will be two Citroen C2 classes, standard and modified and we will allow GT, VTR & VTS varients. There are Teenager & Junior classes and Drivers under 23 can also try their arm in applying for the RSAC Scholarship. We intend to reduce the registration fee for Drivers & Co-Drivers this year.
Taking into account the continued pressure on rally budgets because of the World recession, the Ecosse Challenge organisers have decided to continue with six qualifying events. This has met with favour from our competitors. The events that have been retained are all “top league” Scottish Rally Championship gravel ones.
Why the Ecosse Challenge works
Have a look at the leading drivers in the SRC, most of whom started out in the Ecosse Challenge including Garry Pearson, Euan Thorburn, John MacCrone and Mark McCulloch.
Ever since day one our competitors have loved the controlled competition with most events being decided on the last stage by seconds.
The Dunlop control tyre (subsidised by Andrew Wood Motorsport) provides great value and extremely efficient, some drivers only use six tyres for each year keeping costs down for our competitors.
The EC is one big happy family and support is available for all competitors to use be it in co-driver or driver training, preparation, advice etc. Most of our competitors are novices who have just started rallying so need to be led by the hand to get them out into the forest which is one of our unique selling points.
Each round gives each driver a £50 discount voucher which gives them a cost saving from the hefty entry fees charged. This works both ways as it gives on average of an extra 12 cars to each round which is often the difference between an event breaking even or running at a loss.
We have our own Prizegiving for the Junior 1000 and Ecosse Challenge prior to the SRC awards where our competitors are able to mingle with their heroes and pick up their class awards.
The RSAC Scholarship provides two drivers moving up from the Junior 1000 or starting out in the EC with over £2000 worth of entry fees, the drivers are taught to create their own press releases and attend promotional days to increase their profile and their sponsorship. Currently Gina Walker is extremely grateful for all of the support she has received which would not be available in other disciplines.
Maintaining our Profile
We work very hard at keeping our presence in the public eye – both for “rally petrol heads” and members of the general public.
In addition to the “natural” publicity from the rallies we compete on, we will continue to generate interest through other avenues.
• On Event Presence
Our representatives attend all rounds and provide support, encouragement and on event Championship positions. We do our own Champagne spraying celebration with our winners at each event creating photo & video opportunities. We also have our own slot at the events Prizegiving ceremony.
• Other Motoring Events
We get invited to arrange static displays (and sometimes action ones) at several events in Scotland. For 2016 this will include the SACC Rally Forum at Pentland Lanrover on the 4th Feb. The Scottish Rally Preview Day at the Barony Colledge in May. These are our opportunities to meet “the great Scottish public”
We have our own Press Officer who is charged with sending out regular Press Releases to all the other national, regional and local press. Plus the specialist motorsport press and websites. We enjoy excellent support from these outlets.
In general, we work with a young group of people. Therefore, modern networking methods are very important to us. We run a very popular and active website – www.ecossechallenge.co.uk - in addition to Twitter and Facebook.
Rallying is an action sport and we have our own library on YouTube (ecosse challenge) where we display action clips from rallies plus post event interviews with the winners.