In­ter­est from world events could pres­sure Bri­tish coun­ters into a ro­ta­tion

Motor Sport News - - Motorsport News - By David Evans

Bri­tain’s best hope of se­cur­ing a long-term fu­ture in the World Rally Cham­pi­onship could lie with ro­tat­ing a main­land Bri­tish event with the Cir­cuit of Ire­land.

WRC Pro­moter is re­port­ing un­prece­dented de­mand for cal­en­dar slots, plac­ing cur­rent ral­lies un­der greater pres­sure than ever be­fore to keep hold of their world cham­pi­onship sta­tus.

Thir­teen coun­tries are work­ing on pro­pos­als for a WRC round, em­pow­er­ing the Pro­moter to dic­tate terms to the ral­lies more than ever. Sources within both the FIA and pro­moter have ad­mit­ted cal­en­dar changes are com­ing, with the mes­sage that no event’s po­si­tion can be taken for granted.

One of the is­sues the world cham­pi­onship faces is the re­stric­tion on the num­ber of ral­lies. While the cal­en­dar has in­cluded as many as 16 rounds in pre­vi­ous sea­sons, a com­mit­ment has been made to keep that num­ber capped at 14 in an ef­fort to con­tain costs for the man­u­fac­tur­ers.

FIA rally di­rec­tor Jarmo Ma­ho­nen told Mo­tor­sport News: “I would love to be in the sit­u­a­tion that Bernie [Ec­cle­stone] is in with 21 [F1] events, but then we wouldn’t have any com­peti­tors. At the mo­ment, it’s very sim­ple that the in­vest­ment and the re­turn on in­vest­ment [re­quired for more ral­lies] they don’t meet. The num­ber of events to­day will be [the same] for a few years.”

Aside from kick­ing out the so called ‘weaker’ ral­lies, the other way to in­tro­duce new events is through the process of ro­ta­tion – a pol­icy roundly and un­der­stand­ably cas­ti­gated by in­cum­bent events.

Ma­ho­nen added: “I think we have to find some kind of so­lu­tion. Per­son­ally I think the ro­ta­tion is de­struc­tive, but that is talk­ing about yearly ro­ta­tion – maybe we find a so­lu­tion where the rally is three years here and three years some­where else. It would give you time to in­vest in the rally, have longer spon­sor­ship deals and so on, maybe this is the way.

“Maybe ro­tat­ing is the fu­ture, oth­er­wise it comes quite dif­fi­cult and noth­ing changes, we just stay where we are. We have to find a so­lu­tion. The so­lu­tion Max Mosley first sug­gested [ro­ta­tion], when it came I was work­ing on Rally Fin­land, I was on the other side of the fence and I was against it. It was im­pos­si­ble, to­tally im­pos­si­ble to ro­tate; I had six peo­ple work­ing full-time for the rally when I was in Fin­land. I could not sur­vive like this. To have longert­erm ro­ta­tion, maybe it is the an­swer.”

And ro­ta­tion within the UK and Ire­land, sources sug­gest, could be Bri­tain and Ire­land’s best hope for a sus­tain­able fu­ture. WRC Pro­moter is keen to see Rally GB mov­ing out of Wales and closer to ma­jor pop­u­la­tion cen­tres, but at the same time the ma­jor ral­ly­ing fan base across the Ir­ish Sea holds sig­nif­i­cant ap­peal too.

WRC Pro­moter chief Oliver Ciesla told MN: “Ro­ta­tion would be a con­ve­nient tool to raise the reach of the World Rally Cham­pi­onship by de­liv­er­ing more events and this can only be a good thing from the point of view of pro­mo­tion. At the same time, we un­der­stand that ro­ta­tion has been tried and tested al­ready in the cham­pi­onship and it doesn’t work for the events.”

Ciesla ac­cepted that Rally GB and the Cir­cuit of Ire­land could come un­der a spe­cific set of cir­cum­stances, with both events us­ing the MSA as the or­gan­iser. This is quite dif­fer­ent to the po­ten­tial for Rally Aus­tralia and Rally New Zealand ro­tat­ing ev­ery three years.

“If there is a pro­posal to take the cham­pi­onship to Ire­land then we are in­ter­ested in that,” said Ciesla. “Like I said, we know about the fan base there. If the MSA can ro­tate this with Rally GB then that could be a good pro­posal. We would like to see more of the UK: we would like to be closer to the ma­jor cities and the ma­jor ar­eas of pop­u­la­tion in Eng­land as well – this is also very im­por­tant.”

Ciesla added that run­ning the Cir­cuit of Ire­land along­side Rally GB was all-but im­pos­si­ble.

“When we are try­ing to look out­side of Europe to make the World Rally Cham­pi­onship global it would be very hard to jus­tify Ire­land, es­pe­cially as it is an asphalt rally and we re­ally are not look­ing for any more Tar­mac in the cal­en­dar,” he said.

Rally GB man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Ben Tay­lor said safe­guard­ing Bri­tain’s WRC fu­ture re­mained his pri­or­ity.

“Con­tin­ued fan­tas­tic sup­port from our part­ner, the Welsh Gov­ern­ment, keeps the rally in Wales un­til the end of 2018. Who knows what the fu­ture may hold af­ter 2018, but we are ab­so­lutely com­mit­ted to re­tain­ing a round of the WRC in the UK. We will spend the next cou­ple of years ex­plor­ing what the op­tions might be and we will do this in con­junc­tion with the FIA and WRC to en­sure that the UK is an in­te­gral part of the World Rally Cham­pi­onship. Wher­ever we end up, I have no doubt that it will take this great event to the next level.”

Cir­cuit of Ire­land event di­rec­tor Bobby Wil­lis added: “We’ve never hid­den our de­sire to take the Cir­cuit of Ire­land to the World Rally Cham­pi­onship, but such a de­ci­sion would lie with IMS [com­mer­cial arm of Bri­tish mo­tor­sport’s gov­ern­ing body]. It goes with­out say­ing, we’d be happy to work with the FIA, WRC Pro­moter and Ben [Tay­lor] on this.”

Thierry Neuville’s dif­fi­cult start to the sea­son con­tin­ued last week, when he crashed Hyundai’s test i20 WRC ahead of the Rally of Por­tu­gal.

Af­ter a sea­son-open­ing third place in Monte Carlo, Neuville has strug­gled with a mix­ture of me­chan­i­cal prob­lems and crashes – the lat­est of which cost him valu­able run­ning time ahead of this week’s Porto-based event.

Neuville said: “We have had a few tough ral­lies re­cently af­ter our strong start to the sea­son in Monte Carlo.

“We are keep­ing pos­i­tive, though, and our ex­pec­ta­tions for Por­tu­gal are high.”

The Bel­gian is not nom­i­nated to score points for Hyundai Mo­tor­sport for the next two gravel WRC rounds in Por­tu­gal and Sar­dinia – a move which he says will free him from pres­sure and al­low him to chase the sort of re­sult team-mate Hay­den Pad­don scored, when he won with the new gen­er­a­tion i20 WRC in Ar­gentina last time out. ● One man who won’t be mak­ing the start in Por­tu­gal this week is Lorenzo Bertelli, who tore ten­dons in his left an­kle play­ing football last Sun­day.

Wales Rally GB is cur­rent WRC event... Ciesla: Ro­ta­tion could oc­cur ...Cir­cuit is part of the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship

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