Al Qas­simi’s ab­sence gives home favourites a chance

Motor Sport News - - Headline News - By David Evans Pho­tos: mck­lein-im­age­

Bri­tish and Ir­ish rally fans have Khalid Al Qas­simi to thank for de­liv­er­ing the news that both Kris Meeke and Craig Breen will con­test Wales Rally GB later this month.

While Citroen had con­firmed to MN that it would be present at the event, team prin­ci­pal Yves Mat­ton had ad­mit­ted it looked dif­fi­cult for Meeke and Breen to com­pete, with Stephane Le­feb­vre and Al Qas­simi sched­uled to be in Wales.

Mat­ton ad­mit­ted a clash of dates had forced the UAE star out, al­low­ing the home heroes in.

Mat­ton told MN: “The plan was that Khalid would do the rally, but now he is not able to do it and he of­fered his car to Kris or Craig or Stephane – that’s how we can do this. Early in the year, to­gether with Kris, we made the plan of which ral­lies to do and we tar­geted the events where he doesn’t have so much ex­pe­ri­ence. Rally GB wasn’t one of the events – he has good ex­pe­ri­ence there. But it’s good that he drives now.”

Meeke and Breen are both de­lighted with the news that they will be on the Dee­side-based event.

Meeke said: “I think ev­ery­body knows what this event means to me and the chance to drive there is re­ally im­por­tant. It’s fan­tas­tic to be com­pet­ing in front of the home fans and on those fan­tas­tic stages – the stages where I com­peted on my first ever rally.

“As much as that though, I’m re­ally pleased to be com­pet­ing again. I’m now do­ing three from the last four ral­lies of the sea­son and that means I take plenty of com­pet­i­tive seat time be­fore the end of the year and the start of 2017.”

While Breen has great mem­o­ries from Wales, win­ning the WRC Academy and SWRC ti­tles in 2011 and 2012, he has only com­peted there once in the last three years – plac­ing a Peu­geot 208 T16 on the WRC2 podium in third place last sea­son.

“I can’t wait, it’s a rally that’s treated me well over the years and ob­vi­ously it was Gareth’s [Roberts, co-driver] home event – it means a lot,” Breen told MN. “I have a lot of sup­port there and I love the stages. The chance to have a crack at those roads in this car is spe­cial. As for what we might be able to do over there, that would re­ally de­pend on the weather and where we are run­ning on the road. I’m not even go­ing to say if it’s wet – it’s more a case of how wet it is!”

Present at last week’s Tour of Cor­sica, Le­feb­vre ad­mit­ted his re­turn to world cham­pi­onship ac­tion in Wales was still de­pen­dent on his re­cov­ery.

He told MN: “I’m only on the en­try list, I don’t know if I will start – it’s the end of the sea­son and it’s im­por­tant for me to be back. It de­pends on the train­ing and the re­cov­ery. I have some pain from the mus­cle in my back some­times: one day it’s per­fect and one day it’s not so good. I didn’t drive the [rally] car since the ac­ci­dent, but I hope be­fore GB that I can do one day of test­ing on the as­phalt and one day on the gravel. For the WRC, you need to have your body at 100 per cent.”

If Le­feb­vre does start in GB, it’s cer­tain his co-driver Gabin Moreau won’t – he suf­fered more in­juries than Le­feb­vre and is still re­cov­er­ing.

“It’s more com­pli­cated for Gabin,” he said, “so GB is not pos­si­ble, but for sure we will be back to­gether next year.”

There were more than a few eye­brows raised in the ser­vice park when news of next year’s World Rally Cham­pi­onship cal­en­dar came out of the FIA’S World Mo­tor Sport Coun­cil meet­ing.

It wasn’t be­cause we only have half the cal­en­dar con­firmed with the start of per­haps the big­gest sea­son of ral­ly­ing in decades is just three months away, that’ll be sorted soon enough. It was more about po­ten­tial for the in­clu­sion of Turkey.

Those who say sport and pol­i­tics don’t mix are wrong, they are in­trin­si­cally linked at nearly ev­ery level. Sadly.

But for once, I’m steer­ing well clear of pol­i­tics here. all I will say is that I think WRC Pro­moter is do­ing the right thing here.

In the wake of the Vladimir An­tanov-north One Sport de­ba­cle, the WRC was a in a very sorry mess. For years, we’d had to make do with a pro­moter that was in­ca­pable of pro­mot­ing. That’s hardly sur­pris­ing see­ing as they ap­par­ently strug­gled to make enough money to cover the costs of tele­vis­ing the cham­pi­onship – never mind pro­mote it!

But that’s all changed in the past four years. If you have a fail­ing busi­ness, you look at what those suc­ceed­ing are do­ing and you try your best to repli­cate that. And that’s quite rightly what we’re see­ing here.

The cheque book cal­en­dar is al­most en­tirely what has made For­mula 1 into the pow­er­house of world sport it is to­day. So we shouldn’t be sur­prised to see the WRC try­ing to em­u­late this. As long as sport­ing and safety re­quire­ments are met, ral­lies that are pre­pared to in­vest in the long term should be wel­comed into our cham­pi­onship.

WRC Pro­moter has done a quite re­mark­able job of mov­ing our sport for­ward over the past few years. Let’s face it, the most im­por­tant el­e­ment of any sport­ing pro­mo­tion is the tele­vi­sion prod­uct, and my goodness me it’s been a strug­gle to get it right.

For years, the cor­ner­stones of the TV pack­age have been the de­pend­able rally man Steve Tur­vey and the ever-re­li­able pro­ducer Kevin Piper. but it wasn’t un­til Red Bull whiz­zkid Flo­rian Ruth turned up and sprin­kled a touch of Red Bull magic over the pro­duc­tion that things changed. The pro­gramme is now not only watch­able, it’s com­pul­sive en­ter­tain­ment.

The global au­di­ence has in­creased, the num­ber of broad­cast­ers has in­creased, the sport is find­ing a new au­di­ence.

But all of this hard work doesn’t come for free. For the WRC Pro­moter to pro­mote, there needs to be a re­li­able rev­enue stream – his­tor­i­cally some­thing that’s been miss­ing. What we are see­ing now is the pro­moter lay­ing the foun­da­tions for a long-term and sus­tain­able fu­ture for our sport at the high­est level.

Yes, there may be some ques­tion­able de­ci­sions made along the way, but in this one, the pro­moter has my whole-hearted sup­port.

Meeke to get Rally GB re­turn Al Qas­simi - miss­ing GB Meeke gets an out­ing Breen set for new deal

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