WRC changes - at what cost?

The course of the World Rally Championship appears to be comprised of a succession of lurches interspersed with uncertainty. The introduction of a rotation principle for 2009 where 24 events are used, but each one run only every other year, has already resulted in the Monte Carlo Rally defecting to the Intercontinental Rally Challenge for ’09.

The loss of the world’s best-known rally has caused a few tremors within the FIA – imagine Formula 1 without the Monaco GP – and rumours of a re-think on rotation abound. There have been suggestions that the WRC could become a winter series, starting in September and finishing in May, thus hoovering up the free television time left by the close season in Formula 1.

Cost, too, is an issue as in F1. For the past 18 months the FIA’s WRC Commission has been working on a way to reduce the cost of World Rally Cars from 2010 onwards – work involving the current teams and their technical gurus. At the World Motor Sport Council meeting in November, its plans were put forward for approval – and summarily rejected. The FIA could not understand why its cost-reduction brief to come up with a bolt-on, removable kit had somehow morphed into a specification practically identical to the four-wheel-drive, turbocharged, electronically complex car used at the moment. Worried that this solution did not reduce costs, the WMSC sent the WRC bosses away with a flea in their ear for a substantial re-think.

Thus 2009 looks as if it will start with a bunch of lesser events – the first truly traditional event is the Acropolis Rally in June – and there are fears that many of the new rallies may be scuppered by a lack of funds. There are concerns, too, that the number of manufacturers may decrease from the four which currently compete. It’s a far cry from the heady days of the early ’80s when a dozen or more manufacturers were in the WRC.

John Davenport