2020 is finally about to end and the doors are about to open for a 2021 of hope. In this article I interviewed Richard Crossland, Managing Director of Ultra4 Europe. With him we made a report of this particular 2020 and deepened the various topics related to the 2021 season of Ultra4 Europe.
Photography and story by Paolo Baraldi
There is no doubt that 2020 has influenced and changed the plans of all of us. In a few days, this damn 2020 will see its end and we will enter in 2021: a year of hope to return to normal life.
Throughout 2020 Ultra4 Europe has tried all ways to stay close to its teams and, when it was possible, managed to organize two international races that have entered in the offroad history: the BF Goodrich King of Britain and the BF Goodrich Essential. .
Ultra4 Europe, among all the organizers, was the first to announce the dates of the 2021 season introducing some interesting news.
Ultra4 Europe 2021 races official announcement
- April 23-25: Battle of Bovington (UK)
- May 14-16: King Spain (E)
- June 25-27: King of France (F)
- July 23-25: King of Britain (UK)
- September 10-12: King of Poland (PL)
- October 8-10: The Essential 2021 (UK)
“Many of you will have seen there are six dates on the 2021 race calendar.
The traditional European Championship will incorporate all King Races and your top three results will count. These will also form the scoring for #roadtothehammers.
However COVID has changed the way we have to plan everything and the two events we have run this year proved we have a lot of interest in the racing we do.
You spoke - we listened!
So in 2021 we will be running the very first Ultra4 British Championship!
This will take in all three UK rounds including the King of Britain which counts for both championships.
All Ultra4 classes and the Winch Rally Raid class will be welcome at ALL races. There will be a mixture of endurance and short course style racing depending on the size of the land we can race on. Thus for the British Championship we are looking at two short course and one endurance race.
The British Championship is open to anyone and not just British teams.
This starts our long term plan to have a series of races in many European countries and then bring the best of the best together for a final big King of Europe race. This is not an overnight process but if the British Championship is a success we will push forwards a grow the sport further.
This is so new we do not have finalised logos yet but we will share them soon. Thank you for everyones continued support and in growing this sport, we appreciate you all!
Who will be the first Ultra4 British Champion and who will be the new Ultra4 European Champion?”
The stock of the situation on the 2020 season and Ultra4 Europe 2021 schedule with Richard Crossland
To close this 2020 and to launch into 2021, I made this interview with Richard Crossland, Managing Director of Ultra4 Europe (www.ultra4europe.com). Crossland gave a report of the year that is about to end and talked to me about the 2021 schedule deepening the news.
“One day I would like to welcome back a European team that crosses the finish of King of the Hammers in daylight”
- 2020 got off to a great start with the Team Europe taking part in the King of the Hammers, can you tell me once again what it means for Ultra4 Europe to bring its drivers to race in Lakebed?
Many will have seen that Ultra4 are setting up races all over the world. There are many reasons for this but it all comes back to one thing - King of the Hammers. This is building into a truly global race and by having our championship it gives teams an entrance to KOH that would normally be closed. Taking part at KOH for a team from overseas needs a lot of funding, just ask the guys that have done it. But then ask them would they do it again and I guarantee all would say yes in a heartbeat. It cannot be described in words. It has to be seen and more so felt. I guarantee every European team that has been there has learnt so much and also has a massive wish list. It certainly shows you how much equipment and parts our family in the USA has access to!
One day I would like to welcome back a European team that crosses the finish in daylight. If you do that you are very much at the pointy end of the race. But then I think about the emotional journey some of our guys have been on whilst racing KOH and it blows me away. Two examples being Shabs Piercy and Danny Roderick. Shabs sent his vehicle spent a week breaking and fixing, breaking and fixing, to finally break whilst lining up for the start. You have come all that way and the whole team have worked so hard to get to race and then the most heartbreaking thing happens. It was all for nothing. In typical DC fashion, Once Dave heard about it he made one of the old spec trucks available and the team that look after it got in ready in minutes. Shabs and Si jumped in and off they went. You couldn’t write it, truly mental!
Then you have Danny. The racers on a seriously small budget (no offence Danny!). They set off to KOH after selling organs and things and arrived with the look of a deer in headlights. Thats what KOH can do. All week Danny was getting his head around the enormity of the task ahead, but come race day he was on it. What made me very proud was hearing very experienced drivers saying how well the little yellow Nissan drove any rock section. They were schooling these guys in their own back yard. However mechanical issues can happen and we were slowly following Danny’s progress but it just got too late and we had to call him in. However when that little Nissan crossed the line under the floodlights and everyone was there. There was not a dry eye on that part of the lakebed. A truly emotional experience but one I will always cherish.
Apologies for rambling on and probably talking about events Ive spoken about before, but these stories are the foundations that will build teams from Europe to be eventually challenging for the top spot. I truly believe this will happen sooner rather than later. I just could not guess who?
“We had to do the last thing any organiser wants to do - cancel a race”
- After the King of the Hammers (KOH true story) everything seemed to portend a wonderful 2020 season for Ultra4 Europe. Then the pandemic changed everything. What did this mean for Ultra4 Europe?
Well as we said goodbye to one another on the lakebed you are right it all looked good and no one thought COVID would stop the world in its tracks as it has. Whilst on the lakebed Chris and I had already made the decision to plan for every race to happen until we were told by the authorities it could not. Thats exactly what we did. It just meant that we were not allowed to run what would have been the best season yet for Ultra4 Europe. However it also taught us some valuable lessons.
What did it mean?
It meant that we had to do the last thing any organiser wants to do - cancel a race, but not just one race it ended up being three!
This had a massive effect on our fans, our sponsors but most importantly our racers as it was not just us cancelling races it was everyone and there was nothing on the calendar. So when the dust settled we had a small budget thanks to the sponsors that stuck with us, so we just carried on planning for each race to happen.
“Off road fans wanted to see action. Sponsors needed publicity and our racers desperately needed seat time”
- At the end of May the first wave of the pandemic was about to close and you and your staff decided to organize the BF Goodrich King of Britain. Why did you make this important decision?
It became very clear we have a duty of care to provide racing for all the reasons I have just mentioned. Off road fans wanted to see action. Sponsors needed publicity and our racers desperately needed seat time. It was also one thing that everyone could focus on and start to look forward to after six months of strict COVID restrictions. No one has ever had to live life the way we have in 2020 and having this one thing proved to be a massive positive for many.
But there was a lot to do to make this happen.
That started with going through the COVID regulations, working with the land owner and local authority to come up with the most robust plan we could to make the race as safe as possible. Other organisations and many racers decided it was impossible to do. We like a challenge and made sure we were good to race. Even after all of this planning we still had to push the race back two weeks because of infection rates being too high and those numbers needed to fall. They did, we raced - the rest is history!
“We proved that racing could happen. That is all I need to say”
- What message did Ultra 4 Europe give by organizing the first post covid race in Europe?
We proved that racing could happen. That is all I need to say.
However we proved that by putting in the extra work and extra provisions in the event organisation we provided a race that became pivotal in our decision making going forwards.
Be very aware there were no corners cut and no excessive risks taken. We followed the regulations set down by the local authority, with the head of the local council and the councillors themselves approving this to happen. Anything can be achieved if you really want it.
“I asked his permission to name the Spirit of the Event award in Brooks honour”
- After the success of the King of Britain, Ultra4 Europe organized the BF Goodrich Essential in October. A second international event in the era of Covid. Why and why the name Essential?
During the King of Britain something happened that until that point none of the organising team were aware of, but we most certainly are now.
It began with me wanting to honour one of our races who we tragically lost in December last year - Brook Bellamy. Sadly Brook suffered from mental health issues. Now this is a subject that has come to the forefront of society, especially in a year were COVID and the restrictions put upon us make those issues seem even bigger to those that suffer from them. So I spoke to Craig (Brooks brother) and asked his permission to name the Spirit of the Event award in Brooks honour. He said yes and then asked if he could present the trophy. Deal done!
As the days passed Craig called me and asked if he could talk about mental health issues at the prize giving. Of course I said yes and that was that.
The race was great and the prize giving saw many small team bubbles all distanced from one another and watching as the prizes were given out. To this day I don’t know how Craig could stand up in front of everyone there and talk about the demons his brother faced. To this day I would not have said the look of understanding and realisation that I could see, would have been something I thought was applicable to what we do. But how wrong I was.
Whilst this sport is rough and tough. Those same people have many other issues to fight with daily and are really the ones that suffer, as they are expected to be strong. The message that came across and the offer of help saw Craig approached by many of the people at the race to get more information on how to get help.
It was more than humbling, it was at that moment I and the team realised that what we were doing right then was essential. It was needed more than we could ever realise and to a man (and woman!), we knew we had to try and get another race before the end of the year.
The Bf Goodrich ‘Essential’ was born.
“We managed to put on two International races, where many did not even manage one”
- We are in December, reporting time. What is your analysis of this particular 2020?
Well compared to a normal race year its been rubbish.
However we are far from anything like normal so when you add this into the mix we have had an amazing year.
We managed to put on two International races, where many did not even manage one.
We added a new race class to our stable and the Winch Rally Raid Class is here to stay. Those guys raced with us this year and raced hard, never quit, and where a credit to the sport. So they are here to stay.
It made us realise we cannot take anything for granted as it can be taken away in an instant. So don’t put anything off, do it as soon as you can.
It also made us realise that certainly in the short term we have a duty to put races on and allow all the teams that compete the chance to have the mental release they need to help them keep going when back in the ‘normal’ world.
“If every race can happen it will be without doubt the best season we will have ever had”
- Ultra 4 Europe has published the calendar with 6 races for the 2021 season. What do you expect from this new year?
Well if every race can happen it will be without doubt the best season we will have ever had.
However we have put six events on the calendar knowing that we may lose one or two of them whilst we still have to deal with COVID.
I say two this is what I believe will be that case. COVID will be here for most of 2021 even with a vaccine. It moves around in waves and hopefully we can race in-between this, but again if we cannot we will keep planning and hoping.
- In the 2021 season presentation post, you talk about the first real Ultra4 British Championship. What is it about?
Three races that will give us a British Champion. It is a test to see if we can get enough racers to enter a country championship and have fun. This is open to anyone to enter from any country, using the classes we have used in 2020. Its going to be epic!
“I want to see country championships in many European countries and then if you have competed in enough races you get a slot in what will be a big King of Europe race”
- You also say that you would like to have a championship for each European nation and then have a race among the best drivers. What does it mean?
If the British championship proves popular we will roll this out across Europe so it gives everyone that races the chance of a championship without the massive mileage.
Whilst this is growing we will continue to always run the European King races, so they are not going anywhere!
But eventually I want to see country championships in many European countries and then if you have competed in enough races you get a slot in what will be a big King of Europe race. We have now found land that could give us four loops of 400km each and would not be in a country that a championship was run. So there is no home advantage. It will emulate the daddy of them all the King of the Hammers. We have enough racers in Europe in all classes to make this happen. If COVID has taught us anything. We need to race as much as we can, when we can!
- Thanks to the two races in this year, Ultra4 Europe has gained a lot of experience on how to organize a race in a pandemic period. What precautions will be taken for the next season of events?
Thats an easy one. We will plan as if we are in full pandemic mode. Then as we get nearer to race day, if we can lesson the restrictions we will. But that is a decision for the local authority and not us. It is much easier to not do something that have to try and add restrictions at the last minute.
“This will be the first time I won’t be on the lakebed for many, many years. I don't think I’ve quite accepted it yet”
- The 2021 season will start for us Europeans without the King of the Hammers, what will we be missing?
This will be the first time I won’t be on the lakebed for many, many years. I don't think I’ve quite accepted it yet, but when I start watching the livefeed I am sure the realisation will set in. I won’t miss the sand and dust. Desert lung you can keep!
During the planning meetings we have had for 2021 we realised just how many jobs the band of Europeans do. So we are having to find new staff for that which is proving difficult to say the least. It just proves that we are a truly global race family.
King of the Hammers is still happening, but again it won’t have 70,000 people there. So the livestream will be the place to catch all the action. We have the largest entry for UTV’s we have ever had. The EMC race will be mega. The T1 race has more competing than before and the big one , the 4400 race will have racers going over quite a lot of virgin territory so it won’t matter how much experience you have on the traditional routes. With all that said I would not bet against Mr Miller in his ‘outdated' solid axle truck being in the mix as usual!
- What do you suggest to teams who want to participate in the races of the 2021 season?
Make sure you are compliant with the regulations for the class you want to race in. there are six classes to choose from so one must fit. If you have questions then message me directly and we will make sure you are good to go. Then when the races are publicised for entry, get it in as soon as possible. We are now having entries limited due to COVID etc and we cannot guarantee to allow all that enter late.
“We are family and family need to be together to get through the hard times and enjoy the good”
- To finish this nice interview with you, what is your wish for the whole Ultra4 Europe family
All the team that organise these races has missed our European race family this year. It has made everyone realise just how big our race family is and how far that reaches all over Europe. I hope that everyone in Europe that races with us will be back to race next year as just being able to walk the pits and say hi, share a beer and talk is what makes the races worthwhile. I wish for 2021 that we are allowed to all race again together and make more great memories not just on track but also off track. We are family and family need to be together to get through the hard times and enjoy the good.
On this note I speak for all the team at U4e, that everyone be they part of the European race family or will be joining it in 2021 a Happy New Year. Please keep you and your families safe as racing is not the same without having everyone there. Thank you.