I have been toying with this article for a while and I have put to paper some thoughts, experiences and observations that go against the current view that all is well in World Rallying. I did have this in 3 parts but I have placed it all together as one article at Gilles suggestion. I hope some of you may find it of interest.
With the arrival of Kimi Raikonnen to the World Rally Championship in 2010, it is fair to say that a little more spotlight will be on the WRC this year and in turn it will bring many new fans to rallying, which is never a bad thing. The following is a little bit of an overview of what was, what has come to pass and what might be. It’s a long piece, so if you have 15 minutes and a cup of coffee and you’re bored, then welcome to a small patch of Forest in the cyber world... I have decided to split this into 3 parts, as it is quite long!
Global rallying has been through some incredible highs and some extremely dark lows; however the one thing it will always have is the following of the great bobble hat brigade! At least...it used to.
In days gone by, mainly the 70's and 80's we saw rallying grow into one of the most supported and followed motorsports the world over. Time and time again, the great names like Blomqvist, Allen, Makinen, Hopkirk, Rohrl, Mikola and the young Vatanen, many of these guys became names that our fathers knew and watched and the cars progressed from the two wheel drive Opels, Mk2 Ford Escorts, Porsche’s and the incredible Lancia Stratos, through to a changing time in the sport. Many feel even to this day, that the sheer speed and skill shown by these drivers in two-wheel drive machinery will never be repeated, due to the advancement of technology and driver aids. In those days, the driver had a screaming engine, with plenty of space in the engine bay for a club fisted mechanic to wield spanners and bash things with hammers and simple enough to fix that the driver and co-driver could often affect repairs on the event itself. The cars were simple to drive, but staggeringly frightening to drive flat out and yet they did...and the sights and sounds were spectacular... don’t believe me? Have a watch of possibly one of the very best in a two-wheel drive car, Ari Vatanen...here in the Manta showing just how mind blowingly fast you could actually drive these cars.... bear in mind...this is wet tarmac...Downhill...and at 37 seconds into this clip....if he hadn’t have caught the back of the car in that split second....the two concrete gate posts could have easily killed either one of them...a simply breathtaking moment of talent! Listen to the co-driver’s response...says it all...
The 1980's brought an era yet to be seen again, although we came close, VERY close, but I will come to that later. In the 1980's Audi shocked the world with a 4 wheel drive car that was to transform World Rallying forever and create a brand and a name that even today millions know, yet many do not realise the origins of where it came from. "Quattro" was the new thing.. and in rallying terms, manufacturers like Nissan, Opel, Ford, Lancia and Toyota suddenly saw the future and it was with 4 wheels driving instead of 2! The age of Group B was born! More names on the driver front became household items as well....Rallying was about to enter the most popular era it has ever had.
As the world began to see these monsters appear, the Audi S1 Quattro Sport, the Lancia Delta S4, the Peugeot 205T16, the Austin Metro 6R4 and the Ford RS200, plus others, we began to see Rally cars with Formula 1 engine Turbo chargers and super chargers, producing fire spitting animals with such advanced aero dynamics that they could literally ‘fly’ through the air over crests and jumps, with enough aero downforce to push the rear of the car downward and keep the nose up. Driver’s knew these machines were the very pinnacle of motorsport engineering and the competition was truly incredible.
As more and more fans came flocking to the sport, it was actually getting out of control. Driver’s were being asked to go flat out on the road yet they could not see the road 80 yards ahead as the crowd would be standing “IN” the road, in front of them, to get that camera shot, or that sensation as this fire spitting, noisy combination of man and machine came flying toward them. Insane? Yes.... spectacular to watch... like we have never seen again.... Watching some of the videos of Walter Rohrl in the Audi flat out and looking from the onboard, seeing the road appear in front of him like Moses parting the red sea... was scary, breath taking, crazy, stupid, ...there simply are not enough adjectives to describe the sensations of that time.
It was during this time that legendary names started to appear in addition to the drivers’ names.... names like Sisteron, Kielder, Corsica, Safari, 1000 Lakes and one of the most famous places in all world rallying...the Col du Turini
Unfortunately...it was simply too much. People became more irresponsible about where they stood to watch and unfortunately drivers to this day, are fallible human beings. If you have watched the Youtube video above, you can see the sheer number of fans, hundreds of thousands, 10,20,30 deep in places...but where they were permitted to stand at times was indeed sheer lunacy and this placed even greater pressure on the drivers of the day.
There were of course the crashes that not only took spectators lives, they took some great drivers lives as well. We had begun to see a transition of the old guard to the new guard. The likes of Mikola, Blomqvist, Pond, were seeing drivers like Juha Kankkunen, Vatanen, Toivonen, Mouton, Salonen all start to make their mark and name for themselves. Tragically we only got to glimpse a talent that could possibly have been the greatest talent of his generation when Henri Toivonen was snatched from us at a very young age. With his death, it was clear that Group B machines and more importantly the millions of spectators that followed the sport, had gotten out of control and so Group B came to an end in 1986.
For many manufacturers Group meant the end of their interest, yet Group A now took over and whole raft of new drivers became household names, it was in this time that the Lancia Delta Integrale became the weapon of choice, but several manufacturers were now gathering and observing this new format any many liked what they saw. Toyota soon returned with the Celica GT4, along with Ford with the Sierra Cosworth, Mitsubishi with the Galant VR4, Group A had arrived and the 1990’s saw names like Biasion, Kankkunen, Sainz, Auriol, Vatanen, Eriksson and Delecour, take this new level category of Rallying and make it their own.
It wasn't long before the world came to hear and understand of a young Scotsman by the name of Colin McRae. Colin was setting the national rally scene on fire, spectacular yes, frustrating yes, wreckless yes, but no one could deny the young guy’s raw talent and in 1992 he burst onto the world scene in Finland with the chance to drive the Subaru Legacy and his first foray into the world championship with Prodrive Subaru.
From this moment onwards.....the world rally championship seemed alive again! With cars that many of us grew up desperately hoping to own one day, the Subaru Impreza, Toyota Celica GT4, Ford Escort Cosworth, Lancia Integrale (just about), Mitsubishi Lancer, now with names like Makinen, Sainz, Auriol, Delecour, Schwarz, Kankkunen (still going), Eriksson and now McRae.
With drivers coming through the British Rally Championship like Colin’s brother Alistair and a young Manxman by the names of Richard Burns. The middle to late 90’s saw any of these drivers able to win a world championship event in a variety of different cars. In 1994 and 1995 Colin McRae ended the UK’s drought of WRC wins and in 95 took the championship. McRae was now officially one of the worlds fastest and most talented drivers. But he sat in extremely capable company with many true characters in the sport...who remembers watching Kankkunen get out of his car and immediately light up a small cigar?
It was in a fact a snowy Dalby forest in 1993 where I had woken up at 2am at the request of a University buddy of mine (at Leeds) to go up the road to the Yorkshire Forest, as the Rally was coming close and the stage was about an hour away. This would be my very first “live” rally to attend, having watched it for so many years. So we get up in the pitch black cold and ventured up the road in my little MG Metro Turbo in what can only be described as god awful conditions, driving sleet/snow, ice building up on the car aerial as we drove, the headlights becoming dim with snow and ice...I looked at my mate and said....”have we completely lost our minds?”..but we carried on. Well we didn’t park in the Forestry Commission car park at Dalby....we ‘slithered’ and how we didn’t hit some of the other parked cars I will never know and we ‘slid’ into a space that was the spot we decided to park in. Into the sleeping bags, grab a few hours kip...and see what we have in the morning.
What we had in the morning was a winter wonderland of fresh snow and freezing conditions and the final leg of what used to be an Epic Rally event over 5 days! As I waited for car 1... I again questioned my sanity at 7.30am being stood on the inside of a 90 right that was at the end of a long downhill section.... Then I heard it.... that sound that generations have heard, the screaming engine notes of a distant car..the excitement built and there it was...slithering from one side to the other...the nose of the car dancing and heading toward us as speed was Juha Kankkunen and Nicky Grist in the Toyota Celica GT4 ST185, popping and banging as the anti-lag kicked in, it turns the corner nose right by our feet and drifts beautifully to the outside of the corner at full acceleration the perfect Scandinavian flick having been perfectly performed and it was away...fire spitting from the exhaust with every gear change and a backfire from the antilag like a shotgun blast.... This gives you an idea of conditions..
My mouth fell open...my mate is grinning at me from ear to ear and he says “so you liked that then?”.... My decision to get involved in this sport was cemented there and then on that patch of frozen/snowy forest!
Another fact to consider.... in 1993, One Hundred and Seventy Six (176) cars started the event!!!!!!! When was the last time you heard of a current WRC event attracting over 100 entries? Let alone nearly 200!!!
At this time...the Network Q/RAC Rally was drawing 3.2 million “live” spectators to the event, just one round of the world rally championship. Statistics show Rallying was in fact at this time, the most widely watched sport ‘live’ in the world. This included TV coverage that understood that daily highlight programmes covering all the major events of the day were exactly what fans wanted to watch, with Sunday often having a ‘live’ stage from Cheltenham racecourse, plus a recap of the day’s events. The Top Gear Rally report was something that every British rally fan looked out for, in fact most of us would have been out in the stages during the day to head back to try and catch the report on TV, or at least record to then watch as we dried out our clothes ready for the next day which again would start at about 4am!
You see, in those days, groups of friends would band together in cars 4 and 5 in each vehicle, as a car park pass was just £5 for the car, irrespective of how many you had in the car. So part of the great experience was getting the maps out and planning where you were going to watch and what the access in and out was like, to enable us to watch the top 20, then head back to the cars to head off to the next stage we wanted to see and we would try to fit in around 4 or more stages in the day, as well as a visit to a section of the route where the cars would pass, even finding pub car parks where say the Toyota Team had suddenly set up a mobile service point.
THIS was world rallying at its best, the fans close, making it a weekend experience to try and get the most action you could see and then be home to watch a report, get warm, get some food and do it all again the following day. In 1994 I had the Subaru team servicing in the garage forecourt on the Otley Road in Leeds, directly opposite my student house! You have no idea the joy and happiness this caused! But the long routes and mobile servicing was not long for this world....more on that later.
In 1998 the World Rally Championship introduced a new car for the WRC which would be called, funnily enough a “WRC” car. Having seen the likes of Makinen dominate the majority of the Group A era with some fantastic competition from others, the new WRC cars the Toyota Corolla, The Subaru Impreza, The Ford Escort, all showed the future direction of the sport. Mitsubishi however decided to stick with the Group A Lancer and held on for as long as it could but it was clear the new technological WRC cars were the way forward.
By the year 2000, the WRC had Hyundai, Seat, Subaru, Ford, Toyota, Skoda, Mitsubishi, Peugeot all competing in the championship with WRC cars and the competition was EPIC! The atmosphere at stages like Col du Turini on the Monte, were electric, with the atmosphere returning to similar Group B era fan noise and spectacle... We had Sainz, the McRae’s, Burns, Kank’s (still), Delecour, Auriol, Makinen, Gronholm, Schwarz, Eriksson, Rovenpera and a young man by the name of Solberg appearing in the wings... and a cast of others all fighting for event wins with incredible competition.....
THIS in my personal opinion, was the moment world championship rallying had regained as close as it had ever been, to the heady days of the Group B era. It was simply..fantastic to watch.
In addition, national rally championships were also once again thriving and the French and British championships with their “Formula 2” rules with screaming two wheel drive rockets, producing great drivers like Loeb, Head, Rowe, Higgins, Gardemeister, Laukkanen and the great Welsh Bus driver....Gwyndaf Evans was still schooling the youngsters. For once the national championships had a focus and a position which again has yet to be repeated, as a feeder ground for the World Championship. More drivers found their way to the World Championship from the British Championship than at any previous time.
It was also at this time that Bernie sold the rights of the WRC to International Sportsworld Communicators (ISC) a company lead by Dave Richards and it was decided that the world championship could and should become more like Formula 1, more organised ticketing, better control on spectators, shorter routes, no more remote service points and clover leaf servicing that returned the cars constantly the service area which could become like a Formula 1 paddock with passes issued for certain areas of access, media support rooms and central rally control run from plush F1 style trucks and transport just as capable of any F1 paddock. In short.... Expenditure started to go through the roof, teams started having huge grand paddocks, deals were signed with groups that generated ISC a lot of money and so events like the British Round of the World Rally Championship became “Rally Wales”, so the days of long events and epic competition of crews and teams encountering all sorts of different stage conditions and styles of stages...were gone!
In short, there was a belief that the WRC can become something that it is not and that is a ‘live’ action made for TV style of sport, just like F1. It isn’t and never will be and from 2002 onwards it became clear that with more and more manufacturers quitting the WRC, the format was clearly not working.
It was at this time that we lost yet another young star from the world of Rallying and a genuinely super fella and that was Richard Burns. Soon after I was once again at the stop line of Margham Park to interview the drivers on the finish line along with Jon Desborough with the TV crew, in 2005. We noticed a very unusual long pause between cars and this normally meant someone had been off...but then no further cars came through at all. I took my headset off and Jon did the same and asked what he had heard and with the satellite tracking it was known it was Marko Martin who had gone off in the Peugeot 307 and it was bad.
It wasn’t until Harri Rovenpera came through the stage some ¾ of an hour later after the stage had been cancelled that we realised how bad it actually was. To this day I will never forget the look in his eyes as they described being first on the scene to the crash and not being able to help Michael ‘Beef’ Park, who passed away from his injuries in the accident.
The community that was the WRC took one of it’s all too familiar shots of reality that day as it had done in the past and everyone was simply in a state of shock. Both he and Richard were two truly superb guys and very genuine fellas that never deserved to leave us so soon, but the sport is dangerous, everyone knows the risks and as many would say, when your number is called, it’s time to go. However, none of us at the time would have expected to have lost Colin McRae as well just a couple of years later to that fateful Helicopter accident. The world of Rallying lost something when we lost these three gentlemen, but Legend then simply grows with time and as Colin said “We’re here for a good time, not a long time”.
The middle of the ‘Noughties’ as they have been known has been dominated by the Loeb, Gronholm, Solberg with the occasional supporting cameo’s from Sainz and McRae, but this was soon to become bit part appearances for the former world champions as Seb Loeb and Citroen stamped their authority on this sport with really only significant challenge coming from Ford and Subaru. There have been fleeting glimpses of other manufacturers like Suzuki and Skoda, but in reality....the days of the WRC car were clearly numbered. However, first Toyota left, followed by Seat, Hyundai, Skoda, Peugeot, Suzuki, the phrase – ‘Rats leaving a sinking ship come to mind...’
It was also proven that under the leadership of Simon Long at ISC, the championship declined from what was an incredible series, supported in its millions around the world, to something that is a former shadow of itself today, obsessed with flashy gimmicks, flashy motorhomes, ridiculously expensive ticket pricing to go stand in a Forest and the rally fans have felt ignored and abused and at the hands of just a few people.
I have to disagree with David Evans, this year was not a stunning year for the World Rally Championship, it was a close battle between TWO drivers, which yes went to the wire....but nobody cares anymore. It is truly devastating that a man can win 6 world championships ...SIX!!!!!! and yet no one really cares....for that I feel sorry for Sebastien Loeb, as the guy truly is one of the most gifted drivers of recent times.
Even back in 2005, I remember saying in a conversation with my radio colleagues that Super 2000 was the way to go for the future and to say I was ‘poo pooed’ is an understatement. The championship has completely lost sight of what it is all about, what made it and can make it great again. It tried to become a sport made for ‘Live’ TV, but what they failed to realise is.... Rallying has a dedicated and core fanbase, your average household sports fan does not want to watch just one car go racing past then we wait for another minute before another goes past...on TV that is dull!!
So that meant that ISC developed these wonderful (and they were wonderful) tracking graphics that showed the cars at different sections of the course in 3D animation, but all of this was only possible because of the sponsorship of Inmarsat and it was as clear as the nose on your face, that the astronomical costs of ‘live’ picture feeds via satellite, cannot be recovered in ‘sponsorship exposure’ sales and sure enough....Inmarsat pulled their sponsorship. Due to the sheer logistics involved in getting camera equipment, crews and images into stages and positions that were maybe 25 miles in length...proved that ‘Live’ TV simply does not have a place in the mainstream household living room for large parts of the event. Super specials yes....even spectator special stages like the Stately home stages of the old RAC Rallies yes....but not much more.
The championship has gone down the Bernie path, of giving championship slots to events that pay the most money, thus depriving everyone of some of the greatest rallies ever known, all because we are told...”its fine...we know best...we want uniform events, paddock style service areas, etc etc etc” in short, ISC has not only pushed the fans further back from the stages in the forests, they have pushed them further back from the competitors in the service parks and most importantly they have priced many families out of the event with lunacy pricing for a weekend ticket costing north of £90!! To go stand in a field in the freezing cold!!!!!!!!!!?????? And pay to buy some crappy overly expensive burger due to the catering contract for a given stage being given to the highest bidder....
There has become a focus on money generation and a sanitisation of the sport to make it more of what the owners want to see and as a result, what they have forgotten is the fact that Rally GB now barely struggles to achieve 300,000 fans attending the event ‘live’, as opposed to the previous days of 3.2million fans.
They have completely forgotten the principle of “Win on Sunday...sell on Monday”. This principle made the entire Subaru motor manufacturing brand popular in the last 20 years.....sales of the Impreza sky rocketed the world over due to its involvement in the WRC and the certain activities of a young Scot by the name of McRae. Manufacturers themselves have not learned from what Mitsubishi and Subaru and even Lancia knew from days of old.... people want to buy the car they see their drivers/team driving on the WRC. THAT is the beauty and difference the WRC brings over Formula 1, Indy, Nascar, etc... You can or rather YOU SHOULD, be able to go buy a 4x4 2.0 Litre Turbo Charged Skoda, or Citroen, or Ford Focus, not an enhanced supermarket runner with fancy bodykits on and a diesel engine!
The championship rights have since been sold to North One Television and now we have a TV executive telling readers of Autosport and the Motorsport development world in Monaco that the World Championship does not need any more than 4 manufacturers, well I am sorry Mr Neil Duncanson, you do not have a clue what you are talking about....and please, do the world of motorsport and in particular Rallying a favour and walk away from the sport you clearly know absolutely nothing about.
The WRC has in fact now been hijacked and overtaken by people who actually do not understand the sport and have not listened to the fans as to what they want to see. But there is one group that did...and there is one group that now has more fans migrating in their thousands to go watch.....
The organisers of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) saw an opportunity developing in other countries like South Africa with the Super 2000 regulations and the fact that companies like Toyota and Volkswagen seemed to like what they saw in terms of brand exposure versus cost/value.
In the last two years, the IRC started picking up all the events that the WRC was telling to ‘go away for a year’ so that they could grab some extra cash from countries throwing money to host an event, rather than where tradition has long held the sport. To this extent, the ‘Bernie’ effect is alive and well in the WRC in that an events place on the calendar is more to do with money for ISC, than the growth and development of the championship once again. For example...how much rally talent and fan base growth with the WRC get from Abu Dhabi? The one thing I will say for the Gulf State, is that is has supported one works team (Ford) and parts of the championship in sponsorship that might otherwise have left the series in tatters and for that...they have probably earned a spot on the calendar.
However if you now compare the IRC versus the WRC, we are faced with some stark reality facts and as the age old saying goes, “it does not matter how much lipstick, fancy clothes and perfume you put on a pig....it is still remains...a pig” and the WRC has become a particularly fat, slow and ugly pig to say the least.
The WRC now has the mighty impressive total of TWO motor manufacturers generating a whopping FOUR factory works drives. This has resulted in the teams themselves embarrassingly having to support ‘junior’ teams, to simply boost the numbers of cars in the top 10 of WRC status. That is a failure of EPIC proportion; how David Evans can call that a success is quite beyond me.
But is it any wonder? My former colleagues are going to get it slightly in the ear here too as they have a hand and a responsibility to part of the decline. We no longer hear or more importantly SEE, anything significant of competitors outside of the top 10. Having competed myself, I know the challenge of generating sponsorship money for rallying. If you think getting cash to go club racing is hard....you have no idea how much more difficult it is to get cash to go rallying, simply due to the fact that unlike race tracks with nice plush corporate boxes and constant action in one fixed place and lots of media coverage, Rallying gets very little. When I was doing some of the interviews for Radio, I desperately tried to get some coverage for the production guys and club drivers on the WRC rounds, taking a moment to mention their sponsors. To me it was a mere couple of seconds of effort, to them; it could be a token gesture that might just possibly help them retain their sponsor for the following year.
Then let’s look at the cars. Apart from wealthy business men and Irish construction millionaires or Middle Eastern oil Sheiks, who on earth can afford to purchase and run a quarter of a million pounds worth of rally car, especially in the current economic climate. Even Group N cars in the last 10 years have basically gone from £40,000 new to over £80,000 new now, for a Subaru or a Mitsubishi Lancer, this is madness. It is compounded now by local national governing bodies being forced to restrict the types of car that people run and the opportunities to make home built safe rally cars that can compete sensibly with some of these Group N and WRC cars are effectively gone now.
World Rallying under the current leadership has built itself into an Ivory Tower, with the worst case of “the Emperor’s new clothes” syndrome that I have ever encountered. There is a fundamental floor to the entire thought processes and vision for Rallying and it is only the actions of the IRC and the manufacturers supporting it, that is forcing the hand of the current leaders of the WRC, while all the while making it sound like THEY are coming up with these wonderful new ideas for World Rallying, the arrogance is breathtaking. So where do we go for the future???
The IRC now has 10, repeat TEN!!! Car manufacturers with Super 2000 spec cars, built and competing. They are: Volkswagen, Skoda, Peugeot, Ford, Toyota, Honda, MG, Abarth (Fiat), Opel, Proton and now with Subaru announcing their registration for the IRC and possible future inclusion for Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Alpha Romeo, Mini and Chevrolet... it is clear to anyone with a single ounce of common sense, that this particular category is being welcomed by the manufacturers and yet already, those at the WRC think they know best and want to make the WRC a 1600cc Turbo Charged engine, based series of which we currently have ZERO manufacturers running said rally cars. MAYBE...just maybe...the return of Prodrive with a Mini based programme and a car that is likely to have a 1600cc Turbo engine and link between Dave Richards and ISC has something to do with this????? Who knows?
The one thing I will say about S2000 is something that Colin McRae once said to me when I asked him about the S2000 cars, they are exactly the direction the WRC should be going in terms of reducing costs and standardising parts...but they DO need to raise the power levels. I agree with him fully, the cars sound great right now, but they are not quite there yet. I also implore the powers that be, to tell the politically correct environmentalists why it is actually necessary to have noisy rally cars. As far as Rallying is concerned, making the cars quieter is actually dangerous. People walking in stages can actually now be surprised by cars, as they walk down stages, whereas before in Group B and with anti-lag, you could hear a car coming for miles. The S2000 cars are better than the current WRC cars in terms of sound volume...but this is an area of safety and ‘heritage’ that the rallying community should stand by its principles and tell complainers where to go, which 9 times out of 10 is yet again a small minority group trying to make their voices heard over the majority. Democracy it seems, does not apply to these people and it becomes a fight of ‘their way or the highway’.
So, the IRC is collecting events in the championship discarded by the WRC and competitors are starting to enter the IRC events, not only for the history of these great events, but because they have a fighting chance for victory and even more important...coverage. Why on earth, would anyone who has managed to get a sponsorship package together for an S2000 campaign, go and enter the WRC S2000 Cup series, to run behind all the WRC cars and yet again be made to feel slightly like a second class citizen? The IRC treats all S2000 crews as the primary focus and their TV coverage and quality to the events has been superb and it is getting better with every year.
If they can simply ‘tweak’ the S2000 cars to maybe allow a smaller engine with Turbo charger OR a larger normally aspirated engine size like 2.5litres, THEN we will have reduced cost vehicles over a WRC car and yet plenty of spectacle. £150,000 for a world championship level car is probably about right, however we still have a LONG way to go with club level rallying. Yet again, Neil Duncanson has recently highlighted how truly little he understands about the problems being faced by the sport with his drive to get youngsters in ‘off-road buggies’ earlier and younger to help the grass roots of rallying. THE ACTUAL problem Mr Duncanson is not getting them into buggies, etc as they have actually already been doing that for generations, the problem is the cost of local competition and the cost of cars to compete. One make championships have proven a good entry stepping point (Peugeot 205 Scholarship series for example) and even the BRC now offers a more stable level of competition, but yet it is still WOEFULLY lacking in media coverage and that does not allow youngsters to attract sponsorship from firms that might then choose to go sponsor someone in the Renault Clio Cup, racing for example.
BUT HERE is where Mr Duncanson falls flat on his face with this concept of getting more people into the sport. According to him, the world championship only needs FOUR manufacturers... that is the sum total of EIGHT works drives available. The thing he fails to grasp that in the year 2000 when we had Hyundai, Skoda, Subaru, Ford, Mitsubishi, Peugeot and Seat all competing in the Championship...there were still not enough seats available for the huge number of extremely good drivers in the National Championships, people like Rowe, Head, Higgins, Evans, Laukkanen, Ipatti, Kytolehto, Dale, Wearden and even now WRC TV reporter/interviewer Julian Porter...none of these guys could land a works seat, so HOW on earth does Mr Duncanson hope to offer a path of hope a huge new wave of rallying youngsters, if the very championship he now has his hands in, only see’s the needs for FOUR manufacturers??
The fact is; we need to develop a uniformed feeder path that is the same the world over. R1 (Rally1) for Group N cars up to 1600cc should be the stock of all regional championships. Good long, cheap events with cars easy to build and cheap to maintain, no dog or sequential boxes. The national championships should not have N4/S2000 cars, but a new ‘Regional’ S2000 car an R2000 car for want of a better term, basically allowing anyone to bolt the championship approved 4 wheel drive system to any 1600 cc cars, along with a dog gearbox. Again, the engines must remain stock apart from a few minor mods and exhausts, brakes, etc free to change at will.
This way, you get rid of the wealthy businessmen types who are simply out for the ‘jolly’ in their former WRC car and back to championships where private teams can start to compete together with a car that should cost no more than £50,000 maximum for a National Championship level car. A historic series could then be established for the older former WRC machinery, on the proviso that the vehicle must have been out of the championship for at least 4 years, this way, many still get to go and watch some classic machinery being enjoyed by their wealthy owners, but National media focus is concentrated on the National championship.
Once people have progressed through the National Championship Level, they get to enter the ISC and N4/Super 2000 cars are the next car to use, but this brings Eurosport and other TV coverage and a greater ability to offer exposure for sponsors. Finally, if someone is good enough to have made it this far through these championships, then they have the final goal of the WRC and works status. However, the WRC is the championship that should retain its classic events and all new countries looking to offer world championship events should get the IRC as a first option, then if after a few years the event has proved itself to be well supported, then it might earn a spot on the world championship calendar.
Finally the events and coverage itself... Rallying always was and should remain an endurance event to a degree. It is the ultimate display of teamwork and trust between two people in the car and the mechanics outside the car. With the reduction in vehicle costs and standardised parts, it opens the door to return to the events that made Rallying so great to follow. Events that covered 5 days sometimes and not restricted to a specific area. Everyone is quite frankly sick to death of the Rally of Wales formerly known as Britain’s round of the World Rally Championship. The event has become DULL, over priced and frankly the overzealous actions of local Police and their attempts to generate revenue through impromptu speed traps, has had many thinking that they have absolutely zero desire to go and give even more money to the region and that is a great shame. Rally fans want to return to the days where taking some time off work to follow the rally was an adventure, a time where friends could camp in Forests, get the camping stove out, have a few beers and let off a few fireworks and generally have a good fun few days, without the feeling that some thief has just emptied your wallet for such a privilege. If events like Rally GB brought back Car Park passes for £5 a car, I guarantee you, a rise in the number of spectator numbers. Also, the overzealous marshalling of people into animal like pens to watch a specific area has got to stop. The Nanny state has taken over this sport as it has in every facet of our lives now and it is time to start pushing back! I will not condone anyone standing in the road waiting for a car to approach or on the exit line or outside of any corner, but anything else should be reasonably flexible. Much of that rests with the FIA, whose safety team in the Helicopters have frankly taken the enforcement of safety to stupid levels and having done a safety officer role on Rally GB, I know how pedantic certain people from both the FIA and Rally GB’s senior organisational team have become in such matters.
Coverage of rallying can and SHOULD be about catering to its core audience. If it returns to some of its principles and roots, IT WILL start to attract the numbers back again. So Mr TV ‘Luvvy’ that does not mean putting on some comedy idiot that does not know the first thing about rallying who then proceeds to show absolutely zero interest in the sport, but by all means include some fun pieces like placing a celeb or other sports star in the Co-drivers seat during a test stage, that gives people response and feedback from people they ordinarily like to watch, completely out of their comfort zone and experiencing something which is truly unique and that is being thrown through a rally stage by a committed driver that knows what he/she is doing.
Rallying is NOT a ‘LIVE’ TV event, other than I have previously mentioned, Super Specials or special spectator focused days of an event. Let’s face it, not many people are pushing that hard on a Sunday, so why not throw in a few more spectator focused stages at stately homes, specific venues etc. Who can forget the timeless image of Luis Moya throwing his helmet through the rear window of the Toyota Corolla which had broken down a mere 700 metres from the finish in 1998 on the Rally GB at Margham Park. There is no reason why each evening of an event, a national TV channel cannot host a half an hour show showing the day’s highlights, followed maybe later at night with another programme giving studio and service park style interviews, just as they used to. Then come Sunday, hold a full hour and half programme recapping the whole event and taking in some ‘Live’ feeds.
It is simply to do and the true reason why we do not have this currently is the simple cost that the rights holders are trying to charge TV stations to run the coverage. As a result, the greed shown in the last 10 years to bleed the sport of cash has turned the TV stations away and with little or no coverage, the sponsors walk away and without sponsors, the drivers cannot fund their drives and what is left are a bunch of wealthy businessmen playing in Rally cars, who no one really wants to watch as none of the said drivers are actually much fun to watch due to their talent/commitment level and thus the sport DIES!!!!!!!!!!
It has been bleeding to death for nearly 10 years under the guidance of Simon Long at ISC and just as Max Mosley had to step down, it is long past time that Mr Long hands over the WRC to someone who actually knows what the championship SHOULD be all about and bring in advisors involved from the ‘hey day’ of the sport to help rebuild it, to what it once was.
The IRC has forced the hand of the current championship organisers and THIS is a great thing as it is finally being proven that actually, those running the world championship don’t actually know what they are doing and it has been long past time that someone highlights what a truly incompetent job they have done and as a result, they should have all rights to the championship removed from them, unless they make significant changes.
It is time that Rallying is given back to the people who helped make it what it was in its prime and away from the people who have single headedly destroyed it. It is time to lay a clear blueprint for the future, a clean set of fixed rules for the next 5 years and a return to the challenge of longer events, through all conditions, including night!
Yes this year will receive a shot in the arm to the WRC by the inclusion of Kimi Raikonnen and even Ken Block, to help increase following from the US. Unfortunately there is a remarkable similarity between the WRC and current politics, namely that much was promised, then proven to be woefully inadequate and fundamentally flawed over 10 years only to have the said same individuals then have the bare face cheek to stand there and say....’Don’t worry, we are the only ones who know how to make things better’ when in fact the world would probably be a better place if they had never been allowed to meddle with things in the first place....
The IRC has now overtaken the WRC in truly understanding what it is that fans want to see and what competitors want to compete in as a championship and that is a well supported series, where over 10 drivers have the opportunity to fight for wins on a regular basis and where coverage is geared for and designed with the target audience in mind, not Mrs Miggins who watches Eastenders or the spotty ‘Yoof’ that thinks Gavin and Stacey is a gripping drama.... In short....let’s get rid of those who have clearly lost the plot running the sport currently and bring in some respected experienced individuals who combine proven experience in rallying and business skills in partnership negotiation to bring the coverage back...bring the prices down....bring back some traditional values and make Rallying once again, one of the world’s leading motorsport disciplines.
Edited by FlatOverCrest, 31 December 2009 - 16:28.