When Jona Siebel addresses the room, you listen. He has an aura – a voice of authority – that draws you in. And that’s before you consider the fact he is the managing director of one of the biggest players in global rallying.
Yesterday, the virtual room Siebel was addressing was full of European Rally Championship stakeholders; there to listen to WRC Promoter’s plans for the series in 2022 and beyond.
WRC Promoter securing the rights for the ERC is an important political and sporting move in the world of rallying.
It not only strengthens WRC Promoter’s portfolio – which already consisted of the World Rally and Rallycross Championships before the acquisition of the ERC – but, perhaps more crucially, allows it to “close the gap” between the ERC and the WRC.
That last point was a key part of WRC Promoter’s presentation on Thursday. Siebel, Peter Thul (senior director, sport) and Simon Larkin (senior director, events) were all in attendance to speak to event organizers, teams and select members of the media – including DirtFish – about plans for the new-look European championship.
All of the ideas outlined remain provisional as, although they’ve been discussed with the FIA, they require rubber-stamping at the FIA Rallies Commission. But it’s obvious there’s a strong vision to make ERC a feeder to the WRC and for the two series to complement each other.
The calendar is a clear example of this. While the 2022 offering may appear a touch uninspiring for the start of a new era with the same eight events as 2021 (and potentially returnee Ypres), there will be no clashes between WRC and ERC events.
In 2021, Rally Fafe in the ERC clashed with Rally Finland and the season finale on the Canary Islands clashes with the WRC’s final round at Monza. This may sound relatively trivial, but with several teams and drivers competing in both championships, completely avoiding clashes means no one with hands in both has to stifle a championship push and, in turn, it should draw more attention to the ERC.
Events will be further streamlined to mirror WRC rallies too. While current ERC rallies are largely two-day affairs that offer leg points for drivers’ performances across individual days of competition, that system will be abolished in 2022.
Instead, an end-of-rally powerstage will be run offering bonus points just like in the WRC. And that of course will be broadcast live on TV to the ERC’s broadcast partners or via the new All Live system – although so far it is unclear whether ERC All Live will be a standalone subscription service or an add-on to the WRC offering.
Another key detail is the fact that ERC will be run by WRC Promoter – not a new ERC Promoter or a derivative thereof. While World RX is being run under the RX Promoter umbrella, ERC won’t get the same treatment – further signifying the cohesion between the WRC and ERC.
But perhaps the biggest news surrounds the junior categories. From next year, Junior WRC switches to an all-wheel-drive format for Ford Fiesta Rally3s; ditching the front-wheel-drive machines that have formed the backbone of the championship ever since its inception in 2001.
However – while it is all yet to be formalized – talk is that Junior ERC will be the home for the front-wheel-drive Ford Fiesta Rally4s. So for drivers wishing to compete in a competitive one-make series in a two-wheel-drive car, Junior ERC will be the ideal stepping stone.
The ERC will not have an exclusive deal with a tire manufacturer however. While Pirelli exclusively supplies rubber to WRC competitors, the ERC will remain an open-tire war. This year, Pirelli takes on Michelin, MRF and Hankook there.
WRC Promoter also plans to introduce sustainable fuel into the ERC from 2023 (the WRC is heading this way in 2022) and claims to have had lots of interest from events across Europe about being part of the championship. While 2022’s calendar remains similar to 2021, the future vision is to keep classic ERC events but also venture out to new countries.
It all sounds particularly promising. We await further news and clarification with interest.