Plans for 2008 Old BP Rally

The following is based on a short talk I gave at the October HRA meeting. After a chat with Stuart Lister on the boat home from the Tasmania Old BP event, he asked me to summarise for members my proposals for the 2008 Old BP Rally (of South Eastern Australia).

I have since researched a little more deeply the original BP Rally philosophy expressed by Donald Thomson. His stated general aim after organising his ninth BP in 1966, was to “ensure good fun is had by all, the sportin’ aspect of the affair being of more moment, than the advertising benefits accruing to sundry parties. No accidents, no damage to private or public property, a high proportion of finishers, no clean sheets (for the entire event I think), all sections proved to be possible, these are the desiderata”. I do recall a conversation with Donald after the first Old BP in 1979 when he warned Geoff Portman and I against the perils of sponsorship. In that regard the HRA is now better respecting his lower commercial aim than the later years of the BP Rally.

Again I quote DKT from his 1961 article “Planning the BP Rally”:

“Roads should be obscure, certainly; they should even include some which are rough or abandoned: but the best test is to pick a fair average of surfaces such is might generally be encountered by an Australian traveller outback. If you want to find the types of car – and men – who are best suited to the outback areas of our great and pretty empty land, then you must design a representative test. Road surfaces should include stretches of bitumen, gravel, pot-holes, grass and dirt. But reasonable speeds should be possible – speeds used by a reasonable man determined to reach home by nightfall.

Directions for Rally drivers are fair and stated as simply as possible. Maps used in the survey are thus available to anyone, not that all are accurate entirely, but on their few inaccuracies rests the famous trial saying, ‘when all else fails, use commonsense.’

Commonsense and initiative is said to be characteristic of Australians, and victory or defeat in these tours usually depends on that quality combined with determination and sportsmanship for which Australians also have a name.”

Time has moved on, maps are vastly improved, so we limit what maps can be carried in the event, country Victoria is more closely settled, so we can no longer compete in many of the old classic locations, and cars although now historic, go faster than they used to. While we are no longer able to replicate much of what made the BP so great, I see a challenge and considerable potential to build on what was the inherent charm and spirit of the BP and even do it better in our times.

So, what is my philosophy? My record with organising long distance trials (1981 George Derrick Memorial in the Wimmera and Mallee, 1984 George Derrick Memorial in East Gippsland, 1987 High Country Trial in the north east alps, and 1994 Snowy River Trial in East Gippsland) has been to make the event equally tough on driver, navigator and car, with challenging roads for the driver, and straight forward navigation, with everything on the map and traps warned of, for the navigator. Pretty close to what old Donald was on about don’t you think?

I consider that recent Old BPs have deviated from the original BP concept by becoming too navigationally intense and difficult. My personal belief is that a navigation test should be to find on the ground, the route shown on the map, not interpret director’s often illogical, inconsistent and sometimes petty minds. Navigators have a right to enjoy themselves and experience regular satisfaction for effort, and not be on constant terror alert. Enough on my general thoughts on navigation and directors…

In 2008 we will have to make some allowance though for the advancing age of cars and age, fitness and experience of competitors. The age, fragility and value of historic rally cars are probably balanced by improved suspension, tyres, lights and seats. Decent rest breaks between divisions will assist ageing drivers, but a bigger cause of fatigue is relentless navigation pressure, and resulting uncertainty and loss of navigator and driver confidence and energy.

The following ideas for the next OBP aim to address the above issues.

  1. Route charted or very straightforward Transport sections that may allow one crew member to snatch a nap, designated Touring sections where navigation is not difficult and times must allow for sensible driving, and Competitive sections where drivers can more safely have a go or where crews will be prepared for more testing navigation.
  2. Shorter navigationally competitive sections with only one or two critical decision points, so that becoming hopelessly lost is less likely.
  3. All controls to be specified on Broadbents because the use of locality names is far more descriptive, evocative and lyrical than lists of colourless grid references. Map portions of older 1:250,000, 1mile: 1 inch and county plans will be supplied to make the intended route clear and substantially reduce guess work.
  4. Intention that winner lose about 30 minutes, and half the field less than 100 minutes. There will always be some who will lose more as they cannot be helped because they are poorly prepared or just have no idea.

There is a need to make allowance for increasing rural civilisation and conduct the event more than 200km from Melbourne, and utilise maximum permitted maintained average speeds where there is other traffic or more houses, particularly in daylight. Super accurate monitoring of average speed will not be required though.

By making event less intense, but no less interesting, it has to be made longer to still achieve the intent and challenge of a long distance event, so an extra night of competition is planned.

The proposed date is a traditional late April or early May weekend. Planned format is to start in Gippsland (Traralgon or Sale) at 10.00pm on a Thursday night, go over the mountains at night and then by day to a Friday night stop at Echuca or Swan Hill. Next day to venture west deep into the Mallee, then south to Ballarat or Bendigo for about a 3.00am Sunday finish. We will try and arrange accommodation to sleep till midday then have a luncheon with more formal celebration of 50 years of BP heritage, to replace the Saturday night function previously held during these events. This has to be a special occasion, involving as many former competitors as possible.

I would also like to include some BP history comment in route instructions as we travel through locations with a notable BP past. Graham Hoinville has helped with making available early route instructions and Broadbents maps, and Ross Kelly has been sending me instalments of later years instructions, results and stories, which I have devoured eagerly.

At this stage of planning I am excited at getting to share with my rallying colleagues some of those lesser known distinctive roads and tracks that Victoria (and adjoining states) have to offer, that I have discovered over the last thirty years.

I will keep you informed of progress.

It will be memorable for driver and navigator, that is always my guarantee.

Ross Runnalls