WRC 2013 – let’s get cracking, shall we?

monte_lights

It’s the Monte Carlo Rally, good people. That’s the Monte Carlo Rally! Cue the lights, cue the music, cue Kermit the Frog running past going ‘yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayy’.

Unlike Kermit, however, the Monte’s not on TV… unless you happen to have access to the Red Bull-owned Servus TV station in what used to be called ‘Greater Germany’, you watch Sky TV in New Zealand or you have S4C in Wales. Everyone else should form an orderly queue to hear Jon Desborough’s pearls of wisdom here:

This is the official Red Bull rally channel!

So huddle over your laptops for the time being and let’s share our enjoyment of the Monte by whatever means possible.

Regulars here will know who’s who, what’s what and where’s where – so I’m not previewing it. Oh, all right then… there are Qatar-sponsored Fords that are painted to look like the UAE flag, UAE-sponsored Citroëns painted to look like Christmas decorations and Red Bull-sponsored VWs that have cost €100 million to get this far, so they look uncommonly sensible. There’s also supporting action from privately-entered WRC cars, the new support class structure to enjoy and it looks like there will be plenty of snow.

Despite the return of Dani Sordo to a competitive team (Citroën) and the arrival of Volkswagen, if I were a betting man I’d be putting money on Loeb.

All will be revealed in the next few days, though. Hurrah!

If you’re not a regular on the blog yet then feel free to dig around and piece together a season preview of your own. You will find babies that look like Mikko Hirvonen, filthy old Toyota Corollas and Daniel Elena’s true vocation as the Go Compare man. And some other stuff, of course. Not all of it very sensible.

You won’t find anything about today’s announcements by Hyundai about its plans for 2014, however. Why? Because it’s very poor form to try and hijack the start of a real, live championship with yet more pictures of a concept car and not one actual piece of news. Nice try, Hyundai – now run along and come back when you’ve done something interesting.

Advertisements

A strong case for moving to Wales

aboutWalesHead

British WRC fans might want to start looking at property in Wales if they want to keep up with the action on TV next weekend. While precious few other channels across Europe feature the Monte Carlo Rally in their listings, the Welsh-language station S4C will continue broadcasting WRC with Welsh commentary and English subtitles on its programme Ralio.

Monte to run in TV blackout?

blackout

The WRC world is a rum place at present. It is now just days before the 2013 season kicks off with one of the biggest events on the global motor sport calendar… and yet at present there is only one major TV channel – the Red Bull-owned Servus TV in Germany and Austria – which is carrying the Monte Carlo Rally on its schedule.

All rather rum.

As we reported last month, there have been considerable delays in finalising the agreement between the FIA and its preferred commercial rights holder for the WRC. Even now there is no great clarity on whether there is in fact a legally binding document between the two parties that will enable the promotion that was announced in September to go ahead.

This is troubling.

There was every reason for optimism at the end of last summer. In the world of commercial rights, Red Bull Media House has a track record that is second to none and duly followed its WRC announcement with the phenomenal success of Felix Baumgartner’s leap from ‘space’. After a decade on the slide under ISC, this should have been the time in which great plans were backed up by great investment in order to make something of a splash when the Red Bull-managed WRC kicked off at its showcase event.

Last year there was no season-long promoter for the WRC after the collapse of ISC brought about a force majeur. Existing TV deals and bartering by the individual event organisers cobbled the coverage together in anticipation of a new world order in 2013.

The involvement of Red Bull for 2013 has delivered the potential for the WRC to reach truly massive audiences, even if the ensuing silence has angered those fans who feel – quite rightly – that their sport has been left on the sidelines in terms of effective promotion for far too long. It has also proven to be grist to the mill for those sections of the media that have an enduring fondness for the previous promoter, ISC, and taken the role of a particularly disapproving Greek chorus throughout the past few months.

There have been rumblings about image rights being the cause of the delays. Depending on who you speak to, this can mean either that ISC has somehow retained some rights that it is seeking a high price for or that Red Bull is demanding complete control of all rights over anyone involved in the WRC before committing its cash.

Nevertheless, with the showcase event for the 2013 season now less than a week away, it looks like the best chance many people have got of catching the action will be online. Red Bull’s own website has started carrying material, and in the absence of free-to-view or even subscription-based services, it’s probably going to be best to keep an eye on what’s happening here for now.

Happy New Year, WRC fans

Plenty to happen in the next fortnight - then Monte is 'go!'

Plenty to happen in the next fortnight – then Monte is ‘go!’

We’ve got a fortnight until the WRC bursts back to life. In that time, big things will happen:

  • Red Bull, Sportsman and the FIA must get on the same page regarding the WRC’s promotion and TV coverage.
  • Nasser Al-Attiyah will be in the thick of the action on the Dakar.
  • The all-new FIA European Rally championship will kick off in the snow of Austria.

In the meantime the entry list for Monte Carlo is rather promising, with Citroën fielding Sébastien Loeb, Mikko Hirvonen and Dani Sordo with support for Bryan Bouffier in a fourth DS3 WRC. Volkswagen has its new Polos ready for Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala. M-Sport has two teams and four Fiestas for Mads Østberg, Evgeny Novikov (running DMACK tyres), Juho Hänninen and Thierry Neuville.

The remaining WRC entries are for Martin Prokop’s Czech Fiesta, another Fiesta for Julien Maurin and a lone MINI WRC entered by Lotos for Poland’s former JWRC contender Michal Kościuszko.

In the first ever WRC2 class, there’s a works Škoda Fabia for Esapekka Lappi with a sister car entered by Škoda Deutschland for Sepp Wiegand. Leading the competition against the Czech cars will be Italy’s Luca Betti in his Peugeot 207 S2000. Four more S2000s (three Peugeots and another Fabia) will also take the start, as will a phalanx of Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X and Subaru Impreza WRXs, including a new-build R4 car for Ireland’s Eamonn Boland.

In the WRC3 classes a total of eight Citroën DS3 R3Ts will meet the challenge of a single Peugeot 208 R3T, six Renault Clio R3s will take on a lone Honda Civic R3, R2 is populated with Citroën C2s, Peugeot 208s and Ford Fiestas, there are five Suzuki Swifts, a pair of Citroën DS3 R1s, a Renault Twingo R1 and a smattering of Monte Carlo ‘randoms’ – including Czech driver Martin Rada in an Alfa Romeo 147!

Plenty to look forward to there…

Entente not yet Cordiale

FIA president has drawn fire from WRC community

FIA president has drawn fire from WRC community

There is considerable rejoicing among the anti-Red Bull factions of the press today, with someone at the FIA letting slip that there is not, as yet, a signed document confirming the drinks company as promoter of the WRC.

It is clearly a busy time for Red Bull, having just clinched its third successive Formula One success and apparently preparing to host a revived Austrian Grand Prix in 2013 at the revamped and Red Bull-owned A1-Ring (formerly the grand old Österreichring).

As we reported last week, Red Bull mogul Dietrich Mateschitz last week stated that the promotion of the WRC was primarily about creating good programmes for the variety of online channels within his Red Bull Media House empire, and secondly about selling the WRC to global TV networks. It is also understood that there is some friction regarding image rights in the plans for the rebooted WRC in 2013.

With a month to go before the showcase event of the year in Monte Carlo, none of this is productive.

First broadcaster then promoter, says Mateschitz

Mateschitz sounds off

Mateschitz sounds off

In a rare public pronouncement, Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz has hinted at the way he sees the .

The FIA’s own magazine ‘Auto’ quotes the Austrian tycoon as saying: “Our decision to enter the World Rally Championship [as promoter], is based primarily on the interests of Red Bull Media House. [We will broadcast on] our own media, Servus TV or Red Bull TV, and secondly promote the rights globally.”

Mateschitz went on to say that he doesn’t care if the entries are supported by manufacturers or not – the quality of the show was his main concern. Quite right too.

Calendars and conspiracies in Istanbul

They're waiting for any mention of the WRC...

They’re waiting for any mention of the WRC…

The FIA World Council met in Istanbul yesterday to wrap up any business that needs attention before the festive season… among which the WRC did not long detain the members from their plum duff.

‘Twas the month before Monte and all through the house/Not a delegate spoke of rally/Nor of Red Bull Media House…

The date of the Rallye Deutschland was confirmed and the calendar provisionally finalised but beyond that… all was quiet. So, in the absence of any other news, here’s the calendar to be going on with:

2013 FIA World Rally Championship calendar:

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: 25 August 2013

Rally Australia: 15 September 2013

Rallye de France: 6 October 2013

Rally de Espana: 27 October 2013

Rally of Great Britain: 17 November 2013

The question on many lips is over what, if anything, is delaying the announcement of Red Bull Media House’s plans to promote the series in 2013. There are dark mutterings about arguments over image rights, with a potential knock-on impact for traditional media coverage.

It’s all grist to the mill of those who feel somewhat short-changed by the WRC in recent years, and the FIA and Red Bull really needs t0 act swiftly and decisively in the days ahead to head off the conspiracy theorists if the Monte Carlo Rally is to deliver what the fans hope it will: a bright start to a new season.