THIRTEEN NATIONS IN RUNNING FOR WRC
Current events under pressure as multiple nations join the bidding
The World Rally Championship stands on the verge of huge global expansion which will put some of the longest-standing names on the series’ calendar under pressure.
Thirteen countries have confirmed interest in a place on the WRC calendar, with some reported to be ready as soon as next season. In alphabetical order, the 13 are: Abu Dhabi, Canada, Chile, Croatia, India, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Russia and Turkey.
WRC Promoter’s Oliver Ciesla said they would be looking at every aspirant.
“It’s a reflection of the strength of the world championship that so many countries want to come and join us,” said Ciesla. “We’re certainly looking at a more global series in years to come – a process which, of course, is already underway with China’s arrival this year.”
FIA rally director Jarmo Mahonen admitted such demand did bring its own headache.
“We have committed to the manufacturers to keep the calendar at 14 rallies,” Mahonen told MN. “Increasing the number of rallies each season isn’t an option. But we have to do something. If we stay [with the current rallies] then nothing will ever change.”
Since his arrival as president of the FIA in 2009, Jean Todt has stated his desire to see the world championship becoming more global.
“This is a world championship,” said Todt. “Our calendar needs to better reflect that.”
The one region still missing is the one Todt’s most keen to see return: Africa. While South Africa has come close to running a candidate event in the past, there seems little potential for the continent which delivered the iconic Safari Rally.
The message from the FIA and WRC Promoter is clear: only the strongest rallies will survive in the race to retain and gain world championship status.
While neither Ciesla or Mahonen would talk on the record about specific events included on this year’s calendar, sources in both organisations have confirmed Italy and France’s island rallies on Sardinia and Corsica are likely to find themselves in the drop zone if they can’t find a way to return to the mainland.
The source said: “There’s pressure on rallies now. These countries are serious and they’re coming with a very strong proposition. For example, we’re missing a really rough rally in the style of the Acropolis or Cyprus – but Turkey fits that bill very well. The proposal from them is away from Istanbul and all the hassle that brought and back to Antalya; at the right time of the year, this could be a really great rough-road rally.”
Evidence of the confidence within the WRC Promoter is the apparent dismissal of a return to Jordan – even in the face of extraordinarily strong words from Jordan’s Prince Feisal Al-hussein.
The Prince, who is also chairman of Jordan Motorsport, said: “Motorsport has a rich tradition here in Jordan from the legacy of King Hussein. King Abdullah is also keen on motorsport and we work as a team to promote the sport.
“We are surrounded, here in Jordan, by war and political problems, but we want to see sport thrive in the region. We are keen for the WRC to return and want to see what the promoter requires. I am delighted with the work done this week by my team at Jordan Motorsport.”
Privately, the promoter confirms its interest the Middle East lies with the greater financial clout of Abu Dhabi rather than a return to Amman for the first time since 2011 when Jordan made its third and final WRC appearance.
As reported in MN, the Circuit of Ireland’s best chance of a WRC place rests within the Rally GB framework and the potential for moving Britain’s round of the championship to Belfast when the Welsh agreement runs out in 2018. The Circuit’s profile was further boosted last week when it was voted Best Event or Festival Experience at the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards last week.