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

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.

Fantastic start to FIA ERC

Kopecky in Janner action

Kopecky in Janner action

This weekend saw top-flight rallying get back under way in 2013 with the opening round of the new Eurosport-officiated FIA European Rally Championship. The snow/ice/slush/asphalt of Austria played host to the Jänner Rallye and drew a reasonable entry headed by the works Škoda Fabia S2000 of Czech asphalt ace Jan Kopeçky – who triumphed by just half a second.

A trouble-free run on the opening day, which saw the surface conditions changing from one stage to the next, saw Kopeçky at the front of the field by more than 20 seconds after opting to run on studded wet weather tyres, ahead of the Peugeot 207 S2000 of Bryan Bouffier and the Red Bull-backed Škoda of Raimund Baumschlager, who struggled initially on full snow tyres.

A puncture on the second afternoon, however, saw Kopeçky fall back and he entered the last stage 10.6 seconds behind Bouffier. In a drive that is sure to become a Youtube classic, the Czech star threw caution to the wind and beat Bouffier through by 11.1 seconds, making the margin for victory one of the closest on record.

Baumschlager claimed third, Czech regular Vaclav Pech was fourth in his MINI S2000 and Beppo Harrach finished fifth and first Production Cup runner in his Mitsubishi. The event also saw a return to action for two of the most enduring names in the sport, with François Delecour finishing seventh in his Peugeot 207 S2000 and Stig Blomqvist with a spring in his step aged 66, finishing 12th overall and fourth in Production Cup at the wheel of a Mitsubishi.

Monte MINI breaks cover

Kościuszko has Red Bull rather than red-and-white on his MINI

Kościuszko has Red Bull rather than red-and-white on his MINI

The first pic of Michal Kościuszko’s MINI WRC has broken cover and it looks very smart indeed. It’s also got a nifty line in Red Bull branding on the side.

The Polish driver’s car, prepared by Lotos, will be the only MINI Countryman taking the start of this year’s event.

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.

Red Bull on the Polos

The 2013 Volkswagen livery

The 2013 Volkswagen livery

It’s been a busy day on the gilded streets of Monaco for Volkswagen, revealing its WRC-themed Polo road car at the start of the day, taking a little breather and then revealing its Polo R WRC car and driving squad for the German giant’s inaugural championship campaign in 2013.

The livery is VW’s ‘R’ scheme that has been seen on Golfs competing in the Nürburgring in recent years, twinned with sponsorship from  Castrol Edge and, rather more prominently, Red Bull.

The driving squad was also present and correct, with Andreas Mikkelsen standing shoulder to shoulder with Sébastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala. The Norwegian will join his two front-line colleagues from Portugal onwards.

Jost Captio, the man handed the job of managing the €100 million Volkswagen campaign, said: “Everybody in the team is extremely excited and now it really kicks off after two years of development. We now want to see where we stand compared to the others but the drivers can’t wait to get into the car at the first rally.”

Red Bull on the Polos?

Red Bull = blue Polo

Red Bull = blue Polo

An image doing the rounds today, on the eve of tomorrow’s big reveal of the Volkswagen WRC squad, has the Polo drenched in vibrant blue paint and Red Bull logos.

It looks relatively pukka, rather than a fanboy photoshop job, but one has to wonder what M-Sport and Citroën will make of the situation if a new rival appears that is part-funded by the people promoting the series. They’ll have questions to answer from their sponsors and quite a few of their own if the 2013 season coverage goes:

‘The Red Bull VWs competed in the WRC this weekend, and some other cars turned up too’.

Red Bull has made an enormous success of its high octane sports sponsorships in the past 20 years, and of its huge number of event and series sponsorships too. As was shown by Felix Baumgartner and the Stratos parachute jump, there is global audience of billions prepared to watch Red Bull logos for hours on end so long as something spectacular happens.