Motorsport broadcaster and journalist Larry Carter harks back to when the region’s forests, and a local theme park, echoed to the sound of normality…

AH, February! The time of year when the nights are getting noticeably lighter, spring is just around the corner, the excesses of Christmas are a fading memory, better weather on its way and looking forward to lazy days in the beer garden at the local pub and a week in the foreign sun when the kids break up from school at Easter…

Sadly, with the never-ending restrictions on our daily lives it seems, the latter elements are a distant dream, and can anyone remember what they actually did this past Christmas? No, me neither…

But at least the shortest month of the year usually heralds the start of motorsport coming out of its winter hibernation, and in particular rallying, with a number of quality events taking place up and down the country. The Blackpool-based and party-aspiring Legend Fires North West Stages perhaps? Or the opening round of the BTRDA Rally Championship with 180 crews converging on the Forest of Dean for the Wyedean?

Or go back a bit further and the first round of the British Open Rally Championship was traditionally held in the North Yorkshire forests in February under the sponsor’s guises such as the Mintex, the York National, the Cartel, the Talkland and even the Kall Kwik Rally, where I was fortunate to guide a certain Ryan Champion to victory in 2004. We got lucky on a tragic day, that day, but that’s for another time.

Of course, there is more chance of Boris Johnson getting a haircut than rallying taking place at the moment for a number of reasons. Access to the forests for motorsport is now severely restricted for environmental purposes as well as demand from others for their increasing recreation. Insurance, health and safety along with complex local authority regulations and requirements plays a massive part in weighing down voluntary (and often elderly) organisers. Many have retired because of that.

Even the weather is a factor nowadays as if, for example, winds over 47mph are expected, Forestry England close the forests to everyone meaning months of hard work and not inconsiderable (or refundable) costs for rally organisers can be scuppered on the morning of an event. And God help us if there is snow or ice which someone might slip on! And that’s without even mentioning the disastrous effects of a global pandemic that I’m sure you are aware of…

Despite all that doom and gloom, one event that will hopefully survive is a staple of the local rallying scene – the Riponian Rally. Traditionally held in February, the format for the event (which for various reasons has only run once in the past four years) has changed in recent times but for many years, it followed the tried and trusted formula so popular with competitors and spectators alike.

The domain for most of its existence has been with originators Ripon and District Motor Sports Club, who started the event as a road rally back in the 1960s. With the popularity of forest (special stage) rallying evolving, it wasn’t long before the OS maps in the locality were unfurled and with a number of challenging tests around Thirsk and Helmsley, they lent themselves to a unique event.

The classic forest of Boltby and the wooded tracks of Wass, College Moor, Waterloo, Sproxton, Pry Rigg, Middleheads, Roppa and Riccal Dale all offered short, sharp stages for the morning run which could easily be turned around for the afternoon action meaning a compact and unique event on gravel roads used just once a year.

One other venue was a feature of the Riponian for many years and that was the theme park at Lightwater Valley.

Ian Joel demonstrates the precarious proximity of the rally route to ‘The Ultimate Picture: ANDY ELLIS

Ian Joel demonstrates the precarious proximity of the rally route to ‘The Ultimate Picture: ANDY ELLIS

Just up the road from the start, which was sometimes in Ripon city centre but often in a local supermarket car park, the perimeter service tracks around the Ultimate roller-coaster were ideal tests on the loose service along with the access roads to the quarry. There were safe viewing areas, good access, good parking, and a café for the frozen spectators so it was very popular, but the stage, usually the first one of the rally, also gained an infamous reputation.

Many a crew, who shall remain nameless, managed to get no further than SS1 as the protruding metal support stanchions for longest roller coaster in Europe (and second longest in the world – nothing Disney has ever built matches Yorkshire’s finest…) claimed them. I’ve never ridden on it personally, but I’m assured it’s fun…

Alas, with insurance claims mounting and structural engineers getting increasingly worried that rally cars crashing into roller coasters wasn’t such a good idea, Lightwater was lost, meaning a shift on emphasis in trying to find the additional mileage needed, which the theme park stages offered.

Charlie Payne and Carl Williamson exit the Middleheads Bridge on their way to victory in 2016 Picture: PHILL ANDREWS

Charlie Payne and Carl Williamson exit the Middleheads Bridge on their way to victory in 2016 Picture: PHILL ANDREWS

In truth, the event needed a bit of a shake-up and after a year out in 2017 due to organisational pressures, a new consortium saw Whitby & District Motor Club join RMSC and extend the event out to the wider fringes of Cropton and Gale Rigg forests near Pickering to make the length feasible as the traditional venues were becoming unavailable. And it would have continued that way, had Storm Ciara not intervened to scupper last February’s rally at short notice. Then you-know what appeared a month or so after that meaning this year’s event has been cancelled too as a result of the ongoing restrictions.

Over the years, Ripon dairyman Charlie Payne has made the event his own by winning on no less than ten occasions going back to 1992, with his last victory being in 2016. British Championship driver Matt Edwards took the last win in 2019 and before that County Durham’s Stephen Petch was victorious in 2017.

Who knows what life will be like be when the world emerges from this global air-raid, many things will change for sure, but hopefully a few will stay the same. It will never be like the "good old days", very little will, but a rally car rasping through a North Yorkshire forest with some "Riponian Rally" decals on the side would go a long way to making the world right again, in my book at least.

We can but hope, but I’m still not getting on that pesky roller coaster…


2021 No Event

2020 No Event

2019 Matt Edwards/John Millington (Ford Fiesta R5)

2018 No Event

2017 Stephen Petch/Michael Wilkinson (Ford Fiesta S2000)

2016 Charlie Payne/Carl Williamson (Ford Fiesta WRC)

2015 Charlie Payne/Andrew Roughead (Ford Fiesta WRC)

2014 Peter Stephenson/Ian Windress (Ford Focus WRC)

2013 Charlie Payne/Craig Thorley (Ford Focus WRC)

2012 Charlie Payne/Craig Thorley (Ford Focus WRC)

2011 Charlie Payne/Craig Thorley (Ford Focus WRC)

2010 Paul Bird/Kirsty Riddick (Ford Focus WRC)

2009 Charlie Payne/Craig Thorley (Mitsubishi Lancer WRC)

2008 Tim Pearcey/Seb Marshall (Mitsubishi Lancer)

2007 No Event

2006 Kevin Procter/Mike Gilby (Subaru Impreza)

2005 Barry Johnson/Stewart Merry (Subaru Impreza)

2004 Kevin Procter/Mike Gilby (Subaru Impreza)

2003 No Event

2002 Mark Perrott/Gary Mansell (Ford Escort WRC)

2001 Charlie Payne/Craig Thorley (Mitsubishi Lancer)

2000 Charlie Payne/Craig Thorley (Mitsubishi Lancer)

1999 Matt Yeadon/Richard Shores (Ford Sapphire Cosworth)

1998 Graham Middleton/Plug Pulleyn (Ford Escort Cosworth)

1997 Brian Lyell/John Bennie (Subaru Legacy)

1996 No Event

1995 Steve Smith/Brian Hughes (Lancia Delta Integrale Evo)

1994 Shaun Garner/Dave Prattley (Ford Escort Cosworth)

1993 Charlie Payne/Hugh Edwards (Ford Sierra Cosworth)

1992 Charlie Payne/A Hall (Ford Sierra Cosworth)