Answering the president’s call

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has stimulated conversation and potential change in the WRC. It's been quite a week here at DirtFish...

Mohammed bin Sulayem

It’s not often that Friday afternoon is interrupted by a call from the president. Last Friday was.

Mohammed Ben Sulayem has listened. And acted. Will it be enough?

Last week was a strange one for the World Rally Championship. There was so much going on behind the scenes. Trying to keep up with the briefings and the meetings wasn’t easy, but rarely has there been so much at stake in terms of the future direction of technical regulations.

At the start of the week, Rally2 looked very much to be the future. It had to be. Common sense and simple economics dictated. In the apparent absence of significant value to be derived from competition, maintaining any level of competition would mean cutting costs.

What was driving this? Where had this suddenly come from?

The impetus for change had come from the top.

Sebastien Ogier and Mohammed Ben Sulayem

“I could see,” governing body FIA president MBS told DirtFish, “I could see something had to be done. Of course I could. And it had to be done quickly. I told David [Richards] I wanted immediate action. I told him to go and select a team for a working group and come back to me with names in two hours. He did that.

“Then we said we wanted answers in two weeks, we got them in days. This is how quickly we can move things. This is what we have to do.

“People have to remember, rallying is where I came from. This incredible sport has helped to make me who I am and what I am. Like I told you before, I did become distracted by things, by other aspects of this job – but we are working very closely now and the WRC is very much the focus of our attention.”

The president was undoubtedly the stimulus for action and debate – and that debate helped bring shape and understanding to the immediate future of the WRC.

From Thursday’s stakeholder meeting in London’s Trafalgar Square, it looks increasingly clear that Rally1 will remain in place until 2026, the end of the five-year homologation cycle.

What happened to Rally2?

DirtFish understands the pivotal shift was Hyundai Motorsport’s commitment to remain with the sport for the next three years. There had been significant chatter about the Korean firm jumping ship to focus on endurance racing. A frontline 2024 driver line-up short of any kind of eye to the future fanned those flames and fueled further speculation around Alzenau.

The other complication was always going to come for M-Sport. Ford’s participation is based heavily around the hybrid element and without that, the Blue Oval would be missing from the service park. Yes, a move to Rally2 might have helped the British firm sell more of its WRC2 frontrunning Fiestas, but the lack of manufacturer support would hurt.

And then there was the fact that the FIA had committed to the regulations. Admittedly, the initial cycle was for three years and would have concluded at the end of next season (hence the need to hastily fix a new deal with hybrid supplier Compact Dynamics for 2025/26), but it now runs for the full five years.

What happened to Rally2? We understand Hyundai Motorsport’s commitment was pivotal David Evans

The teams and manufacturers have invested heavily in Rally1 and those costs are spread across the full term – a sudden change of direction does nothing for series stability.

Yes, the motivation for change was quite, quite different, but the similarities drawn between a potential jump to Rally2 and the move from Group B to Group A between 1986 and 1987. The drop in power from a peak of 540bhp to around 280 would have been almost identical to the gap between Lancia’s Delta S4 and its HF 4×4.

The difference here, however, is that we have a ready-made Group A. In 1987, it was Lancia and Mazda with a bit of Ford and BMW. Now we’ve got a myriad of Rally2 metal ready to take to the stages.

For me, it was a head and heart thing. The head said Rally2 would probably make more sense, but the heart would always sit with seeing the history’s fastest-ever rally cars sending it off the line. There’s nothing quite like it.

Now, we have to ringfence and safeguard that spectacle.

Don’t forget, nothing’s fixed yet. There’s still debate to be had, but if Rally1 does remain, lessons must be learned and if we’re living in the same state of WRC visibility as we are right now, 2027 has to come somewhere between Rally1 and Rally2.

But, above all of that. Congratulations to Ben Sulayem and his deputy president Robert Reid (and Richards for doing the legwork) for starting the conversation.

It was overdue, but the alacrity had to be admired.