FIA Rally Director, Yves Matton, spoke exclusively to Martin Holmes about the future of the WRC, and of major changes coming to the sport, including a new ‘Rally 3’ category.
He also discussed more events outside Europe, a new ‘Pyramid’ system, and the specs of World Rally Cars moving forward, and whether that means electric power.
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The FIA’s Belgian born Rally Director, Yves Matton, has given a rare interview explaining his opinions about many of the current issues regarding the World Rally Championship.
Speaking with RallySport Magazine’s Martin Holmes, he gives an insight about what is being discussed behind the closed doors of the Federation, and hopes that by 2020 there will be many new developments.
Since his earlier days as a team owner and then as the Sporting Director of Citroen, Matton has been quietly active in many aspects in the sport. We started by asking his position about the WRC calendar issues.
MH: How can the FIA’s desire for more new WRC events be achieved without losing long standing fixtures?Yves Matton: The first thing is that the "world" championship needs to be more global and for the moment our championship has 10 events of 13 in Europe. The ratio is not a good one and if we want to go more global, we have for sure to go more outside Europe.
We have two ways to do that: one is to add more long-haul events, but we know there is a limit on that, mainly due to the budget that manufacturers are able to spend in the World Rally Championship.
The other way is to reduce the number of events in Europe. I think it is important to keep the DNA of the World Rally Championship and to keep within the championship the most iconic events. For sure it will not be easy.
We need to find some way to retain the most iconic and best organised events (in terms of promotion, space, and safety especially) and add into the calendar some events outside Europe. For sure the ratio of events outside and those inside Europe needs to be closer to 50/50 than what we have for the moment.
The FIA are keen to have more WRC rounds outside Europe. Photo: Matt Jelonek
MH: Apart from cases where there has been concern about how the rally was run, when it comes to losing some rallies, do you think the FIA would have the courage or determination to remove a rally against its wishes?YM: It’s possible yes. We are working on a clear process for the calendar for the future of the World Rally Championship, which will be put in place. After that it will be up to the WRC Commission and to the World Motor Sport Council to validate a calendar.
I will say for the moment we don't have more events than available slots, but it could be the case in the future.
MH: Currently long-haul rallies attract very poor entry levels. What is your solution to this problem?YM: I think the main problem for that is the fact of number of available types of FIA rally car decreasing, due to different reasons. One factor is that the Group N category is really dying and that Group N cars had been available worldwide.
To be able to have more cars available, the World Motor Sport Council announced in June 2018 to proceed with a new Pyramid concept to start in 2020. In the Pyramid there is a new level of car that doesn't exist for the moment, in which only the basic principals exist.
The principals of this car is that it will be a four-wheel drive car, cost-effective, fun to drive, but also one of the main points is that it will be possible to produce the car everywhere in the world.
So, we hope that we can have in the national championships more FIA cars and if we have more FIA cars running in national championships, we could have more cars also able to be part of World Rally Championship events.
The target is to try to be able to finalise the technical concept in the first quarter of 2019 and maybe to have the first cars running in 2020.
The Oreca R4 Kit Car in action during test.
MH: Is the new formula instead of the R4-Kit?YM: No, it’s in another category called “Rally 3” in the Pyramid. R4-Kit will stay like it is at the moment, in the same category as R5, in the “Rally 2” layer. This is mainly due to the fact that the R4-Kit target price is much higher than the target price for the Rally 3 level cars.
It could have some similar or technical principles, I don’t know yet because we have only just started the study on the technical principles.
The Pyramid incorporates some levels of cars we have for the moment, including the World Rally Cars and the R5 cars, but adds categories for this new type of car.
It will also change the names of the various categories of cars. At the lowest level will be Rally 5 and it will grow to the top level, Rally 1, for World Rally Cars.
MH: Currently there is a general problem with the Appendix J homologation system, on which eligibility for running in international championship rallies is based.Manufacturers now don’t just homologate ordinary production cars, they only homologate specialist cars directly aimed at competition. It is a complete change from 20-30 years ago, when very many cars on the market were homologated.Is there any way you can persuade manufacturers to widen the number of cars that they homologate?YM: This situation was another reason for the new Pyramid. The intention for the other categories is to open up the homologation of production cars, more like it was in the past.
Something similar to Group N is also the new R1 regulation now, which was really more open than what we had in the last years. The World Rally Championship will be based on all types of cars listed in the Pyramid.
The cars we have for the moment are World Rally Cars, R5 cars, but also two levels of two-wheel drive cars. With the future Rally 3, we will have five different layers of car.
These days Group A and Group N are all dead now as far as the World Rally Championship is concerned. We have decided to cancel the categories where we don’t have any or very few cars currently running in World Rally Championship.
All these categories have been taken out of the World Rally Championship for 2019.
Group N cars have been banned from the WRC from 2019 onwards.
MH: When we look even further into the future stability requirements, the 2017 rules for the higher performance World Rally Cars will stay for a while. But for how long will World Rally Cars be the premier formula for the World Rally Championship?YM: We are now working on the next design of World Rally Car, which should appear in 2022.
It is difficult to say anything about the rules because it is only at the beginning of the discussions with manufacturers.
For sure we are looking to introduce some kind of hybridisation in the future World Rally Car, but otherwise the World Rally Car should be similar to what we have at the moment.
MH: Are you happy with the performance level of the current World Rally Cars?YM: When I see the closeness of the competition this year and listen to the feedback from the fans I can only be happy. Maybe it has been the best competition in 15 years.
I cannot see anything at the moment which says that the decision to introduce the 2017 specification was not a good decision.
MH: How do you think safety can be maintained when the performance of the cars is increasing all the time?YM: We work a lot (on) the level of security and safety on the World Rally Championship events, with the drivers with the new World Rally Car. I think we now have one of the safest cars we have had for a long time.
I think we can maintain easily the safety, not only the safety of the car, but also the safety of the public. We have done a lot of work. Michele Mouton is giving us very good feedback.
Regarding the use of speed-limiting chicanes, I don’t think we have more chicanes than in the past. Chicanes are something we have had in rallies since a long time, I cannot really see that we’ve increased the number of chicanes.
From the experience in Mexico (Ogier’s controversial penalty) we asked all the organisers not to have any chicanes in the Power Stage in future. As to what happened in Australia (when moved parts of the chicane led to other serious consequences), maybe we have to find something more up to date or modern than physical chicanes.
Improved spectator safety is still a major focus for the FIA. This photo from Spain was not a good look ....
We will work in the first part of 2019 on the idea of virtual chicane. We will study this work in the other disciplines, for example how they are using the RallySafe tracking system in Australia, which they have been using for a long time.
For sure we will study it to see if it could improve on the physical chicanes we currently use. Maybe it will be the way to have some chicanes which are 100% efficient.
MH: On a more general matter, when it comes to new ideas, there seems to be a conflict between what the Promoter is trying to do, what the FIA is trying to do, and what the teams try to do.YM: In the end it’s quite simple because everything goes to the World Rally Championship Commission, then all the proposals, with any ideas that come from the rally stakeholders, goes to the World Motor Sport Council.
Proposals and ideas can come from every stakeholder in the championship and at the end it is always the Commission who needs to approve the ideas that go to the World Motor Sport Council.
MH: Changes bring a lot of confusion. It was bad enough that “WRC” means either the World Rally Championship or the World Rally Car. Now the Pyramid talks about another Rally 2 in addition to the name of the system of restarting the next day!YM: Already it has been decided that the Rally2 rule will be renamed “Restart” so as not to be confused with the name of the new category in rallying.
We hope the new Pyramid will ensure the names of the groups, and of the classes, and all the names of the cars will be at the same level and not like at the moment where you have R1 being for the RC5 class, for example.
In 2020, everything will be on the same level, if I can say like that, 1 is 1 and 5 will be 5 …
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