Familiar places, fresh faces
Is the WRC calendar too tame? Plus, Evans shows his potential
With Christmas approaching, there’s never been a better time to talk about Turkey. The country that is, rather than the bird for which December 25 is anything but a cause for celebration.
For most people, it’s been something of a surprise to see Turkey back on the WRC calendar for 2018 as it last featured on the schedule seven years ago (right).
Next year’s all-new Rally Turkey will be held from September 10-16 (two weeks before Rally GB) near Marmaris, on the south-west coast. By all accounts it’s a nice event, and the recent candidate rally, won by local man Orhan Avcioglu, was run successfully. But even leaving aside the political situation in Turkey, which led to an unsuccessful coup d’état last year and a series of purges, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that there’s been an opportunity missed here.
There was the chance to break into new territories: for the promoter to shake up the schedule in the same way that the technical rules have been revolutionised.
So, where to? A few obvious places spring to mind: China (although there’s a bit of history there, with an event having been included on the 2016 calendar before being pulled at the last minute for reasons that remain nebulous); Japan, with the return of Toyota being the perfect excuse; and the United States. All are key markets; and when it comes to the power of marketing (if not outright car sales), winning the Safari is one of the few things that still mean something to the wider world too.
The teams will talk about costs and logistical difficulties for all these events. But if you were to ‘pair’ the United States with Mexico, for example – like Formula 1 does – that helps make things a bit more affordable.
The Safari Rally breaks every mould of course, but why should everything have to fit in the same hole in the first place? As well as providing variety, why not have different formats? Not every rally has to be three days: some could be four, some two. Make Corsica a frantic 36-hour sprint, as it always was. Yet have some more ‘endurance’-orientated events, like Argentina, or even Rally GB.
The reason why a standardised cloverleaf format (with events being centred on a single service and the stages radiating from it) were introduced nearly 20 years ago was to make it easier for TV, but the technology that exists now is unrecognisable compared to the 1990s. It’s now far easier to work in a less rigid environment, with studios able to stitch together footage from diverse locations in real time and stream it, so you can watch it on your phone.
The equipment itself is smaller and there’s less of it – making the business of broadcasting not only easier, but also cheaper. Ironically, as technology becomes more advanced, this could actually help rallying to return to some of its traditional roots.
Imagine, for example, a calendar that started in Monte Carlo, then went to Sweden, Corsica, Italy – by which we mean Sanremo of course – Portugal, the Acropolis, USA, Mexico, Argentina, Africa, Spain and Great Britain. Keep it down to 12 rounds to contain costs – but imagine the quality of those iconic rallies.
All these things are entirely possible without making wholesale (and expensive) changes to routes and service parks. It’s just a question of having the will to think outside the box; to implement the sort of changes that make the very most of modern technology, while paying tribute to the past.
NEW WELSH WIZARD
One of the enduring hallmarks of Gwyndaf Evans – cult hero, father of Wales Rally GB winner Elfyn, and a British champion in his own right – was the fact that he eschewed driving gloves, preferring the feel of the steering wheel on his bare hands.
Of course, Gwyndaf was driving in an era where people used to regularly compete on the Safari Rally in T-shirts; these days, drivers are regularly fined for having the wrong specification of underwear, let alone not wearing any at all…
That sense of intuition clearly rubbed off on his son Elfyn, who spectacularly won the 2017 Wales Rally GB. Elfyn is of course fully gloved-up, but he still had a fluid attachment to his machinery and that is evident in every image and video from the welsh forests.
Richard Burns was the last Briton to win his home event (in 2000), and the two drivers’ styles are remarkably similar: an unhurried ballet with the car that makes it appear as if the driver is merely following where it naturally wants to go, rather than hustling in one direction or another.
The difference is that Burns had no family background in rallying whatsoever, but that was why his driving was so naturally fluent: it was improvised rather than learned.
Gwyndaf, for his part, claims that he’s never really given Elfyn any driving advice: just let him get on with it. And that’s exactly what helped the younger Evans to dominate his home event so utterly – becoming not only the first Welshman to win the rally (celebrations below), but also the first man from Wales even to lead since Dai Llewellin in the 1980s.
That’s been enough to earn Elfyn a second stint in the factory M-Sport squad next year, having been dropped from the line-up at the end of 2015. Last year, he spent his time winning the British Championship – exactly 20 years after his father – and also competing in WRC2.
Wales Rally GB proved that clichés only become so because they are fundamentally true. It’s not about getting knocked down – it’s about how quickly you get back up.