Motorsport has been synonymous with the British Army since the late 1960s, when the British Army Motoring Association (BAMA) attended the Scottish Rally.
Originally invited to sweep up stranded cars, the Army’s Land Rovers were an instant hit and proved a catalyst for the military to begin competing in a large variety of motorsport events.
More than that, BAMA is also the reason why some personnel initially took an interest in joining the British Army, such as Craftsman Laura Thomson.
“Had it not been for attending one of the open days back in 2018, I probably wouldn’t have moved into the role I’m currently doing,” said Laura, aged 27, who visited the Army Motorsport day at Lyneham.
“I met some of the team who had travelled across the Americas on motorcycles the previous year and I was already a keen adventure motorcyclist, so then got hooked on the opportunities that were on offer.”
There are eight recognised sporting disciplines: 4x4 Navigation, Adventure, Enduro, Karting, Rallying, Road Race, Sports Cars and Trials. The Army competes at local, national, and international levels and the British round of the World Rally Championship has proven a particular highlight.
Motorsport requires discipline, courage, respect, and integrity, which reflects the core values of the British Army. By competing in motorsport, soldiers are pushed to develop their skills as a team in a fast paced and rewarding environment.
Over the past 60 years military motorsport has flourished, with BAMA enjoying success across numerous disciplines and participation from a broad range of service personnel. Even retired members of the Army are welcomed back to compete alongside those still serving.
Laura, a Reservist since 2019 and currently serving with 103 Battalion REME based in Portsmouth, said: “I was able to implement my skills and experience from my civilian career as an automotive journalist and I’m now responsible for the Motorised Adventure discipline, as well as being a media representative for wider Army Motorsport.
“I have just spent a week riding the Trans Euro Trail (a network of green lanes across Europe) as part of an on-duty exercise.
“Army Motorsport draws a lot of parallels with military skills, from teamwork to endurance and decision-making under pressure.”
Since 2010, motorsport activities are formally recognised as an Army sport with authorisation for events coming via the Army Sports Control Board. The introduction of BAMA to Army sport has opened the door for its personnel to officially compete in all forms of the sport.
Laura said: “Each of the eight disciplines offer a pathway from novice to experienced competitor, with some drivers and riders going on to compete in national and international series.
“As with a lot of sports, BAMA offers soldiers the opportunity to take part in disciplines that would otherwise be too expensive.”
Army riders have also dominated every class in the British Enduro Championships, with Corporal Tom Ellwood becoming MX World Champion in Enduro whilst racing as a serving soldier. As one of the most popular and accessible sports, the World Championships in Enduro Motocross has seen competitors from the Army Team bring home numerous gold medals.
Domestically, the Army has set up a circuit race challenge in collaboration with the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. This involves 30 military crewed cars from the three services racing on some of the best circuits in the UK, including endurance events such as the renowned six-hour Birkett Relay at Silverstone.
As the oldest running team in BAMA, the Trials Team can trace their sporting pedigree back as far as the 1930s. The Army Motorcycle Trials Team is renowned for its participation in the Scottish Six Day Trial (SSDT) which, at 113 years old, is one of the oldest and largest off-road motorcycle events in the world.
The true grass roots of military motorsport lie with the 4x4 Navigation Rally events. These competitions are open to all serving military personnel and use current in-service vehicles to compete in events across the country.
Laura said: “As announced recently in the integrated review, the Army is aiming for 30% of recruits to be female by 2030 and we’re keen to see just as many women in BAMA. I’ve recently set up a group for women in the organisation and I hope to develop ideas to increase female representation.
“BAMA has allowed me to develop my leadership and organisational skills while working in a sport that I love.”
Much like Extreme E, which took place at the British Ministry of Defence Base at Bovington for the Championship’s final event of its inaugural season, just before Christmas, crews are challenged by difficult driving conditions with various checkpoints ensuring there is no specific route.
Similarities to Extreme E don’t stop there and BAMA is currently pushing technological boundaries to ensure its activities are more sustainable and environmentally friendly, including the potential inclusion of electric bikes in both the Trials and Enduro arenas.
Events such as the Navigation Rally also contribute to the environmental maintenance of military training sites in use across the country. As there is no set route, each vehicle breaks up different areas of ground which in turn encourages the regrowth of the terrain.
BAMA is open to all serving and retired Soldiers, to find out more visit www.armymotorsports.co.uk