Suddenly it is all change in rallying! British rallying embarks on a major new venture. In Argentina Ott Tanak scores his first win for Toyota and leaves the rest of the field standing still, with Ogier for once at a loss how to react.
The day after the end of Rally Argentina the organisers of Wales Rally GB finally confirmed that they will run joined-up nearby forest stages linked together with stretches of closed public roads.
And there has been a shake-up in the promotion of the WRC Promoters’ approach to their back-up work in the championship. Their brand new All Live subscription service provided a new central medium for reporting what was going on – albeit at the cost of losing the popular Rally Live radio service.
It must have been a long time since the last time I had headed off to a rally in Britain with such a sense of excitement. This was the Corbeau Seats Rally held in the unlikely region of Essex, where the Chelmsford Motor Club, with the support of the British federation, ran the first motorsport event to avail itself of the opportunities presented by the country’s new closed public roads legislation.
Suddenly the world of closed road special stages, rally cars rushing at speed through villages, pacenote recceing, and everything with which I was familiar abroad, was here in my country! Even better, it was run in the delightful countryside of East Anglia, not far from London.
And best of all, the weather was superb! Five short stages were each run three times.
Considerable pains were taken with security issues. Fortunately the use of ‘two sides of triangle’ junctions helped slow the cars down so there were very few actual chicanes. World Rally Cars were admitted and the winning speeds on stages were in the 100-110 km/h range.
When I asked the organisers what the local spectators already knew about rallying, they proudly explained that they were finding out for the first time now! It may not have been the grandest rally in history, but for sure a lot of fans will happily recall they had not missed it, me included.
Sebastien Ogier was at a loss to explain the Fiesta's lack of pace in Argentina.
Now, over to South America. One of the features of the “2017 World Rally Car” formula is that technically it is challenging to a far greater degree than before. Each event seems to present its own challenges to a far greater degree than before. Each team has gone through rallies where they were surprisingly super-competitive or off the pace.
For a year now Citroen Racing has struggled to find why their C3 WRC was sometimes a most evil handling car, then other times it could do no wrong. In Corsica, Hyundai was mysteriously completely off the pace, here in Argentina, Ogier wistfully pondered why suddenly the Fiesta WRC was incapable of its usual speeds after dominating the previous round.
Toyota, the newest team in the current formula, keeps on discovering problems it had not seen before. This time Toyota drivers won the most stages, though all three Hyundai drivers had their victories, and M-Sport won one stage and Citroen none.
There was another mystery in Argentina, centred on the ambitions of the FIA in their WRC aspirations. The weekend before Rally Argentina, senior FIA personnel went to inspect the Mobil Rally in neighbouring Chile, proclaimed to be a WRC candidate rally.
By all accounts it was a small but well planned and run event. The mystery is why the WRC, searching to attract new regions of the world, made it clear that this was a serious candidate for the WRC when they already had the well established Rally Argentina.
When New Zealand gets discounted as being too close to Rally Australia, why is Chile considered a suitable future venue in its own right? Is it an oblique way of telling all the other organisers generally that their event does not have an automatic right to a place in the WRC calendar?
Wales Rally GB Director Ben Taylor.
Back in Britain, it was also hard to fathom exactly why the FIA were presented with unacceptable Wales Rally GB final PowerStage plans which created such alarm among British fans. Anyhow, the crisis seems to have passed for the moment, and nothing much emerged at the WRGB launch ceremony at Llandudno to explain how the crisis was allowed to escalate the way it did.
Influential Welsh politicians were on hand to make their speeches. It was clear that this had been a critical occasion for the rally organisers as delicate negotiations were ongoing about their sponsorship involvement post-2018.
The main interest at Llandudno was to discover to what extent the new legislation was being used in the format of the rally. The crisis had been defused when the FIA agreed to give a dispensation to authorise the final the PowerStage to be held earlier in the final day, enabling the final all-asphalt Great Orme section to run as a non-PowerStage.
It had been five years since the FIA had previously granted such a dispensation and, guess what, it had been given to Wales Rally GB as well!
Wales Rally GB's Great Orme stage.
Back with the WRC Promoters, it was a shock two months ago to discover that Rally Radio was no longer going to be allowed to carry on. All Live had started up this year, developed out of its subscription WRC+ coverage.
This new medium had continued alongside Rally Radio, but efforts to integrate this with All Live were unhappy. Corsica was the final rally before Rally Radio was canned.
It had been founded by the late Greg Strange and then adopted by the FIA under the guidance of Becs Williams, with Colin Clark. It was a service for fans round the world, in every global time zone. It was an opportunity on a scale never attempted before.
To the rally working media it was an invaluable information supply. End of stage quotes revealed insights into the true feeling of the drivers before they had time to readjust themselves into PR mode and gave a lot of opportunities to find out what was going on in the support championship teams.
As the WRC Promoters changed hands and, increasingly, the support championship teams’ interests passed over, the Radio service was a great way to go.
Becs Williams and Julian Porter.
The current approach is to remove all this and concentrate on All Live. All Live offered a fantastic opportunity of helicopter footage, in car footage, but with reduced driver end-of-stage quotes. The programme was aimed at explaining as well as informing a wider audience than before.
While the visual impact on the event is massive and captivating, it was invasive as an information service. It reduced the availability of the level of information supply that Radio provided. The backup Text blog service continues thankfully, but is restricted in the quantity of information it had on its site.
The WRC Promoters have turned their work from information supply into entertainment. It is all change in the WRC world, but not always in the way we need.
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