Wales Rally GB bosses are championing the return of old-style endurance events
It is no secret that FIA president Jean Todt wants to reintroduce long-distance events to the World Rally Championship.
Whether you think it a good idea or not, the plan has been met with strong opposition from the teams. The proposed 350-mile, four-day 2012 Rally Argentina will be more expensive for the competitors, and to combat time restraints, the practice runs for each stage may be dropped from two to one. Its something that seven-time World Champion Sébastien Loeb isn’t happy about.
However longer rallies would certainly appeal to traditionalists and those that believe the sport should be a test of endurance.
Within a few days of writing a web feature on the topic I spoke to Andrew Coe (right), chief executive of Wales Rally GB organiser International Motor Sports. This year’s British round of the WRC will run over four days rather than three, on November 10-13, and Coe explained why.
“After 10 years of the formulaic approach, the sport can and should take itself back to the people rather than expecting everyone to travel,” he says. “The Tour de France is successful because you don’t have to travel massive distances to go and see it. You can easily get two million spectators because it goes past everyone’s front door. That’s the model that we need to adopt.
“Up until recently there have been regulations in place that have made rally organisers adopt a central service park and then a clover leaf route. Were limited in terms of the fact that we are hosted by Wales, but were starting on the north coast and making our way to the south coast. I think its excited people and caught their imagination. There will be four days of rallying as opposed to three and were taking in a lot of iconic forest stages that we haven’t been able to use because of the central service area format. Names like Clocaenog, Great Orme and Garheiniog are all back. Its hopefully going to breathe new life into Rally GB.”
In order to combat the extra cost involved in running longer rallies, WRC Commission president Jarmo Mahonen has made it clear that there would only be a few longer events and that some of the European rounds would be dropped. Can Wales Rally GB justify the longer route to the teams already?
“You have to accept that without the oxygen of publicity any sport will suffer” says Coe. “As organisers it’s our responsibility to try and engineer our event so that it will pull people in. There are a lot of other sports out there and we have to make rallying relevant not only to the hardened rally fan, but to the fans of the future and to families. It’s a spectacular sport if you see it in the raw and its perhaps more entertaining than many other versions of motor sport.
“You have to listen to the drivers and the teams, though, because they have a perspective and 90 per cent of the time it is correct. After all, this sport is their livelihood; they live and breathe this thing. But so do we as organisers.”
The support for rallying is still there as long as you can put on a show that fans will understand. Last year Wales Rally GB organised a promotional event called Rallyfest and with only six weeks notice organisers managed to pull 14,000 people in to watch “Mathew Wilson messing around in a car park in Llandudno”. If you can get fans close to the action then the interest is clearly there. As Coe says – it’s a dramatic sport in the flesh.
But in the current economic climate what is the right solution? A WRC engine costs in the region of £120,000 which may seem a ridiculous figure, and indeed go some way to explaining the lack of competitive privateer teams. Yes, costs must be kept in check, but we should also be looking at ways to raise the profile of rallying. Expensive engines won’t do that but longer rallies surely would.