Smoking kills but the ban on tobacco advertising has succeeded in killing dreams. That’s the view of former British rally champion Jimmy McRae who has claimed that lack of money coming into the sport from big business has made it harder than ever for young talent to make the grade in motorsport.
The father of Alister and the late Colin, who also both competed in the sport, the latter winning the 1995 World Championship, McRae senior praised the investment being made by Sport Scotland, which has pledged £360,000 over four years to help bolster the growth of motorsport and introduce more kids to the various disciplines.
“I think the young people have to show a fair bit of interest to start with and then if there is someone with a fair bit of talent then I hope this will help these guys. We have struggled for years and years to get extra funding into the sport, especially for the young guys. When we have world champions in Scotland on two wheels, three wheels and four, when these guys are winning then there is a bit of publicity but when there is nobody at the top then there is nothing.”
Without the backing of car manufacturers and big-money sponsors, he says all aspiring drivers and riders struggle to accumulate the finances needed to make it to the top.
“I have always said that there are young guys with loads of talent and no money and others with the money but no talent.
“So, hopefully, this funding will help bring on more of those with the talent and we can get more world champions out of it and more publicity to help grow the sport.”
While finances were always a concern, the fact that tobacco sponsors were such keen supporters of all areas of motorsport during McRae’s racing days bolstered the team coffers and he says the subsequent ban has led to unresolved problems.
“Basically when I came through there was a fair bit of interest because we had cigarette sponsorship and that brought a fair bit of money into the sport but when that went that made it more difficult. It was the same when Colin and Alister came in, there was still that type of money in the sport and a lot more manufacturer interest but now they don’t get the coverage and when they are spending a lot of money, they don’t really see what they are getting from it, so the manufacturers have pulled out as well now.”
The five-time British champion said that when he entered the sport, he did so as a late starter. “I never sat in a rally car until I was 30, simply because I didn’t have money before that. But I was lucky, I took to it right away and I got the break because everybody else was rallying a Ford Escort and I wanted to rally something different so I would be noticed. I rallied a Vauxhall Magnum, and within two years I didn’t have a works drive but I had a paid drive and an expenses-paid drive and then it moved on to a works drive.
“Again it was being at the right place at the right time and maybe if I had been driving a Ford Escort I might have got the same but there was a fair bit of publicity because I did something different.”
But, without the gimmicks or the cigarette sponsorship, he believes that the talent he insists is still there is being stifled.
“There are young guys out there with loads of talent but their parents don’t have the money needed and it is very difficult to get sponsors these days. I still follow it all the time and you see young talent and the dads can finance it to a certain extent but then it’s the next step up. That money is not there at the moment.
“At club level the sport is still strong, when you consider the cost of running these cars. But it is people who are a bit older and have made their money who can go on and enjoy the sport. We maybe won’t get a world champion from these guys but hopefully they will bring on the young ones.
“To be a world champion you need talent but you also need to be in the right place at the right time.
“The very best will normally get picked up but there is talent there that we can’t get a hold of because there is no money to bring these guys on, so anything that can be done to help that is fantastic.”