Friday evening’s Fifth Gear motoring programme on Channel 5 television (9 December) will put the spotlight on one of the UK’s most affordable and enjoyable forms of motor sport. Earlier this month one of the show’s well-known presenters, Vicki Butler-Henderson, teamed up with Škoda UK Motorsport’s newly crowned Intercontinental Rally Challenge champion Andreas Mikkelsen to contest a 12-car navigational rally.

Fifth Gear TV rallies to the cause

More than 300 of these events are organised throughout the dark winter months by MSA-registered motor clubs located right across the country. No special equipment or licences are required beyond a road-legal car and an ability to read a map. Competitors are given a set of clues, which they must crack on the way while averaging 30mph between a series of checkpoints. As in stage rallying, crews set off individually at one-minute intervals and incur penalties for not sticking to the route or prescribed schedule.

Fifth Gear TV rallies to the cause 2011

The event selected for Fifth Gear coverage was the Zebulon Pike Memorial 12-Car Rally organised by the Loughborough Car Club in rural Leicestershire.

As one of the world’s most promising young rally stars, Mikkelsen was charged with driving a standard 180bhp Škoda Fabia vRS – the showroom version of the 22-year-old Norwegian’s Fabia S2000 competition car – while Butler-Henderson took on the all-important navigational duties.

Fifth Gear TV

“I didn’t really know what to expect and map reading isn’t my specialist subject as I can get lost in a car park!” admitted Vicki. “As total novices, however, we were given extra time to plot the route and, although we made several errors, we didn’t finish last and we had a real giggle. It was a terrific way to spend an evening. You exercise your brain, enjoy plenty of good banter and participate in a great sport with some healthy competition… all for a £15 entry fee and the cost of a few litres of fuel.”

2011 Fifth Gear TV rallies to the cause

Butler-Henderson is one of many high-profile ambassadors supporting Go Motorsport – the Motor Sports Association’s award-winning campaign to help more people into all areas of motor sport – and is keen to promote the availability of such activities.

“I’m passionate about grass roots motor sport and, in particular, things that are cheap to enter,” she confirmed. “12-car navigational rallies certainly fit that bill – you can do them in your own road car without a special competition licence or any bespoke equipment beyond a 2B pencil and torch.”

It was also a totally new, and no less enjoyable, experience for Mikkelsen – a man who’s far more used to competing right at the other end of the spectrum, namely the forefront of international rallying.

“It was very different to anything I have done before,” he admitted. “It was great fun, though, and clearly a fantastic way to start in motor sport. It’s important for a young driver to gain experience any way he or she can and, more importantly, it’s the perfect place for a budding co-driver to start off. I can now see why Britain has produced so many top world championship co-drivers over the years.”

Mikkelsen was also impressed with minimal costs of competing at this level and clearly has been bitten by the competitive bug. “These events are really cheap to do, as you can do them in a road car,” he enthused. “We did our event in a Škoda Fabia vRS, which was the first time I’d driven one. The country lanes were quite bumpy and narrow, but the car was really impressive and performance-wise it was more than you need to have a great time. Now that I know what we’re supposed to do it would be really nice to do a navigational rally again – and see if we can improve on our finishing position!”

Navigational rallies are just one of the many UK grassroots motor sport activities promoted by the MSA’s governing body’s Go Motorsport campaign.

Fifth Gear TV rallies 2011 to the cause

“Whether it’s 12-cars, production car trials or autotests, there is a wealth of possibilities available to those looking to enjoy club level motor sport for a very modest outlay,” said Colin Hilton, Chief Executive of the Motor Sports Association. “Inevitably most of the media is focused on this country’s leading role at the pinnacle of Formula One, so we are all the more grateful to Vicki and Andreas for highlighting just how inexpensive and fun grassroots motor sport can be via this coverage on Fifth Gear television. Most local motor clubs are organising similar events throughout the year, demonstrating that motor sport is much more accessible than many people imagine.”