Prodrive chairman David Richards believes the World Rally Championship needs to adopt a “fresh approach” if it is to attract more manufacturers.
Ahead of the 2023 WRC season, the number of Rally1 entries for the opening Monte Carlo Rally stands at 10, only eight of which are full-time.
The WRC has made no secret of its desire to attract more manufacturers to join M-Sport, Toyota and Hyundai at the top table, but so far none have made the plunge.
Instead, brands have opted to put more of their efforts and budget into cross-country rallying, with road relevancy becoming increasingly prescient.
That aspect is not lost on Richards, who as a co-driver won the 1981 WRC title, as he believes one of the reason brands aren’t committing to the WRC is due to the current regulation set.
“I think the WRC has got a few issues to accept,” he told DirtFish. “The cars have got too complicated and expensive.
“You’ve only got to ask the manufacturers and people sitting in the wings, who’s interested to go there and that rather speaks for itself.
“We’ve got to look at that a bit and give it a fresh approach, more on the technical side of the championship than anything else.”
If you can come to the Dakar Rally for the price of a Monte Carlo entry, then there’s something wrongDavid Richards
Richards added that, while the WRC’s showcase events such as Monte Carlo continue to draw considerable attention, the lack of privateer Rally1 entries remains a concern.
Particularly when standalone events like the Dakar Rally – part of the World Rally-Raid Championship (W2RC) – are becoming more cost-effective.
“The events are the events, they are superb, and Monte Carlo will be wonderful again I am quite sure of that,” Richards said.
“But we do need more entries, that much is clear, and not just manufacturer entries, but top-level entries. There are a lot of private competitors who, if the costs were reasonable, would be out there competing.
“I think that’s where things have got out of hand. If you can come to the Dakar Rally for the price of a Monte Carlo entry, then there’s something wrong.
“The interest in this championship, and cross-country has never been at a higher level. We’re starting to see the manufacturer interest and from competitors who have never considered it before as a realistic championship to take part in.”
One of those manufacturer-affiliated teams present in Saudi Arabia for this year’s Dakar was M-Sport, through its managing director Malcolm Wilson.
The team is developing its Ford Ranger T1+ in association with South African squad Neil Woolridge Motorsport and is planning to make its debut on the Dakar in 2024.
While a full-time switch to cross-country rallying is unlikely for M-Sport, Wilson did accept that the discipline’s endurance characteristics has made a lot of teams turn their heads towards W2RC.
“A lot of this is very much like the old days of the WRC, even back in 1997 in Safari for us,” Wilson explained.
“Judging by what I’ve seen, I suppose [the way we’re approaching it] it’s a little bit like looking back to what we did in those days because there are a lot of similarities.
“OK, car technology has moved on a lot, but I think the basis of what this event is about is durability and reliability of your package; you don’t necessarily need to have to the fastest, which is obviously different to what the WRC is currently.
“The thing that impresses the most is the scale and magnitude of what it takes to put on an event like this for these many competitors. All I can say is that I take my hat off to the ASO for putting on such an incredible, world class event in the most difficult conditions.”
M-Sport is involved at every level in the WRC currently, and exclusively runs the Junior WRC with its Fiesta Rally3 car.
But with the company’s circuit racing programs now a thing of the past, Wilson says that a focused campaign in cross-country is one of many new opportunities outside the WRC.
“When you’re in the WRC at the level we are in, and of course you’ve got to remember that we’re in every category of car, it honestly keeps us fully occupied,” said Wilson.
“And then we were doing the race program with Bentley and Jaguar, and some of those things have now disappeared so we have now got a bit more capacity, let’s say, and of course our new facility. So we are looking at all sorts of opportunities and this is one of them.”