The event originated from an inspired idea from the then Chairman of Furness Motor Club, Vic Horsley, who called a meeting of all the counties clubs to get them to come together to organise one big event. The end result of Vic’s brainwave was the Tour of Cumbria, an instant hit with over 180 entries thanks to its inclusion in the “Triple C” National series. The first event used a mix of forest stages and farm tracks, indeed, one stage was along a disused railway line!!. Pirelli arrived as sponsors in 1977 when their Carlisle factory was turned into a giant service area and their staff canteen provided a lunch which became legendary in rally circles. With Pirelli’s continued support, the rally was upgraded to National status. This meant that extra stage mileage was required so the traditional Lake District stages gave way in favour of the giant Kielder Forest complex, the 155,000 acres of Europe’s largest man-made forest providing some stunning stages. In 1979 the event was included in the Castrol/ Autosport National Championship, then the countries premier series, and was won by a young, up and coming driver from Cockermouth, Malcolm Wilson.
In 1983, by now called the Andrews Heat For Hire Cumbria Rally, the event became the first National Championship event to run overnight, the result of holding “Kielder By Moonlight” was an extremely long list of retirements, Andrews was followed by Shell Oils as sponsors and in both 1989 and 1990, under the guidance of the accomplished Andrew Kellitt, the rally was voted the best round of the Mintex National Series. The reward for consistently high standards came in 1992 when the rally was elevated to International status and the Pirelli International Rally became a round of the newly constituted Mobil 1 British Rally Championship, bringing top international stars to Cumbria. Future World Champion, Colin McRae won the inaugural event, the following year it was another star of the future, the late Richard Burns who took the honours, 1994 saw a home win for Malcolm Wilson who, the following year prepared a car for rallying legend, “Flying Finn” Ari Vatannen to take a hugely popular victory.
The organisers of the Pirelli International Rally have always been innovative and in 1997 they ran the championships first “Double Header” event while, with Pirelli’s enthusiastic support, they have pioneered the “Rally Show” concept, where spectators can both see the rally cars in action and also enjoy a range of displays and attractions. In 2002 the rally took the bold move of moving to the North East, basing itself in Gateshead, it brought International motorsport to a huge audience in the North East and forged close links with the local council who provided the stunning Baltic Centre as a magnificent starting venue.
We returned to Carlisle in 2005, and in 2013 we moved to a Saturday/Sunday format. This format continued in 2014 and with the support of Carlisle City Council both the ceremonial start, finish and prize giving, for all championships, took place in the main shopping precinct in the centre of the historic City of Carlisle.
In 2013 we decided to start paying tribute to Richard Burns, the 2001 World Rally Champion who tragically succumbed to a brain tumour at the young age of just 34, just 5 years after claiming rallying’s highest accolade. Our ties with the Richard Burns Foundation continue to grow.
In 2014 we were awarded the Best British Rally of the year by the British Rally Championship. An award that we were incredibly honoured to win.
In 2015 we were Round 3 of the Mintex MSA British Historic Rally Championship and of the West Wales Rally Spares R.A.C. Rally Championship, whilst we waited for the return of the British Rally Championship in 2016.
In 2016 we were fortunate enough to be selected as a round of the re-launched MSA British Rally Championship. The Rally ran as a two-day event, with the BRC running over both days, and the Mintex MSA British Rally Historic Championship and the Motoscope Northern Historic Rally Championship running on the Saturday. That year we ran with seven heart-stopping, spectacular stages in Kielder Forest.
In 2017 we were chosen to be a round of the FIA Celtic Trophy Rally, and as a result, we’re pleased to regain our FIA International Rally status. We continued to be a round of the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship, along with being a round of the Mintex MSA British Rally Historic Championship and the Motoscope Northern Historic Rally Championship.
In 2018, we decided that costs needed to be reduced for both competitors and for the rally itself. As such, we decided to return to a one-day event but ensuring that it remained a challenging event by having 85 miles of stage miles, and all servicing done in the Kielder area. We continued to be a round of the FIA Celtic Trophy Rally, the Prestone MSA British Rally Championship, the Fuchs Lubricant MSA British Rally Historic Championship, and the Motoscope Northern Historic Rally Championship.
For 2019, we continued with the one-day event as it had been so successful in 2018. It was another challenging, compact event – with all servicing done in the Kielder area. The ceremonial finish took place in Brampton town centre. We continued to be a round of the FIA Celtic Trophy Rally, the British Rally Championship, the Fuchs Lubricant Motorsport UK British Rally Historic Championship, and the Motoscope Northern Historic Rally Championship.
2020 saw some big changes as our sponsorship with Pirelli came to an end, we decided to reduce costs by no longer being an “International” rally, and the British Rally Championship decided to add a new round which clashed with us. All this led to the creation of the Kielder Forest Rally – a compact, one day event with low road mileage and around 44 stage miles, all contained within the Kielder area. Continuing to be a round of the FUCHS Lubricant Motorsport UK British Rally Champions and the HRCR Motoscope Northern Historic Rally Championship, as well as a new round in the Motorsport UK 2020 English Rally Championship supported by SEACON UK. Unfortunately, 2020 was a year like no other with the COVID-19 pandemic, and this resulted in the 2020 event being postponed until 2021.
For 2021 we changed from running in April to running in mid-June – this decision allowed us to become an event on the hugely popular BTRDA Rally Series. But due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic we were unable to run and had to postpone the event for a second year.
For 2022 we will be running in mid-June – with our inclusion in the hugely popular BTRDA Rally Series. This year also sees us being a round of the Bowler Defender Challenge – bringing the Defender back into Kielder Forest. Running as a compact one day event, using Kielder Forest for the stages and Hexham as our Rally HQ base.