Petter Solberg did some talking in his time at the very top of the World Rally Championship. When Hollywood started, everything else stopped. There was emotion, passion and nothing but love for the sport.
Nothing’s changed. He’s a little bit less LA than he once was, but the burning desire to see rallying recognized as the greatest sporting spectacle on earth remains.
Just as well really.
It was the 2003 world champion who decided the silence had to stop. He was, of course, ably assisted by some fairly rumbustiously forthright words from Thierry Neuville. The Belgian went route one in his criticism of the World Rally Championship last month – and even some of the WRC Promoter’s heaviest hitters listened in and were forced to admit the Hyundai man had a point.
Only last week, Sébastien Ogier echoed those sentiments.
“Thierry has said it,” offered the Frenchman, “nobody cares anymore about WRC.”
There was more. But we’ll keep that to ourselves – including the moment when the eight-time champion enquired whether I had a brain. It’s always a fair question.
I’d asked him, in light of his comments, how many more rallies he wanted to do this year. One of us thought it a “f***** crazy, stupid question”.
I don’t mind. Asking questions is what I do, what I’ve always done. More often than not, the response is useable. I can work with that.
There are a few folk around the service park who think that clip’s not going to be used. You’re wrong. At the right moment – which wasn’t then and probably isn’t now – it will likely land into one of our editor Eliot Barnard’s brilliant blooper collections.
It’s called entertainment.
Asking questions is vital. And, trust me, there are plenty of questions to be asked of the World Rally Championship, but those questions are only worth asking if you’re willing to front up to the answer.
We need to see more of this. Difficult questions have to be answered. And answered in a way that genuinely means something.
As somebody told me after last Wednesday’s meeting: “We’ve asked more questions and done more talking in two weeks than we have for 10 years in this championship.”
The time for answers has come.
The last couple of weeks – Rally Italy aside – has, it seems, been all about meetings. There was the Solberg summit on the Monday before Sardinia, then the FIA and WRC Promoter met for two days of discussions on Tuesday and Wednesday, before the drivers (and co-drivers) were zoomed in to a virtual chat with WRC Promoter.
Everything has been on the table in the last few days. Everything. The FIA-WRCP meetings were quarterlies, timetabled with the usual back and forth on all things technical and media measurables.
Communication is vital. And it starts here
Let’s set the technical regulations and the sporting aspect of the championship to one side for a moment. In January, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem promised DirtFish he would be on the case. He’d be working on it. He has been and so has FIA rally director Andrew Wheatley. More on that in a week or so.
Aside from the tech regs, Felipe Massa’s replacement as president of the drivers’ commission? How would Ronan Morgan grab you?
Anybody who’s seen the business end of the Baldwins alongside Mark Lovell in a Group A Ford Sierra RS Cosworth is fine by me. That was 1989. Oh, and all this chatter about getting the WRC onto the island of Ireland? Morgan did it in 2007 (and that’s no slight on the ongoing and outstanding efforts of Bobby Willis).
One of the best things about Morgan? He’s a communicator. A talker, and a do-er.
Communication is vital. And it starts here. Communicating overt positivity from the meetings lays the foundations for spreading the word of our sport.
I’ve heard from drivers, co-drivers and team officials with views from the meetings, but out of respect for the promoter’s wishes, we’re not going to talk specifics.
The WRC Promoter offered its own comment: “It was a constructive meeting, but the details will remain confidential.”
I’ll forward the FIA’s words when they land.
Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala sanctioned the following sentences.
“Rallying,” started the Finn, “has always been and remains an amazing sport, and the WRC has an incredible history since it started 50 years ago.
“It’s also important that we think about the future and what we can maybe do differently to make it better. We had a constructive meeting on Wednesday between the different stakeholders where many topics were discussed with some nice ideas to enhance things for the future.
“It’s good to see this positive collaboration and hopefully it will benefit the sport and make it stronger.”
The last two weeks have been a genuine force for good in the WRC. The realization that the likes of Jonne Halttunen and Martijn Wydaeghe have voices well worth listening to (they spoke eloquently and with authority on the future of the sport) is a step on.
The most obvious indicator that progress is being made is the fact that more meetings are being planned. Increasingly, folk are willing to set aside personal agendas and listen to alternative views. That, my friend, is progress.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel. But whatever we do now, let’s not hide it beneath the bushel.