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Martin Holmes looks at Rally Sweden in his latest column - the problems, the issues and his thoughts behind the WRC Promotor's run of misfortune. -----

Never-ending series of problems for the WRC

In nine stages and 148 kilometres of competitive distance, more issues emerged from Rally Sweden than in most rallies twice the length. 

Of course much was to do with the weather.  This rally identified an increasing threat to what traditionally is one of the most popular rounds of the WRC.  

Everyone is aware of the problems of global warming, but when it comes to planning a viable World Rally Championship, one suspects that the FIA may have missed some of the details!  

Locked into a praiseworthy policy of wanting to include a winter rally in the annual WRC calendar, the Swedish Rally has long enjoyed a secure annual position in the series.  

Generally speaking, Rally Sweden has been a full snow covered rally in past seasons.

It is now long ago since WRC organisers have been able to make quick-fix changes to the long term planning of their event. 

Dates, formats of events and the need to ensure specification of cars remain unchanged from event to event also mean that rules cannot nowadays be changed to suit emerging situations. Sporting and vehicular details cannot be changed at short notice because the climatic circumstances have moved on. 

However, much the sporting fan may think the solution can be to change locations and rules to suit the purposes of our sport - life is not so simple!

The weather problems in Sweden have been ongoing and predictable for many years.  

Years ago different solutions were available.  Stages could be run in a wide variety of different regions in a host country, nowadays events must fit into prescribed championship parameters, approved by the FIA and the teams who enter the WRC. 

Stage conditions in Sweden were far from the traditional snowy spectacle. Photo: Peter Whitten

Why has the WRC recently gone wrong?

Some could say that the present WRC problems have originated from a series of unfortunate occurrences, others from a lack of attention to the essential planning the WRC needs. 

Almost every problem can be assigned to misfortunes, but the consequence of these events can equally be assigned to a lack of preventative caution. 

The studded Michelin tyres were talked about a lot at Rally Sweden. Photo: Peter Whitten

A truism in motorsport is that whatever can go wrong will go wrong, however unlikely it seems it would happen. 

This is a message which has not sunk in with the FIA and the WRC Promoters, both of whom are engaged in finding new locations for events rather than addressing problems faced by existing venues. 

Recent misfortunes make unhappy reading. 

Failure to take precautions against weather problems was evident in the way that the WRC has got sucked into trying to run the China Rally, an event which twice was abandoned at short notice. 

Nobody has really explained the trouble was due to lack of attention to a climatic problem – or whether an embarrassing financial shortfall was the real problem in China. 

In any case, the pressure on the WRC Promoter to run an event in that country did not help. 

More recently, Toyota’s decision earlier this year to abstain from the official 2020 WRC presentation at the NEC in Birmingham caused the highly embarrassing cancellation of the anticipated seasonal pre-season presentation. 

Wasn’t attendance at this function a condition on registering for the championship? 

It's difficult to know exactly why the 2020 Chile Rally was cancelled, we must wait to find out the national situation in April.  

As for dropping Catalunya Rally from the calendar, always one reason or another has been suggested.  The cancellation of Rally Australia was clearly because of the nation’s fires. Many of the other instances are largely predictable within the sport. 

Rally Australia was cancelled in 2019 due to the country's devastating bushfires. Photo: Ben Dubbeld

The frequency in which problems have been happening has led to the impression that decisions in the sport were being made without fallback contingencies in place, seldom more so than the latest weather problems. 

The recent years have been marked by evidence of global warming long before the next year’s calendar has to be settled.

Some have been due to the Promoter not fully carrying out due diligence to protect the plans.  Weather disturbances don’t usually suddenly happen.  Earthquakes happen in China, late summer cyclones in Japan, fires in Australia are not unknown, even if in 2019 they were very unprecedented. 

It is hard to believe the sport has not been damaged by the energy of the WRC Promoter’s push for global expansion.

Who sanctions the changes of WRC rules?

When it became highly likely the only way the Swedish Rally could take place was by dramatic shortening, there was concern that standing regulations which state how championship points are to be awarded if WRC events are shortened would be applied:

“"3.3.3   Attribution of reduced points

Should one of the rallies not be able to be run in its entirety, Championship points shall be awarded based on the established classification:

– Full points if 75% or more of the scheduled length of special stages has been run,

– Half points being awarded if 50% or more but and less than 75% of the scheduled length of special stages has been run.

– One third of points being awarded if 25% or more but less than 50% of the scheduled length of special stages has been run…"

 A pre-event Bulletin from the rally’s Clerk of the Course (within a series of route changes) set out the following: 

“RALLY SWEDEN 2020  Date: 11.2.2020 Time: 14:00 hrs

From: The clerk of the course

To: All competitors / crew members 

. . . .

3. CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS

All competitors are informed that, in accordance with Art. 3.3.3 of the 2020 FIA WRC Sporting Regulations, the FIA has decided and clarifies that the length of special stages in the 2020 Rally Sweden itinerary as amended in Bulletin 1 (171,64 km) shall be considered as 100% of ’the scheduled length of special stages’ for the attribution of championship points.

Stig Rune Kjernsli

Clerk of the Course”

However much the decision could be generally welcomed on the grounds of fairness, it was a surprise that a fundamental and unprecedented change in the FIA’s sporting regulations could be announced by an event organiser before approved by the World Motor Sport Council.

A distinct lack of snow for much of Rally Sweden made it tough for competitors and organisers. Photo: Peter Whitten

British motorsport magazines

There has been a major change in sporting media coverage in Britain, which over the years has become a “go-to” source of news and rumours about motorsport.  

The story of British motorsport media coverage has been legendary. 

In the mid-sixties, there were four weekly publications dedicated to providing a news service - Motor, Autocar, which ceased publication when the title was sold (after towards a 100 years), Autosport and Motoring News – which changed its title to Motorsport News. 

Martin Holmes believes Motorsport News missed a perfect opportunity to cover Elfyn Evans' Rally Sweden victory.

Other titles such as Car Week came and went in the meanwhile, all of them vying with each other for exclusive news, as well as comprehensive event coverage. 

The latest development was announced on 12th February in Motorsport News, the last remaining title in the once impressive British media line-up. 

The title announced that the new magazine owners have moved printing deadline to Friday afternoon, it had previously and proudly been Tuesday morning in earlier times, explaining the obvious:

 “The controversial bit of our plan is shifting the print deadline to a Friday afternoon, thereby preventing us from being able to publish a weekend’s race results in the paper you pick up the following Wednesday.  The reasons are numerous and, in our view at least, compelling: printing earlier and consolidating deliveries with our other weeklies is good for cost and good for the planet as it means fewer lorry loads." 

"It also means our editorial and design team don’t have to sweat a 15-hour day on a Monday, compiling results that many of you would have already read elsewhere, be it on social media or online.  The removal of that focus on results that are already out of date by the Wednesday also frees up pages for other content that we hope you’ll find more engaging.”  

Extraordinary disappointment - an assault on the integrity of British motorsport.

It's the end of a hundred years of dedicated and respected media tradition. 

Sadly, the first week in which the new Motorsport News publishers decided to delay the process of conveying exciting rally news was when Elfyn Evans won the Swedish Rally.

 
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