The world of motorsport is at a crossroads where, potentially, everything is up for grabs. When looking at sport as a business, the big three are changing at a rapid pace – the cars, the events and the media.
The World Rally Championship is not immune to this. Last week we took a look at the cars and the decisions that have to be made there.
In some respects, it could be argued that WRC doesn’t have enough events. In 2020 it was meant to have 14 but was reduced to 13. If we look back to 2004-7, it had 16 rounds.
For reference, looking at the topline motorsports, NASCAR has the most this year at 36 races. F1 has 22 races, MotoGP has 20 races.
Moving to ball sports, we see there are many more games with the NBA (basketball) having 82 games, 162 for MLB (baseball) but mostly the volume of games per team is more sensible with the NFL (American football) playing 16, AFL (Australian football) playing 12 and EPL (English football) with 38.
What does this tell us? Well not much but there is no magic number. WRC is on the lowside for global motorsports but there is a big range for the major ball sports and each sport has to find its balance.
Where to go?
But what probably matters more is where you go. We have seen the WRC try to get back into China. F1 has ventured to India – another population powerhouse and, of course there is the USA. F1 obviously has a race there at COTA but is bending over backwards to get another one.
But why does this matter for the WRC. The WRC Promoter has been doing well in getting into new regions. They are returning to Asia with Japan. Back to Africa. But the big markets still go begging.
And it is on the minds of the manufacturers. As they spend more and pressures come from up high, the needs to get into the big markets become plainer to see and more pressured to achieve.
Hyundai Motorsport boss, Andrea Adamo was blunt in his assessment of what the Korean brand needs.
“We have told it clearly to the FIA and the WRC Promoter that if we do not have a race in China or USA in the next three years, we won’t be in the WRC,” Adamo said to RacerViews.
“It is a firm request.”
This is also why American based projects like Dirtfish are so important. It opens the WRC to the American market. The USA hasn’t hosted a round since 1988 and the Olympus Rally. There is no question that there are places to stage the events with population zones and the roads – after all the USA is a big, highly populated country.
However, how you fit more flyaways into the calendar is tough. There is a need to preserve the classic events while going to new places.
How many should there be?
Too, there is a need to understand the nature of preparing for a rally. With recce, press events, testing, rallying…the drivers and teams can be away for much longer than any other weekend sport. Add to that the time to construct and deconstruct the service park structures for the factory teams and you have a considerable amount of time to plan for.
Sure, the events don’t have the endurance elements to them anymore but the sport itself is still an endurance test.
Toyota Gazoo Rally Team’s Tommi Mäkinen lays out the thoughts and impacts on his team.
“What is the nature of the rallies. It is a little different, somehow, it isn’t endurance but you need longer time for preparation,” Mäkinen said to RacerViews.
“You need longer time period. You need more parts during the weekend. There are so many days you are driving.”
“I understand the FIA and Promoter want to increase the number of the rallies to 16. I am not sure on this. WRC is completely different to Formula 1 and circuit racing. That is far easier to do.”
“You can do with smaller amount of equipment and you can do the race, pack up and go to another one. Rallying is different. If you want to increase the number of rallies you have to dramatically increase the team’s budget.”
With just two-and-a-half manufacturers in the sport at the moment, is it a risk the Promoter can take?
What about the privateers?
Equally, when you look at the privateer market, you find more on their balancing act.
The WRC2/3 Championship has been achieving great numbers over the past few seasons and the R5 concept has worked exceptionally well.
But the choice of WRC or a national championship commitment for young drivers needs to be taken into consideration.
As young Luxembourger Grégoire Munster suggests budget still matters. And will matter more as more rounds and flyaway rounds get added to the WRC.
“It involves a lot of budget and it is really difficult to find. If you look at a WRC event and compare it to a national event, it is double the budget. So it is really difficult to find all the budget but if you can do it, of course you do [the WRC],” Munster said to RacerViews.
He is looking to do more WRC rounds this year alongside his Hyundai commitments in Belgium but nothing is guaranteed.
Looking from the perspective of the WRC Promoter, it is a tough balancing act. More rounds means more money in sanctioning fees, in subscribers for the media services, in television revenue. But they have to ship their people and equipment across the world.
Cancelled rounds also means a dent in their budget. Their position on this is not enviable at the moment. The balancing act between where they are and where they need to be is not overly clear.
Balancing the needs of the manufacturers, the needs of the privateers, the needs of the sport and the needs of the fans is a tough one.
And along with the cars the calendar is one of those things that will define the sport’s success over the next decade.
Up next is the media. This may take a little more time but it will be worth it!
The RacerViews info
By Sam Tickell
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