World rallying’s big dilemma


There has been news circulating about a possible merger between the World Rally Championship and the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. Manufacturer numbers are down in the WRC – and have been for some time – while IRC entries are booming.


There are more than 120 cars signed up for the IRC Barum Czech Rally on August 26-28, while more than 200,000 people are expected to watch the asphalt action. Not only that, but the IRC has great TV coverage courtesy of Eurosport, which owns the series. If you were Jarmo Mahonen, the WRC Commission president, then a merger would make sense. It obviously does, because he’s the man pushing for it.

However, before I get too cynical about the reasons why, it is worth taking a step back. As some of you may have seen, I’ve been writing a series of articles in the magazine called ‘Motor Racing’s Money Tree’. We’ve broken down all the single-seater championships and then placed them on a tree with Formula 1 in the canopy and Formula Ford down by the roots. We’ve tried to explain how they all fit in together and it seems to have made sense to at least a few people.

The idea was then put forward of doing a similar thing for rallying. But there’s no way you could neatly place the ‘rallying ladder’ on a tree. It would be ‘Motor Racing’s Money Bush’. It is chaos. And that is what Mahonen (below) is keen on trying to address. He wants a system whereby talented youngsters can race in the IRC and then move up easily to the WRC.


It sounds good, but something the IRC is well known for is its atmosphere and, as current Peugeot driver Guy Wilks (below) put it, “character”. Would this be lost if it was taken under the arm of the WRC?


“In the WRC, because of the manufacturer money, there are only so many drivers who are capable of winning a stage, let alone a rally,” Wilks tells me while doing PR for ‘The Go-Kart Rally’. “In the IRC, if you look at the stage winners this year, you have a long list of names.” You do. So far this season, after six rallies, there have been 13 different stage winners. In the WRC, after eight rallies, there have been eight different stage winners.

“I’m really enjoying the IRC because it’s all about the challenge for the driver,” adds Wilks. “The championship has got character and we’ve got a fantastic array of rallies, from the beautiful scenery and countryside in Scotland to the mountain stages in Corsica. There’s also Monte Carlo and even the plains in the Czech Republic.”

On the Monte Carlo Rally the IRC has a stage in the dark up the Col de Turini. It’s a feast for the senses and, for me, it’s what the WRC is lacking – real drama.


“The spectators can get really close to the drivers and the cars; they’re not penned in like in the WRC. Even in the service area for that matter. It’s got a family feel, everybody mixes in and gets involved and that’s reflected in the number of spectators. In Ypres and Barum the service areas are absolutely jam-packed.”

Former FIA president Max Mosley didn’t do a huge amount for the WRC, but now that Jean Todt is in office things may well change. He’s got a history in the series, having been a World Championship navigator from 1973-81, and the fact that he has already sorted a World Endurance Championship for next year can only bode well.

Longer and more challenging stages, fewer remote service areas, tests run at night… Let’s make a WRC round a proper event. Yes, try and create a legitimate ladder system for the sport, but let’s not lose any of the atmosphere that goes with the IRC. The last thing we need is a rallying equivalent of the rather unexciting GP3 championship.

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