The cat is now out of the bag so to speak. DirtFish first broke the story back in May, but last week we got official confirmation that WRC Promoter will be the new promoter of the European Rally Championship from 2022.
It’s the latest in a string of rights acquisitions from WRC Promoter, which has also taken over promoting both the World and European Rallycross Championships for 2021. To say it is becoming an increasingly prominent player in off-road motorsport wouldn’t be inaccurate.
While we wait to see what the World RX’s new era without its original promoter, IMG, has in store, the job WRC Promoter does with the ERC is perhaps more intriguing given the opportunity, in theory, it provides international rallying.
For a while the ERC has occupied some awkward ground. Nobody is quite sure where it really stands. Some try to compare it to WRC2, which isn’t really fair given it’s a regional series, not an international one.
Wondering where exactly the ERC fits into the European rallying pyramid is an entirely valid concern – particularly as several drivers, if finance allows, are electing to just skip it altogether and dive straight into the world championship.
And why wouldn’t they? The chance to learn the rallies they’ll hopefully be doing later in their career in bigger machinery is too good to miss, and they can do it right under the noses of the factory teams.
To cut a long ramble short, it has become too easy for the ERC to be ignored by anybody serious about making a career for themselves in a rally car. That shouldn’t be the case.
WRC Promoter is now tasked with making sure it isn’t.
And let’s be honest, it doesn’t really have anywhere to hide as it has all the tools at its disposal. Controlling both the WRC and the ERC makes the task of aligning the two series a lot easier than dealing with another promoter, doesn’t it?
So what actually needs to change? And how easily can it be achieved?
One of the biggest criticisms directed towards the ERC in its current guise is its complex class structure. While the intentions of ERC Junior are laudable – and the prizes not to be sniffed at – the segmentation is hard to grasp. And that’s for rallying people. Imagine trying to explain what your ERC3 Junior campaign really entails and how it differs from ERC Junior or even Junior WRC to a potential sponsor.
And then there’s the points system. As it’s an FIA-sanctioned series, the fact it doesn’t adopt the FIA points system is baffling. In the ERC, 30 points are offered for victory while points trickle down to the driver in 15th place. Leg points are also a very confusing addition, making it very difficult to actually calculate who has scored what from each round.
Both of these gripes can be solved with ease. The latter requires no explanation – just copy the WRC as even most national championships are – while the former is a simple fix too.
Run with three classes (ERC1, ERC2 and ERC3) for Rally2, Rally3 and Rally4 cars and restrict junior drivers to the Rally4 class. That will then feed perfectly into the Junior WRC, which from next year will be for Rally3 cars.
What else should WRC Promoter be looking at? Potentially, the event calendar. FIA rally director Yves Matton has already hinted as such, telling DirtFish recently that he would like to see more efficiency between the WRC and ERC.
The ERC would be a good home for several ex-world championship events to be held, or perhaps even a rotational system could be introduced. Picking holes at the current ERC calendar feels a tad harsh because there are already some stellar events on there, but Matton’s idea that Rally Italy in Sardinia could be held one week and Rally di Roma the next is brilliant.
Ultimately, the ERC needs to become the ideal stepping stone for drivers progressing out of their national series and onto the international stage. Currently the all-round package the WRC offers is just better, so the ERC is struggling to quite do this.
There’s nothing to say that can’t be rectified though – and that doesn’t preclude the WRC from being placed under the microscope either. For example, would anybody be too upset if WRC3 was lost and the Rally2 field became one again as WRC2? Instead, the private Rally2 driver could ply their trade in the ERC before making that step up.
Working with organizers of national series across the continent would be wise too to give the winners the opportunity to jump into the ERC before, hopefully, the WRC. This would make the ERC the optimum breeding ground, allowing strong talent to showcase itself at a high but more affordable level than the WRC.
But there’s a tricky balance to strike, as the ERC also has to appeal to drivers who aren’t aspiring to hit the world stage. These drivers can’t be sacrificed in the pursuit of bringing in young blood.
One of the greatest things about the ERC are the local heroes who add extra spice to the concoction. And a key reason the Intercontinental Rally Challenge is remembered so fondly is the driver line-up was an epic blend of experienced pedallers and promising up-and-comers.
It’s an important factor to bear in mind when selling and moulding the series regulations. It can’t just be essentially Junior WRC on steroids.
The ERC currently offers an attractive broadcast package through Eurosport, but it would be a major surprise to not see the video output mirror that of WRC and now World RX too.
However, it would be nice for any potential version of ‘ERC+’ not to be put behind its own paywall but instead added as an extension to the WRC+ package. That would not only please fans but also increase synergy between the two series, which, as we’ve established, needs to be a primary aim.
Regardless of what is or isn’t altered, the ERC is still going to be unattractive to some. If you can fast-track something, more often than not somebody will. So for the drivers with enough budget, they’ll hop straight into the WRC and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But the ERC has to be an appealing destination for the rest. Drivers need to want to compete there to develop their skills on their way up the ladder, not land there simply because they can’t afford the WRC.
WRC Promoter doesn’t face an easy task; but if anybody can make it work, it can. It has all the building blocks in its box, it just needs to start piecing them together.
It’s going to be fascinating to see what the precise plans for the ERC are in the coming weeks and months, and if they align with ours.
What would you change if you had the keys to the ERC? Let us know in the comments below.