And so, after years of hiatus, indecision and apparent abandonment, the premier rallies in the world can prepare for what appears to be the first concerted effort to restore a sport that has often been a genuine rival to Formula 1 in its appeal to fans, sponsors and motor manufacturers.
That does not mean to say that the World Rally Championship is indeed bidding to usurp Formula 1, nor that the FIA under its president – the former WRC co-driver and Peugeot Sport team boss, Jean Todt – is attempting to undermine Grand Prix racing. What it does mean, however, is that the FIA is giving the battered and beleaguered WRC oxygen and first aid in the hope that it can be revived. The headlines from the World Council decisions announced in September 2012 are:
- Confirmation that Red Bull Media House and The Sportsman Media Group will act in concert as promoters for the WRC from 2013
- Confirmation of three clear levels of competition under the world championship banner: WRC, WRC2 and WRC3
- Confirmation of a 2013 calendar incorporating many classic WRC events with only two F1 date clashes
- Confirmation of renewed manufacturer interest in the series, with Citroen, Ford and VW to be joined by Hyundai
In a statement, the FIA said: “The promoter will be responsible for investing and developing the WRC with a view to increasing its profile, reputation and commercial value. In particular, the promoter, working in close collaboration with the FIA, will be focused on introducing live television and an innovative digital media strategy in the next years.”
2013 marks the 40th anniversary of World Championship rallying, which saw the great events that had captured the public imagination through the 1950s and 1960s amalgamate to form a season-long contest for manufacturers. Next year, the 41st WRC season will take in a 13-event schedule that will once again take competitors on a globe-trotting journey from ice and snow to broiling asphalt and cold, foggy gravel:
Rallye Monte-Carlo: 20 January 2013
Rally Sweden: 10 February 2013
Rally Mexico: 10 March 2013
Rallye de Portugal: 14 April 2013
Rally Argentina: 5 May 2013
Acropolis Rally (Greece): 2 June 2013
Rally d’Italia: 23 June 2013
Rally Finland: 4 August 2013
Rallye Deutschland: Date TBC
Rally Australia: 15 September 2013
Rallye de France: 6 October 2013
Rally de Espana: 27 October 2013
Rally of Great Britain: 17 November 2013
Red Bull… as in the fizzy drink?
Red Bull Media House is part of the global empire being built upon the success of the premium-priced energy drink. Ever since Red Bull first appeared, it has developed long and clearly profitable associations with speed, adventure and ‘extreme’ sports. After a quarter of a century, Red Bull is so well known for its sponsorships around the world that it believes it can sell the sport as well as the soft drink – and has made a series of popular and profitable movies and sports events already through the Red Bull Media House.
In order to achieve this, Red Bull has joined forces with The Sportsman Media Group: a sports rights and marketing agency whose core business is the acquisition and distribution of tv, internet and mobile rights as well as global sports sponsorships. This is a gang well used to the cut-and-thrust of sports promotion, having gained its reputation for success in German soccer’s Bundesliga and grown into Spain’s soccer premiership La Liga.
This combination has an enormous amount of potential.
Cost-cutting for WRC Teams
As part of a cost-reduction process and to encourage manufacturer support in what remains a hostile financial climate, the FIA has confirmed that teams will only have to contest one round outside of Europe, although they must still take part in a minimum of seven events out of the 13-date calendar.
There is a risk that certain events may struggle to generate sufficient high quality entries, and that to the casual observer a 10-month season in which a team need only take part in 54% of the action might be hard to follow. Yet with a full deck of ‘classic’ events, two of the three ‘flyaways’ being cost-effectively grouped in South America and the third being Australia – or ‘sports heaven’ as it’s known – then few teams will elect to drop too many dates from their diaries.
For years people have rightly complained that the class structure of rallying has been utterly incomprehensible. Group A, Group N, Group R and the sub-divisions by engine capacity have done well to draw in huge fields that pay the event organisers well, but leave the public nonplussed as to who has won what.
Consider all that a thing of the past.
As of now we retain the WRC at the top of the heap for 1.6-litre turbocharged 4WD cars, either entered by or supported by the motor manufacturers and/or big sponsors. Then we have WRC2 for more basic 1.6-litre turbo or 2.0-litre cars with 4WD, which is likely to draw independent teams out of the main WRC and into an affordable and competitive support series running on the same events at the same time as the big boys. WRC2 will also include the ‘production’ 4WD models by the likes of Subaru and Mitsubishi.
In effect WRC2 merges the old Production WRC and Intercontinental Rally Challenge into a cohesive unit. Not only will this give all teams and drivers on the cusp of the WRC a measuring stick and the benefits of the attendant WRC promotion, but also ensure that a higher number of quality entries start each round of the WRC. To show just how bad things have got, the 2012 Rally GB saw only 31 cars start the event – more than 100 fewer than would be seen 10-15 years ago. More entries = more action = greater spectacle.
Finally there will be WRC3 as a third tier for 2WD cars, which will not garner great media coverage but will act as a ‘finishing school’ for talented young drivers graduating from national and regional competition into the line-of-sight of the sport’s big guns. It will also doubtless make for some entertaining action as well, for those who are lining the route and watching at Rally HQ!
These are exciting times indeed