GB AND CIRCUIT COULD ROTATE FOR WRC SPOT
Interest from world events could pressure British counters into a rotation
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