The division bell

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As the 1995 season dawns, we reflect on the changing face of the sport at international level

Back in the ’60s, there was no world group of major rallies formed into a championship. The leading series of the time was the European Championship which was inaugurated in 1953. The series grew, and in 1966 it was divided into the three vehicle groups (I, II and III) which were applicable at the time.

There was still no world series, of course, although there were times when the European Championship included events which took place outside Europe in 1963 the East African Safari Rally was one of its 14 qualifiers, for instance. Later, the series was trimmed, and in 1968 it contained only seven qualifiers.

Meanwhile, the RAC created its own RAC World Rally Cup, long before the CSI of the FIA, as it was then called, saw fit to create a world series. Among the qualifying events for this RAC World Rally Cup were several of Europe’s leading rallies, plus the Safari and Canada’s Shell 4000.

In 1970 the CSI went part of the way towards creating a world series for rallies, but even then, almost as though it did not consider the sport sufficiently respectable to merit the prefix ‘World’ (or was it because they did not really understand it?), it was called the International Rally Championship – for makes only, not for drivers. An amazing feature of the creation of the series was the fact that the FIA did not consult organisers of the events they chose before including them. I well recall going to Kenya that year and asking the late Derek Gates, then executive manager of the Safari, what he thought of his event’s new status. He was dumbfounded. He knew nothing of it. The FIA had not even had the grace to consult him in advance.

Three years later, the title of the series was changed to World Rally Championship, but even then it was still a series for makes, not drivers. That came later, again after much pressure upon the FIA. When the World Championship was officially created there was a great clamour among organisers to have their events included in the series, but there were not enough places for all of them, so the European Championship became a kind of second division, a place where failed applicants for the world series could console themselves.

Then, even the European series became top-heavy. There were so many listed qualifiers (25 in 1974) that something had to be done to make it more manageable. It was then that the coefficient system was established. Points scored were multiplied by whichever co-efficient group contained the event. There were four coefficient four events, nine coefficient three, seven coefficient two and 10 coefficient one.

The net result was further subdivision of the ‘second division’ and the creation of three other, lesser divisions. European Championship events of low coefficients clamoured to have higher ones, whilst organisers of the top coefficient European events strove to get into the World Championship.

Eventually, the coefficient system was changed from 4-3-2-1 to 20-10-5-2 and the number of qualifying events increased to exceed 50. The series had become more top-heavy than ever, although the only events considered worth tackling by the very few competitors who planned to contest the series as a whole were the coefficient 20 events. The other, lesser events were there just because they had been cast crumbs by the FIA. Even if they were not in the worthwhile upper echelon of the series, they were in it, which went part of the way towards satisfying their organisers’ sponsors, perhaps their governments and no doubt their own egos.

At first it was apparent only in the European Championship, but then it spread like a virus into and throughout the World Championship. There were far more events eager for places in the series than there were places available, which was when FISA, as it had then become, declared that some events would qualify for both Makes’ and Drivers’ Championships, whilst some would qualify only for that for Drivers. The latter group had been placed into a second division, although FISA’s emphasis on the Makes’ series was not shared by many people who felt that drivers were more significant than the cars they drove.

Later, more and more events, from all manner of parts of the world, began to apply for inclusion in the world series. There was certainly no room for all of them, and this was when the FIA took over series which had become established around the globe, the Middle East Championship, the Africa Rally Championship and the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship, for instance. These events could not be fitted into the World Championship, so they were cast crumbs by being slotted into their own series. Thus their organisers were appeased by being included in some kind of a world series and FISA officials were assured of their free trips as stewards or observers to exotic parts of the world.

The division system had, by this time, well and truly arrived, even if not by name. The elite were given top status, whilst events of which less was thought were pacified by being placed in a group further down the ladder’s rungs, although nevertheless on the ladder. What the FIA considered to be the best events (not everyone agreed with them) were placed in both makes’ and drivers’ series, whilst others, a minority, appeared only in that for drivers.

This situation existed for a while, but in 1994 the same 10 events qualified for both series. However, the division system had not been abandoned. Its emphasis was merely shifted from one aspect to another. The relentless advance of four-wheel-drive and other technology, to which FISA opened the doors in the first place, had begun to worry the people of Place de la Concorde, and a secondary championship was set up for what were called ‘Formula Two’ cars, or those with just two-wheeldrive and engines of no more than two litres.

This year two quite separate World Championships have been established, one for the four-wheel-drive cars of registered works teams and one for two-wheel-drive cars driven by anyone. Yes, the registration system has gone from bad to worse. At one time, anyone good enough to get into the first 10 in a World Championship rally scored points for himself (or herself) as a driver and, subject to position, for the make of car driven. This was entirely fair. But now things have taken an abrupt turn for the worse. Advance registration is required of all those teams who wish to score manufacturers points, and if a privateer wins a World Championship event (it has happened) without having registered in advance, no points are scored by the make of car he/she drives.

What is more, those who register (at a cost of $25,000) are required to take part in all eight rounds of the 1995 series. Failure to tackle all eight will entail a fine of no less than $250,000. What a dismal turn for the championship to take! Incidentally, where does that money go?

Years ago, when the Motoring News Rally Championship was the only worthwhile rally series in Great Britain, the newspaper followed a policy of non-interference. No stern conditions were imposed upon organisers and the whole championship derived considerable benefit as a result. In abject contrast to such policy, the FIA now makes all manner of demands on the organisers of World Championship rounds, forcing them to comply with stunting, conformist conditions which destroy individuality, undermine character and dilute the lustiness of competition.

For 1995, various new regulations have come into force, all at the instigation of the FIA. Some are not at all undesirable, such as that which limits service, but others are quite stupid, such as those which dictate different rules for registered professionals and for amateurs. The practice period for registered professionals (but not for amateurs) has been reduced to seven days, whilst there are restrictions on tyre use, refuelling and various other things which have come to be regarded as commonplace. Having different rules for professionals and amateurs is highly contentious. In the first place, they will be difficult to police, and in the second the amateurs do not really want things made easy for them. They want to tackle the same events as the works drivers. Joe Bloggs wants to pit himself against McRae, Sainz, Kankkunen and Auriol, not just others of the Bloggs family.

We will not comment on these matters now. We’ll wait to see how they work (or not) in Monte-Carlo and let you have our comments next month.

Another thing which merits attention is the manner in which the FIA has created a situation in which television coverage of rallying has become highly expensive for broadcast companies and their film makers, resulting in a marked diminution of actual coverage.

Years ago, we warned of the dangers of the FIA’s move to shorten rallies, to cut out night running and to increase rest stops. On paper, the changes were in the (so-called) cause of safety, but in reality they made the sport more attractive to film makers. Suddenly, when film makers of all kinds were hooked, the FIA dropped a bombshell. TV companies would have to pay facility fees to an FIA subsidiary, for all television rights for world championship events had been snapped up by an FIA-created company called International Sportsworld Communicators, based in London. The writing had been on the wall for years, but very few people indeed had the wit to recognise it.

When I began writing about rallies many years ago, it was as a competitor. I went along, took part in the event, then wrote about it afterwards. Simple! Later, when I stopped competing, I did virtually the same thing. I turned up, greeted my friends, then went around quite unhindered.

Nowadays, largely at the instigation of the FIA, a whole new, complex process has been set up for what is called ‘media accreditation’.

Pressmen have to apply, using complicated forms, for ‘accreditation’. But if you are a film maker, the process is even more complex. The FIA has decreed that no organiser of a World Championship rally may issue a press pass to film makers or any of their staff. Such people must apply to International Sportsworld Communicators, which is the only body approved by the FIA for the issue of filming passes.

The process is not cheap. An ordinary press pass for a journalist or magazine photographer is free, provided you satisfy all the FIA rules, but if you make films you must pay many thousands of dollars for the privilege. This has caused disenchantment among broadcasters and film makers the world over, and many small stations which would otherwise have been more than happy to give coverage to World Championship rallying have decided that they can not afford the extortionate ISC fees.

This business has been approaching the boil for some time, and we are now at the point where established and highly respected independent film makers, well known in rallying and having a long history of giving excellent coverage to the sport, are going out of business.

After the Monte-Carlo Rally, we will report further, but in the meantime do not automatically knock TV stations for failure to provide coverage of World Championship rallies. It could well be the direct fault of the FIA and its fee-raking offshoot ISC, which, oddly, has the same registered address as Bernie Ecclestone’s FOCA!

The 1995 World 2wd Rally Championship, which is not featured in our main fixtures guide in the centre of the magazine, will take place as follows: January 21-26, Monte-Carlo Rally; February 10-12, Swedish Rally; March 8-10, Portugal Rally; April 13-15, Safari Rally; May 3-5, Tour of Corsica; May 27-31, Acropolis Rally; July 5-8, Rally of Argentina; July 27-30, New Zealand Rally; August 25-27, 1000 Lakes Rally; October 8-12, Sanremo Rally.

There are 10 events in the series for 2wd, two-litre cars, but only eight in that for the full World Championship. It is almost incomprehensible that the FIA has seen fit to drop such ageless classics as the Safari, the 1000 Lakes and the Acropolis. But there again, the Paris people once, in a fit of pique over a Grand Prix disagreement, dropped the Monte-Carlo Rally from the series…