THE WORLD RALLY Championship has been down in the motorsport doldrums lately. We investigate why.
The WRC has had several heydays; the 60’s and 70’s with Mini Coopers and Renault Alpines battling it out, Group B which saw the maddest cars the sport has ever seen and the 90’s with the likes of McRae, Makkinen, Gronholm, Sainz and Burns fighting it out. It has been struggling lately though, and if something isn’t done about it we could lose one of the world’s best and oldest championships. So what has gone wrong?
You’ve probably noticed that we’re in a little bit of a recession. That’s not the WRC’s fault but it has meant that sponsors are a bit thin on the ground. It has also meant that spectator numbers are dwindling and it saw both Suzuki and WRC mainstay Subaru both pull out, having already lost Peugeot, Hyundai, Skoda, Toyota and Mitsubishi not that long ago either.
This general lack of cash has led to more ‘pay drivers’ being signed up by teams; drivers who may not be future champions, but bring with them large sponsors. This leads us on to the next point…
IS THE WRC BORING?
The increase in ‘pay drivers’ and the lack of manufacturers has meant that there are fewer places for genuinely talented drivers like Northern Irishman Kris Meeke who was due to compete in the WRC with MINI, but a lack of sponsors meant MINI had to cut their campaign back, leaving the talented youngster out in the cold.
This, lack of fast drivers and cars has opened up the door for Sebastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena to dominate. Together, they have won the last eight championships and look set to win their ninth this year. Ford have put up a decent challenge to the Citroen pair, but without a driver of Loeb’s calibre and a reliabilty record that cannot match the almost bulletproof French team’s, they have not been able to topple them.
It would not be so bad if it were at least exciting to watch, but it’s not. The way Loeb goes about winning almost every rally by huge margins, without proper challenge and knowing that Citroen will always step in with team orders if his team mate is getting too close is not very entertaining. It also appears that it doesn’t excite Mr Loeb either. Watch footage of Loeb and Elena crossing the finish line and there is simply a handshake, a wave to the crowd and the most uncomfortably forced smile you’ve ever seen on the podium. Contrast this with the footage below of Petter Solberg winning the title in 2003, the last non-Loeb championship, and you’ll see the kind of excitement and raw emotion that is now lacking.
POOR TV COVERAGE
It hasn’t helped that TV coverage in recent years has not been up to much. TV channel Dave in the UK did a pretty good job of it, and Channel 4 before that, but this year has been very bad indeed. Before the season started the international promoter dropped out, leaving the WRC without a TV deal in place.
They eventually cobbled something together with Motors TV, but the coverage is far from ideal. With 30 minute programmes at the end of each day, usually at very unsociable hours, commentators who do the best with what they’ve been given but who frequently talk over interviews and get things wrong as if they’re seeing the footage for the first time and simply don’t know what’s next. It’s far from what you’d expect from the world’s premier rally championship.
The WRC is also facing stiff competition from other championships like the Intercontinental Rally Championship and the Global Rallycross Championship. Both of these boast big entry numbers, exciting action and top names, all of which fans are desperate for.
SO WHAT’S NEXT?
Well, the good news is that Volkswagen has decided to join the WRC with the new Polo R and hotly tipped French driver Sebastien Ogier. What needs to happen next though is for someone to have a bit of faith in the WRC and inject some cash.
As we know, it is desperately in need of a promoter and a good TV deal. Once these things are in place then sponsors will be more interested in investing, this in turn will encourage even more manufacturers to join and will give them the money to hire good drivers without having to rely on ‘pay drivers’.
If, and it’s a big if, all of this happens, then maybe the World Rally Championship can get back on track. If this doesn’t happen though, then the WRC may not be long for this world.