Afterall, Citroen had quite the legacy in the WRC, with 102 victories and a record that extended beyond the usual commitment from PSA brands. One that included the dark period of the Championship, where they competed against M-Sport during the Global Financial Crisis.
It was through a time where the tables were reversed. Peugeot withdrew from Le Mans competition, just months out from the first World Endurance Championship because of financial problems inside the company.
But it reflected more of the PSA approach – where they spend a few years winning at things like the Dakar, Pikes Peak, touring cars – or not winning at F1 before withdrawing. A 20 year run in a series is not what these guys do.
Which brings us to this – why would you go into the WEC vs WRC? Both have new rulesets, both have rabid and loyal fans, but neither attract the level of attention or investment of F1.
The law of diminishing returns
If we take a non-financial look to start with, you have the law of diminishing returns. After 20 years, the buzz, the excitement that you get from winning in rally is far less than what they will get on a return to La Sarthe.
What doesn’t seem to change is the kicking they get if you lose. Without doubt, the atmosphere in the Groupe PSA board room was tiring of rally and the fact the car was not where it needed to be. The negative headlines it was starting to gather surely didn’t help things.
Then we turn to the future. The new rule sets. We know that Citroen had been heavily involved in the formation of the new WRC rules but that is never a guarantee. Look at their previous form in WEC. Influential in forming the series, but as yet, have not taken part in a race.
We also don’t know the final technical package and that is a big if for us. We can assume that PSA know more than we do and have been able to make an informed decision on where to go.
How much do you have to spend?
Up-until-now both the WRC and WEC have been expensive to run at the front with estimated budgets in both series in the high tens-of-millions. Both have had a very big problem with customer entries which is never a problem until the factories decide they would prefer to play elsewhere.
When we turn to the hypercar regulations – where Peugeot is going, there is a commitment that the budgets will be €20m a season for a two-car factory team – which is much less than current budget levels in either series.
There is also strict levels of development allowed in the WEC with continuous development of cars outlawed unless the car, well, sucks.
There is no real way to police this so it requires some level of self-policing (look at you German manufactures) but there looks to be some sort of BoP that will come in to ensure a level playing field. So if you want to spend 200million, you will be taken back to the pace of the guy spending 20million. Yes, it is never a perfect science but it does have its place.
When we compare that to what could happen in the WRC, we see a lot of work to do to create a formula where the M-Sport budget is the norm, not the exception.
The cars have to look awesome and sound amazing. As we have seen from the render from Aston Martin and from Peugeot, the visuals of the cars won’t be a problem. And as Aston Martin will use a V12, we will have a great sound on that grid.
It is also interesting that the outright speed that dominated thinking in the F1, WRC and WEC regulations of the current generation of rulesets will leave for the WEC with a 10second pace drop at Le Mans.
The question is ‘will people care?’ and the answer is probably not. As we see in F1 and FE, there is the need for racing, not outright pace.
It is something we wait for in the WRC rule set. Will the cars look cool? How fast will they be? How expensive will they be? We need something that looks a little edgier than the R5. When they are going to be competing against FE, the 2021 F1 or WEC cars for wall space on a teenager’s bedroom wall, how the car looks is important.
The fans and the corporate attraction
When we move to the final couple pieces of the puzzle. The corporates and the fans, we know that it is much easier to entertain someone at a track than it is at a rally.
You turn up to Le Mans, and you wine and dine people for a week. They are in the garage, they have a lot to keep them entertained. They can do deals with a lot of other people at the track. It is quite easy.
Rally has its points of adventure and the city super specials also have their place here. If anyone needs to know why there are more of these non-traditional stages, then you have to look at the complexity of entertaining a corporate client when you have to ferry them out to a rally stage in the middle of a forest.
The importance of this cannot be understated. Yes, the car companies need to come to motorsport to sell cars. But they need to do deals. Corporate boxes in football aren’t there just for the uber-fan. Big deals are done. The same in the suites at a race track. And when you can go to Le Mans, especially after a time away, you can do those deals.
Remember what we were saying about diminishing returns?
Rallying is doing a great job at it too. You just have to look at the structures we now see in the service park and the places that the WRC Promoter are taking the Championship. We can assume they are also talking to new manufacturers to come in for the next rule set. Citroen leaving is a blip and there is not the need to go into full emergency mode as some folk have suggested.
Finally, what of the fans? Both have an app and a great team to present the product, though it must be said that the offering from WRC is lightyears ahead of that from WEC.
There is a loyal and strong fanbase for both and both have the capability to draw new fans. In WRC, you have great fan engagement transmedia storytelling. from fan video and the ability to see cars doing crazy things. The vision is utterly compelling.
For the WEC, that is less due to the fact their racing surface is more controlled – and repeated again and again and again for up to 24 hours. But too, they have a great raft of podcasters, dedicated news sites and online communities.
Both travel around the world to important markets, but the WEC definitely has the advantage of the prestige event – the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The draw of that one event cannot be underestimated.
It is not that one is better than the other. What we have to remember is that we have to love and support our sport.
The future for us all
It surprised me when Peugeot announced their return to the WEC as they had no suitable car but as we have seen, they have created something that looks cool.
Their return for the 22-23 season will be eagerly anticipated. With Toyota, Aston Martin, ByKolles, Glickenhaus and an concerted effort to reengage with private entries, it is a tantalising thought.
Equally, the future of the WRC is an exciting thought. And I am sure we will learn more in time. For now, the trick is to enjoy the next couple years of these excellent 2017 cars.
Groupe PSA is never far away.
The RacerViews info
By Sam Tickell
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