HISTORY OF THE JERSEY RALLY BY KEN THOMPSON, HON LIFE VICE PRESIDENT
The first Jersey rally was held over 80 years ago on 12th December 1935.
For the 33 entries setting off from West Park Station at 2.15 p.m., the rally was a far cry for today’s high-speed trial against the clock.
As the Jersey Evening Post reported at the time:
“The rally will consist of ten to twelve driving tests, and the nature of these tests will be such that motorists with one or two years’ experience of driving should find little difficulty in passing them.”
But the roots of the modern rally are found in 1977 rather than 1935. In January of that year the Jersey Motorcycle and Light Car Club held a “Daffodil Rally”, which involved roads being closed in Grouville and St Clement.
In May, the “Spring Festival Rally” was held on closed roads and included a stage from Greve de Lecq to the L’Auberge du Nord and another around Coin Varin and the German Road.
It was hoped then that the rally could become a regular fixture but the States Greffier of the time said that the Road Racing Law of 1946, which enables public roads to be closed for motor sport, would not apply to the rally.
The idea of a rally was put on the back burner for another five years, until five enthusiasts – John Woolley, Denis Jean, Pat Ryan, Ken Thomson and Brian Wilson, had another crack at staging the event.
They had more luck convincing the authorities that the rally was a legitimate sporting occasion – in fact, the Greffier later admitted that he had thought rallying was similar to a scavenger hunt, and if he’d understood the concept back in 1977……
And so the first rally, more or less as we know it, took place on Saturday 29 October 1983.
Thanks to Pat Ryan, who had been a works driver for the British Leyland rally team and whose family owned Cleveland Garage, sponsorship was secured with Tudor Webasto sunroofs. There were 42 entries, but 32 crossed the start line, for the six-stage rally total of 19.5 miles.
The first winner was Tony Morgan in his Chevette, narrowly beating Dave Carrel in his Escort, who was penalised for a jump start.
Getting the rally off the ground was as straightforward as the lanes it would go down.
“A lot of people didn’t know what a rally was and some wondered how, for example, cars would overtake each other,” said Ken Thomson, who took part in the inaugural rally in a Clan Crusader. “We also had to attend parish meetings and there were quite a few detractors, as well as supporters. But I’m pleased to say that the vast majority of initial critics came around, especially after we began to visit households to explain what we were doing, as we did from 1984.”
Over a quarter of a century, the Jersey Rally has grown in number of stages and competitors, both local and visiting.
The two-day and night-stage format, with the rally kicking off on the Friday, began in the mid-90’s, and the event has been supported by a number of loyal main sponsors.
Indeed without the generous support of all the sponsors over the years the event would have struggled to get to where it is today.
As the number of entries has grown, so has the scale of the event: 170 drivers and navigators, at least the same number of support crew, around 300 marshals, 100 or so officials and scores of spectators. The budget is around £40,000. We have had to sharpen our game as the event has grown,” said Ken.
“But over 25 years we’ve obviously developed a system and it all comes together. Yet, if I could use the analogy of the swimming swan, it might look effortless above the surface, but underneath there is a lot of work going on.”
In 2009 the Jersey Rally was lucky enough to attract the participation of World class Navigator Nicky Grist. At the end of the Rally a very tired Nicky commented,
“I was surprised at the toughness of the event; the course is very narrow with dangers everywhere which meant we had to keep it very tight and smooth. There were a lot of very sharp corners which required special care. The schedule of stages and the shortness of service times over the two days is as tough as most National and World class Rallies and would challenge most of the top class teams”.
The Jersey Rally has indeed come of age.