Safety Pioneer John Aley 1930-2021

John Aley, who died on 13th January, just days from his 91st birthday was born 23rd January 1930. He first started competing after WWII, first on motorcycles before changing to four wheels and helping found the Cambridge Motor Club in 1950. His first cars were pre-war HRG and MGs in which he completed his formative motorsport years in all types of events, from trials to circuit races.

During this immediate post war era many circuits opened in Britain to satisfy enthusiasts who'd been starved of action and John's early races included the first AMOC organised meeting at Snetterton in 1951 and the first at Brands Hatch on Boxing Day 1954. Also, the last race meeting at Davidstowe airfield circuit in Cornwall when the organisers famously went bust!

By 1956 John had found his forte driving small saloons in Touring Car racing. First A35's under the Cambridge Racing team banner and then Minis of all types, honing his skills in several British championships including the British Saloon Car Championship - later BTCC - where he was often seen as the "old man" of the championship, being older and more experienced than most of his competitors.

But it was Europe and international events that remained the focus of John's attention from his early career and his win in the 1960 Coupe de Paris was first international outright victory for BMC's Mini. He also drove a DKW Junior for the German team Squadra Blez International in the BSCC.

In 1966 John became a Fiat Abarth works driver but his time with Abarth was not particularly successful, as he spent a great deal of time travelling, to the detriment of other business interests, and unreliability blighted his performances on the track. But his contract and lire remuneration were based on him starting races, so without doubt, he played a helping hand in Abarth winning the European Touring Car Championship. His 1963 election to the British Racing Drivers Club reflected his giant-killing performances in small saloon cars, when class victories did not count towards club membership.

In 1965 John took over the management of Snetterton, his home circuit, and became a respected race clerk of the course for several years. He also became the secretary of the European Touring Car Championship, having previously served on its organising committee since its formation in 1963. His last serious race was the 1968 International 6-Hours at the Nürburgring driving a Mini Cooper S, in which finished 3rd in class.

But it was as an entrant, engineer, and entrepreneur that the John Aley name really became synonymous. He played a significant part in improving safety in motorsport, developing, and selling roll-over bars for competition cars after identifying the key safety-related need in the market from his extensive experience in the sport. The immediate success of the Aley roll-over bar in the 1960s meant that many drivers have good reason to thank John for their enduring survival!

For many years John was Chairman and President of the Motor Cycling Club, the country's oldest club for both cars and bikes, which meant that in something over 50 years he finally returned to his roots. The International Rally Drivers Club extends its condolences to John's family and friends.

15th January, 2021

Rally GB lost to 2021 WRC Calendar

News broke on Friday afternoon that the WRC Promoter had confirmed that Rally GB 2021 would not take place due to the funding constraints associated with its running.

It had been hoped that Northern Ireland would pick up the mantle from Wales Rally GB as the British round of the WRC series, but main proponent Bobby Willis failed to convince Tourism Northern Ireland chiefs the £2million needed was, in fact, a sensible way to spend public money in the face of the current coronavirus health pandemic, despite the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis MP, appearing enthusiastic at the prospect.

But Willis remains optimistic that he can make the numbers add up and continues to receive the backing of top drivers, including Hyundai Motorsport's Craig Breen, and North Antrim MP and Chair of the Northern Ireland Motorsport Taskforce Ian Paisley.

Motorsport UK is also committed to the cause and CEO, Hugh Chambers, said: "Against the economic backdrop of COVID-19, it is unfortunate that the requisite funding could not be agreed to secure the UK's position within the 2021 calendar. Motorsport UK is working to secure sustainable funding for the event's early return to the FIA World Rally Championship calendar."

Except for 2020 and now 2021, the UK has been a mainstay of the WRC every year since the competition began in 1973. The FIA's Rally Director Yves Matton paid tribute to Willis - as the same man who helped to revive the Circuit of Ireland, paving the way for its inclusion in the European Rally Championship: "The 2021 WRC calendar has been developed against the backdrop of the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and we knew we would possibly face ongoing issues in this new year," said Matton. "Bobby Willis and his team have put in a lot of work and efforts to bring the WRC to Northern Ireland and we're very disappointed there will be no rally in the UK this year."

14th January, 2021

Washington James - Welsh WCR Hero

Washington James, the last surviving member of a tenacious 1970s Welsh rally team, died peacefully on New Year's Eve in Newcastle Emlyn aged 87. Washington - known affectionately as 'Washy' - from Cenarth in Cardiganshire, was joined on the 1970 World Cup Rally by two friends. Renown Cooper S road-rally star Alun Rees from Carmarthen, and Neath navigator Hywel 'The Mac' Thomas.

In May 1970, the trio's doughty privateer Hillman Hunter took on the might of the top international works teams and professional drivers in the arduous and unique 16,000-mile event from London's Wembley Stadium to the Astec Stadium in Mexico City via the most varied, tortuous, and difficult terrain across three continents. One hundred cars started with just 23 completing the route and remarkably, 'Washy' and co-drivers finished 15th in a car prepared at his Rootes dealership in sleepy Cenarth, which he opened in 1959. The crew's achievement was not underestimated, and they arrived back to a rapturous welcome at a Carmarthen park, attended by civic dignitaries and several hundred enthusiastic Welsh rally supporters.

The Teifi Valley rally driver cut his rallying teeth in a series of quick Hillman and Sumbeam Imps on the demanding Welsh championship road rallies of the era including the notorious Cilwendeg, starting at neighboring Newcastle Emlyn cattle market. When not rallying, 'Washy' was a successful local businessman, operating the Cenarth Garage & Carriage bus company as well as being a celebrated Welsh tenor.

Although the world of buses provided 'bread and butter' and rallying was his passion, singing was his first love, with performances that attracted praise from renowned eisteddfod critics such as Meirion Williams for the quality of his tenor voice. Among the many awards he won was the David Ellis Memorial Prize and the Blue Riband, presented at the 1993 National Eisteddfod in Llanelwedd, Builth Wells.

With that infamous 1970 World Cup Rally adventure behind him, 'Washy' became an avid eisteddfod-goer. His son, Chris James, said: "His passion was for the small eisteddfodau and he was very supportive of those. So many times, he won the tenor competition at the National, and then of course he was still singing, singing every day at work. Unfortunately, he's given his last song."

The International Rally Drivers Club extends its condolences to Washington's family and many friends on their sad loss.

10th January, 2021

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 2021

M-Sport has announced that Teemu Suninen, Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux will form the their Ford World Rally Team squad in 2021 as the Cumbrians continue to champion young talent with the ambition of a successful future in the FIA World Rally Championship. Backing three youngsters already on the books, the aim is to progress their development and see them follow in the footsteps of their predecessors - 2019 FIA World Rally Champion, Ott Tänak, and 2020 FIA World Rally Championship runner-up, Elfyn Evans.

Continuing with compatriot co-driver Elliott Edmondson, Greensmith will contest his first full campaign with the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC and intends to make the most of his first complete season with the top-specification Fiesta. Securing three top-ten finishes as well as a career-best fifth place last year, the Brit will use the opportunity to further his progression and is already putting in the work ahead of the opening round at Rallye Monte-Carlo.

Joining Greensmith in a second Ford Fiesta WRC at the Monegasque event, Teemu Suninen will contest a partial programme this year. Parting ways with co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen who is tackling a new challenge away from the pace notes, the young Finn will be looking to put his previous experience to good use. A replacement co-driver is yet to be confirmed, but Suninen remains hungry for success and will target specific events where he will have an opportunity to challenge for the top results and showcase his speed and commitment behind the wheel.

Sharing the Ford Fiesta WRC with Suninen on selected events, Adrien Fourmaux will also contest a full WRC 2 campaign with the EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta Rally2 - starting with the classic opener at Rallye Monte-Carlo. Continuing with Belgian co-driver Renaud Jamoul, the pairing are keen to continue their development with further experience in the FIA World Rally Championship's premier support series, as well as further opportunities at the sport's highest level.

M-Sport Ford's striking 2020 livery will also be carried forward to 2021, albeit with a few subtle changes. A new roof motif is prominent amongst these changes and extends the popular design with further flashes of blue. Greensmith and Suninen's Fiestas will both sport the Castrol-branded livery at Rallye Monte-Carlo, and a number of Pirelli logos have also been added - the Italian manufacturer becoming the official tyre supplier of the FIA World Rally Championship.

6th January, 2021

View News Archive