Rules shake-up for WRC

At the same time as announcing a peace deal in Formula 1, a whole raft of announcements on rallying came out of the June World Motor Sport Council meeting.

The possibility of having 1600cc turbocharged engines in World Rally Cars from 2013 has become a reality for 2011, while the straitjacket of a fixed format for WRC rallies and the ghastly SupeRally rules that allow cars to return to the action after crashing out have been consigned to the fire.

In future special stages can be of any length, with the return of night tests, their surfaces mixed between gravel and asphalt, and their total mileage lifted from 300km to 500km. Servicing plans will be much freer and, if there are asphalt stages, they will not have to be driven on gravel tyres.

There will doubtless be further wrangling over the new technical rules, especially concerning engines and electronics. Indeed the first warning shots have been fired by Ford pleading for the FIA to “keep it simple”. But the fact is that World Championship rallying faces a more varied and welcoming aspect. Why should this be?

If there is one factor that weighs more heavily than any other it is the existence of another rally series with a worldwide presence – the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. Six months ago, the balance was in the IRC’s favour. It had Super 2000 cars, several manufacturers, good TV coverage, flexibility on event organisation and… the Monte Carlo Rally. The WRC had the prospect of identical S2000 cars for 2011, two manufacturers, and rallies that were forced to run to a restrictive format and could only be held every second year. Now, the WMSC has changed all that.

The WRC will have S2000 cars but with more powerful 1600cc turbo engines, probably half a dozen manufacturers (if the FIA really can bring down the cost of competing), enhanced TV coverage and a largely non-rotational list of events on its future calendars. The Monte Carlo Rally is sticking with the IRC for now and the Automobile Club de Monaco has said it is committed to that series for 2010 and possibly 2011. But the impression is that the door is open for its return. Certainly the ability to run over two, three or four days and use night stages will appeal to the ACM. Also, the WRC will run a WRC Cup for S2000 cars based on seven of the 13 events and that is bound to weaken manufacturer interest in the IRC. And organisers will be allowed to run a National class in each WRC event that will boost local interest as well as entry levels.

Another point to consider is that the promoter and holder of the IRC’s TV franchise is Eurosport Events. In January, the FIA awarded North One TV and its subsidiary, ISC, a contract to be the WRC’s promoter and the holder of the global media and commercial rights from 2010 until 2020. Since then, both Neil Duncanson and Simon Long have been actively engaged behind the scenes and one can only credit them with helping to create the circumstances in which this sudden reversion to common sense by the FIA has taken place.
John Davenport