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To introduce or not to introduce a control tyre for the Australian Rally Championship – that’s the burning question at the moment as competitors in Australia debate which is the fairest option for all concerned.

The subject of introducing a control tyre has been long considered as one positive way of reducing the advantage that factory-supported cars have over the privateers in the Australian Rally Championship. Factory teams, with their big budgets, are able to purchase the best available tyres without regard to price. In contrast, privateer competitors are restricted to what the manufacturers are prepared to make available on the open market.

As an example, Michelin produce both WRC-spec compound tyres worth seconds a kilometre advantage which it sells to the leading WRC teams, and a  lower-spec tyre which is available to everybody else. No matter how much money a ‘B’ grade team had, the WRC-spec tyres would not be available to them. This policy, of course, ensures that the manufacturers’ team always has the absolute best tyres at their disposal, Michelin (and others) knowing full well that the asking price for these is never a concern where world-championship results are concerned.

In Australia that tyre advantage is less clear cut and the choice of tyres is restricted by what the tyre manufacturers are prepared to sell. That’s why most teams are restricted in their tyre choice because WRC-spec tyres are not available to everyone. Nevertheless, factory teams still have a decided advantage when it comes to tyre choice, particularly if they have a tyre contract that enables them to choose the best tyres for their cars from a particular manufacturer. Again, cost is not a major factor in the selection of tyres, but compound and design is.

Given that the factory cars will always have the best tyres available, the privateer competitor, with little or no purchasing power, is forced to make do with a tyre of lesser performance than that which the factory teams enjoy. In this regard and if everything else is equal, the factory cars will always have an advantage.

So how does a privateer match the factory cars? Not easily, it would seem. There are three possible solutions – restrict the types of tyres that factory teams can buy and use, allow privateers access to the tyres that the factory teams are using, or introduce a control tyre which everyone must use and which creates a level playing field for everyone.

With factory teams continually trying to maximize their advantage over their opposition, they will always opt for the best, whatever it costs. Privateers with limited funds are always going to be at a disadvantage, often making half-worn tyres last just a few stages longer because their budget doesn’t allow for the purchase of more tyres.

So what would a control tyre do? Firstly it would narrow the advantage that the factory cars enjoy and make competition more equal. Secondly it would allow outstanding drivers to really test themselves against the leading factory crews to produce a meaningful comparison.

But more importantly, and here’s the disturbing part, it would remove all the other tyre manufacturers – Pirelli, Silverstone, Dunlop, Bridgestone, Yokohama and others, from the support of rallying. There would be no need for them to advertise their products, to inject money into rallying or even have a presence at events. All it would do would be to grant exclusive rights and supply to all ARC-registered competitors and alienate other tyre companies from the sport.

This is nothing new – it has been done for years in motor racing to create that level playing field, but it sometimes has more arguments against its introduction than for it.

Freedom of choice is a part of life that Australians enjoy, and we regard freedom of purchase as another of our rights. Adopting a control tyre for our top level of rallying would be a backward step, even taking into account the performance advantage of the factory cars that already exists. Tyre choice alone will not make up the performance advantage that the top cars have over everyone else.

TELL US YOUR THOUGHTS - email your views to editorial@rallysportmag.com.au

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