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Guest speaker on the opening day of the Autosport Show in Birmingham was FIA Rally Director, Yves Matton, who gave presenter Colin Clark an insight into the first two years in his work.
Yves Matton: For sure I think we have achieved good things in the federation even if we are more working on the middle term and long term.
I would say that first thing we put in place when I joined FIA was a new rally pyramid and to try to have a variety of FIA cars which is really worldwide. This was not so difficult to do, but to put it in place takes some time.
In 2020 we will have a first achievement when the first Rally 3 cars will start to be built by some manufacturers and homologated in 2020/21. I think that will be one of the main achievements after I will say two years.
There are a lot of other ones also and the work we are doing on the new World Rally Car and the prolongation of the contract with the promoter.
Colin Clark: Possibly top of your agenda right now are the vehicle regulations for 2022. It's a step in the right direction for rallying to go hybrid, do you think it goes far enough?
YM: I think it's far enough. Okay, first we have to speak about World Rally Championship. The World Rally Championship is for professionals and amateurs, that's part of the DNA of rally, and the field of rally needs to be with some manufacturer cars and some amateur Gentleman drivers cars.
To have manufacturers involved in the championship we need to go hybrid, otherwise they are not anymore interested because for them it's a marketing tool. I think we are close now, the main principles were voted by the WMSC (World Motor Sport Council) in December 2019.
I think the new regulation is a good compromise to allow first the technologies they want to put forward, but also to allow different kinds of cars to be there.
I would say 10 years ago it was quite easy to understand what is a B segment car and what is a C segment car. Now each manufacturer has the chance to run, I would say, his own view on which kind of car they want to promote, so we need to give them some flexibility.
CC: With the new regulation comes extra cost. Malcolm Wilson, the boss of M-Sport, has expressed real concerns about the cost of the next generation, with potentially million euro rally cars. How does that sit with what you just talked about earlier, that rallying is special because of its Gentleman drivers and its manufacturers. Do we have the risk that costs could become prohibitive in terms of developing the championship?
YM: For sure that is where we could end up, with a one million euro car. I can tell you that we are working with the manufacturers to be far away from that. That's part of the job we are doing with the Team Principals and me.
I would say there is two layer work. One is the technical guys who are working on the specification of the car, not really taking care on what it will cost at the end. And then the guys who have to pay at the end.
It's not from the pocket from the Team Principals, but they have to go to their boards to have the budget. I can tell you that we are working quite hard with all the Team Principals to try to have a car which finally will be close to the car we have for the moment.
CC: The current generation of World Rally Car has so much that you got right, the looks, the power, the spectacle out in the stages. To ensure that carries on in the next generation is a challenge.
YM: Yes it's a challenge, but also I would say it's a great car for sure to drive, it's what all the drivers are saying. It's a great car to see also for the fans.
But for sure we increase the cost between this one and the previous one and maybe if we miss something it's that fact that the running cost and the cost of the car is too high to have Gentleman drivers who are able to use this car. This is something that we take into consideration for the next generation.
We have a target, it's to bring back 20 professionally prepared cars on each round in the World Rally Championship in the future. Okay, we know it will not be done in one or two years, it's really a five year target, and for that we need to find solutions to have some non professional drivers to drive this kind of car in the future.
CC: If we look at the opposite end of the sport, at the young juniors looking to break into rallying, what is your vision for establishing a process for youngsters to actually get into rallying and establish themselves?
YM: I would say first of all we are really concerned about grass roots, that's also why we have now launched really lowest level and cost effective rally cars.
We know that Ford and Renault are launching Rally 5 (the old R1 category) which is really bottom of the pyramid. But also for the first time at the FIA we will have a new young talent detection programme to be launched in May.
It will be a tool that will go around the world with the idea to have 100,000 potential drivers at the beginning of the process and then step-by-step to try to bring six drivers in World Rally Championship and we hope to have at the end to have one who could be in a factory car.
This combines two disciplines: rallying and eSports. You can start the selection process through the eSports methods. It's really quite exciting combining eSports with the opportunity then to go on and forge a career in rallying.
We will use all the new tools we have at the FIA, all the new platforms, that we launched last year. If I take the example of Thierry Neuville, he is coming from (grass roots activity) and at the end it seems it's working, at least for him. We want to use all the grass roots level tools to try to bring some new drivers in the game.
CC: We've also got Pirelli coming back into the championship. They're talking about running a young drivers scheme, is that separate to the scheme that you're talking about or would the two work together?
YM: For sure Pirelli's involved now since a few years in some Junior programmes, but also they will be partner of Rally Star, which will the FIA programme.
It was also part of the tendering for the future tyre, saying the World Rally Championship is to have a partner who is also really interested in youngsters, in talent detection.
CC: The 2022 regulations were clearly designed to be attractive to new manufacturers. What's the interest, have you been speaking to some new manufacturers, do you think we'll see some new players on the grid when we come to 2022?
YM: For sure some manufacturers are following what we are doing. I think now the next step will be when we have the full technical regulation to show them.
Hybrid technology makes sense for a lot of them. We have some who really want to be involved in rally, because also they think rally is a good tool for them, to use it as a marketing tool, but I think it will be difficult to have a new one in 2022, because we are already in 2020.
The new manufacturers we are speaking with I would say they don't have for the moment really in place the structure to do something.
But we saw in the past that Hyundai was able to do something in two years, so it is not impossible, but honestly it's quite difficult. But for sure with this new regulation we have some who are now around the table, who are listening and who are interested.
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