Ley: Not fair to compare IRC and ERC
British Rally Championship close to Belgium deal for next year
European Rally Championship co-ordinator Jean-baptiste Ley has rejected arguments that his series is going backwards – comments made by Ypres Rally manager Alain Penasse last week.
Penasse voiced his concerns that frontline competitor numbers and manufacturer interest in today’s ERC wasn’t as high as it had been in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge. Penasse’s comments in Motorsport News drew a forthright response from Ley.
“People are talking a lot about the IRC which we at Eurosport used to run, but there’s no point comparing the ERC today with that from years ago.
“The economic climate was completely different then and the IRC is dead. The ERC, is very much alive – the comparison I would like to make it from just before we took over the promotion of the ERC [in 2012] and now. You will find we have 318 million television viewers now and a championship that is very healthy.”
Ley pointed Penasse in the direction of the Junior ERC, saying: “We have the best supported Junior series in the world and the guys who are competing there, we believe, will be the big names of tomorrow. And we’ll seem them graduating to the world championship, just like we have seen Kris Meeke, Andreas Mikkelsen, Thierry Neuville and Juho Hanninen graduate from our series.”
Ley said he wanted Ypres to remain in the ERC, but added that constructing a calendar for the series was complicated.
“We have 14 WRC rounds we can’t clash with,” he said. “Then we have 10 rounds of our own – that’s half the weekends of the year. It’s difficult to make everything fit, but we understand the importance of Ypres. It’s one of the best in Europe and, of course, we want it to stay.”
Bosses of the British Rally Championship are considering adding the Ypres Rally to the calendar for 2017, Motorsport News has learned.
It is understood that series officials are in advanced talks with the event to include one of Europe’s most reputable rallies on the British calendar, just two years after the championship took a hiatus after low entries.
MN reported last week that Ypres Rally manager Alain Penasse and the Ypres organising team have become disillusioned with the European Rally Championship as manufacturer entries have fallen in recent years. Now Penasse confirms the ball is in the BRC’S court as to whether the event and championship join.
“I had a coffee with Ben [Taylor, BRC promoter] in Sardinia and we started to talk about the BRC going outside the island,” said Penasse. “I was saying the BRC would be most welcome on our rally in Ypres. I think they considered this, but I don’t know if they are sure or not if a rally can run outside of Britain. For the moment we are all thinking about it, it’s a nice championship, but it’s up to the people in England [BRC organisers] to decide if they want to do this.”
The body responsible for running the BRC – IMS – is keeping its options open for next year although Ypres is being strongly considered.
Taylor said: “The BRC has made such a strong return this year that interest is growing both domestically and internationally. At the moment we are considering all the options for 2017, but we have to balance sporting and promotional issues, as well as being mindful of our competitors and their budgets. But Ypres is a very prestigious and aspirational event and if we could make it work, then it would certainly be an exciting possibility.”
It is understood that the BRC is looking at a switch to an eight-round calendar – which is expected to be decided by late July – with two dropped scores, therefore adding a round and a dropped score to this year’s format. That could allow teams and drivers who find the trip to Ypres too expensive to drop the round and stick exclusively to UK events.
British co-driver Seb Marshall competed in Ypres last weekend, and believes the addition of the event would add something completely different to the BRC calendar.
“The real challenge of Ypres is it’s so quick,” said Marshall. “Everyone who did the rally this weekend will tell you it’s such a challenge. The surface is always changing; knowing how to approach the cuts. It’s totally different to anything in the UK.”
The Hyundai man added the event could become iconic in the BRC, and that the current championship frontrunners wouldn’t be embarrassed by local drivers.
“I think the guys running at the sharp end of the BRC would be in contention for the win in Ypres too, it’s not like Freddy [Loix] would overshadow them. I think it would be a big draw for a lot of people. If you think of the impressive Tarmac events Ypres is one that stands out. For the BRC it would be a real marquee event.”
The future of the ERC and Ypres together remains unclear. Penasse criticised the series for a lack of top teams entered this year. Both Skoda and Peugeot have withdrawn works programmes from the series. The highest finishing regular ERC runner in Ypres was Jaromir Tarabus, who finished seventh, although championship frontrunner Kajetan Kajetanowicz wasn’t present and Alexey Lukyanuk crashed out. Additional reporting by David Evans
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