Oxford University students who rebuild vintage rally cars will race an historic Riley 1.5 through the winding roads of Barbados next month as they compete in the Caribbean’s largest annual motorsport event, the Barbados Rally Carnival.
Members of the Oxford Universities Motorsport Foundation (OUMF) will travel over 4,000 miles to battle some of the world’s top rally car drivers, including 2006 British Rally Championship runner-up Ryan Champion.
OUMF (pronounced ‘Oomph’) was founded in July 2005 by Oxford students with the aim of providing opportunities for young student engineers and trainee craftsmen to obtain life-like, practical experience of engineering. My task within the foundation is to gain publicity and sponsorship. OUMF decided motorsport should be at the core of this initiative as it represents the most exciting area of the engineering industry; especially historic motorsport, which is growing rapidly.
It also has a severe age and skills shortage. As such, it is the area of motorsport through which the interest and enthusiasm of male and female students can be both gained and sustained most easily.
The mixture between engineering and motorsport has allowed OUMF to gain a growing fan-base; sometimes, however, this is not enough. In order to race in Barbados, a staggering £10,000 has to be raised, a sum which may seem impossible, until the six-figure budgets of top European teams are taken into account. OUMF’s tight budgeting is an indication of their stalwart efforts.
On the track, the foundation is enjoying considerable success. Currently winning a local championship driving a TOYO Golf GTi, the motorsport enthusiasts have also sped along the tracks of Silverstone and Goodwood using an Alfa GTAm, as well as using the Barbados-bound Riley 1.5 in historic rallies such as the Tour Britannia, the Tour Rusticana, the Gremlin and Le Jog. They hope to be racing the nearly-completed 1750 Alfa Bertone in the Historic Sports Car Club championship and at other races this season, and to compete in the Spa Six-Hour race too.
Yet unquestionably, their biggest success is gaining a position on the starting line across the Atlantic. A few months ago, their Riley 1.5 was exhibited at Race Retro, the biggest historic motorsport show in the UK. With the support of the organiser, Ian Williamson, the team were generously given a huge stand on which to promote OUMF over the three days of the event.
Here, they came to the attention of Martin Sharp, now a well-known journalist, who started in industry and recognises the chronic shortage of practical, hands-on training available to university students. He recommended OUMF to the Caribbean organisers, who have taken the unprecedented step of inviting OUMF to compete in the festival.
So in a story almost reminiscent of the musical ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’, will these few fairytale months end well? I believe so. We at OUMF feel our attempt at the Barbados Rally will appeal to a much wider audience than simply motorsport fans. It will capture anybody’s imagination, particularly those who love to support the underdog, as students sail the Atlantic to take on the rally giants and former world champions.