Oliver Solberg’s thoughts, published on DirtFish earlier this week, certainly provide food for thought.
The 21-year-old reasoned that this year’s WRC2 champion might be the most consistent driver, but would they be the most consistently quick driver? There’s nothing new in this. Three-time World Rally winner and 2021 WRC2 champion Andreas Mikkelsen voiced precisely the same concerns last year.
Both drivers have been criticized for not taking a more measured approach to the season. Everybody knows the rules when they sign up for WRC2 – but does this mean we decry the need for speed? Surely not.
As former Subaru technical director and team principal David Lapworth said: “You can teach a driver about consistency. You can’t teach them to be fast.”
We’re all aware titles are crafted from consistency and pace. Question is: do the current WRC2 regulations allow for that? Or does a system where drivers choose seven from 13 rounds favor strategy over speed?
In short, are current WRC2 rules still fit for purpose? If not, how else should it be done? That’s the question we asked out writing team, and here are their responses:
There should be no room for tactics
WRC2’s rules have never been fit for purpose.
Yes, it offers parity to the events, giving them all a shot at pulling in extra entries via WRC2 and its associated titles, but for me this is another example of the WRC papering over the cracks.
Shouldn’t a WRC round be sufficiently aspirational to national competitors that each world championship event is overflowing with domestic drivers trying to take on the best in the world in their own backyard?
I mean, tell me another sport in the whole wide world where you and I can genuinely take on Kalle Rovanperä and Elfyn Evans on a level playing field.
I digress. Not for the first time.
I find the whole concept of drivers being able to avoid each other quite ridiculous and always have done. Being a champion means being the best of the best and beating the best of the best.
George Donaldson will, undoubtedly, tell me I’m being naive not expecting motorsport teams to take a strategic approach, but I don’t care – I’m coming at it from a purist’s perspective; from the angle of wanting to see the fastest driver be rewarded.
ERC’s existence would make change difficult
Honestly? I’m bored of this.
In the purest sporting sense, Solberg has a point. Rally1 drivers don’t get to drop a score and they don’t only show up to half the rallies. Every driver that’s doing a full season turns up to the same set of rallies as the rest of the drivers. They fight on the same roads at (roughly) the same time under equal conditions. Not in the aggregate in different bits of the planet.
Let’s say you have a fixed six-round calendar. There are two options for how to plot said calendar.
The first is easy to comprehend: have an entirely Euro-centric calendar to ensure the maximum number of entrants for the entire championship season. ERC, now a WRC Promoter property, had suffered for years with a lack of depth in terms of full-season entrants that would follow the series wherever it went – it was by and large locals propping up the entry lists. Basing the series around a set of events where lots of regular competitors can more easily afford the logistics of doing the full season makes sense.
But you have to be pragmatic. WRC Promoter has a business to run. It needs to generate revenue. Some of that revenue comes from commercial agreements with event organizers. That’s where option two comes in: a mix of European rounds and mandatory fly-aways.
Imagine learning as an event organizer that the single biggest category in the championship in terms of average entries isn’t going to be present. That means less TV time on broadcast networks that the Promoter has deals with, less global activation (and remember how many rallies get government cash based on the raised international profile and tourism benefits it provides). If I was in the event organizer’s shoes, I’d demand a lowered fee from the Promoter.
If you go down that route, the Kajto argument comes in – you shouldn’t be able to buy your way to bigger results by travelling to far-away rallies with smaller entry lists. But I don’t buy this argument. Firstly because it didn’t even work – Kajto was bested by the New Zealanders and too many Europeans showed up to Japan for his path to have been made any easier.
That and Kajto’s ability to raise money to go to these is no fluke – as last year’s eventual champion Emil Lindholm also pointed out. It’s a form of hard graft itself. I’m privileged to have access to specialized data on certain aspects of media value in the world championship. What I can say is this: it’s no accident that Kajto’s commercial game is the equivalent of a Gilles Panizzi setup special on asphalt. If points were handed out for commercial savvy, he’d beat all the Rally1 drivers hands down.
So, yes, the same six rounds for everyone sounds ideal from a pure sporting perspective. But to make it competitive from start to finish it would have to be based in Europe. And we already have a championship run by the Promoter for this: it’s called the European Rally Championship.
Rally1 has caused this problem
Oliver Solberg’s frustrations are easy to understand, and are no doubt shared by many fans around the world.
It shouldn’t be that the winner of WRC2 potentially isn’t celebrated, but instead ridiculed, for their achievement because they had more fortune, or didn’t compete directly against their key championship rivals as often.
Just to add here, if that does happen (as was almost the case with Kajetan Kajetanowicz and could be again this year) don’t hate the player, hate the game.
But as far as I’m concerned, the WRC2 rules aren’t really the problem.
If you increase the number of events drivers can score points on, then it becomes a battle of budgets – which nobody likes! And although it would be possible to just nominate seven rounds of the championship and say ‘these are the events that count’ – as is the case with Junior WRC – it would leave half the year’s entry lists looking pretty sorry for themselves and still wouldn’t fully cure the concern that the out-and-out fastest driver wins with the same probability for technical drama.
The current system we have now always used to work when WRC2 was a genuine battle between privateer drivers, with the odd ex-factory pilot filtering in every now and again. It’s only seeming unfit for purpose today because WRC2 is completely flooded with talent, and the stakes are therefore higher.
For me, that points to the top class being responsible: Rally1.
The cost and lack of manufacturers involved at the top of the FIA’s rally pyramid is causing a severe bottleneck of talent in WRC2, which is making rules designed for private drivers feel flawed.
I therefore wouldn’t change WRC2’s rules. Instead, I would find a way to make Rally2 the new Rally1 and leave WRC2 open for the same category of cars but reserved for drivers who aren’t yet ready, financially or otherwise, to compete for a world title.