“Is hand­i­cap­ping right for a world cham­pi­onship?”

Motor Sport News - - Rally Argentina -

Is it right that the very top level of our sport is ef­fec­tively a hand­i­capped cham­pi­onship?

That’s the ques­tion I keep ask­ing my­self af­ter week­ends like the last one.

My an­swer will al­ways be the same: ab­so­lutely not. That’s how I see the cur­rent run­ning or­der reg­u­la­tions.

Pun­ish­ing the cham­pi­onship leader by hav­ing him run first on the road for the first two days of com­pe­ti­tion is, as I see it, a hand­i­cap­ping sys­tem. I’ve al­ways viewed hand­i­cap races as be­ing for un­der-per­form­ers and am­a­teurs. There’s no place for it at the top level of any sport.

It’s also mighty con­fus­ing for the ca­sual viewer. The blind­ingly ob­vi­ous sys­tem is for the cham­pi­onship stand­ings to be re­flected in the open­ing day’s or­der and then, surely, sub­se­quent days should re­flect rally or­der. It’s sim­ple to un­der­stand and, above all, fair.

When we last em­ployed this eq­ui­table sys­tem, it was much ma­ligned be­cause of the end-of-day tac­tics that left driv­ers slow­ing down to jockey for favourable road po­si­tion on the fol­low­ing day. That’s a fair point and it was a good rea­son for drop­ping the sys­tem. But the lack of split times to the cars mean such tac­tics are no longer pos­si­ble. So why not go back to the old sys­tem?

Our gov­ern­ing body doesn’t want to. They are very happy to see the best driver in the world start cer­tain ral­lies with no chance of win­ning. I heard a se­nior fig­ure stat­ing their pre­ferred op­tion was to run all three days in cham­pi­onship or­der! The ap­par­ent rea­son for this is to in­crease the spec­ta­cle and en­ter­tain­ment, a view that’s held by many within the sport.

But aren’t these the very same peo­ple who de­rided and com­pre­hen­sively de­stroyed Jost Capito’s shootout pro­posal? And what was Mr Capito try­ing to do? Oh yes, in­crease the spec­ta­cle and en­ter­tain­ment.

In my book, you just can’t have it both ways. We ei­ther look at the sport and stick with the DNA that made it great or we take com­pre­hen­sive steps to ad­dress the lack of rel­e­vance that our sport is faced with, par­tic­u­larly in the eyes of a younger au­di­ence.

Seb Ogier’s frus­tra­tion was mighty ev­i­dent in Ar­gentina and in­deed spilled over in a very un­seemly spat with the ami­able Hay­den Paddon on Satur­day evening. Too many were too quick to cas­ti­gate the be­hav­iour of the French­man. Ogier is a brawler, a street fighter, a man with only one aim: to win. He uses, quite rightly, every means avail­able to achieve his goal. He dom­i­nates Lat­vala, knows Mikkelsen is no threat, but Paddon is some­thing new, a gen­uine con­tender. So he re­sorted to psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare, and it very nearly worked!

Start­ing or­der reg­u­la­tions are the spark and the am­mu­ni­tion Ogier needs to have a go. If you re­ally want to dampen his pow­der, the an­swer is very sim­ple: change the rules.

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