Did the WRC sprint-format hit the mark?

Sardinia was the first event to trial the WRC’s new sprint itinerary. What was the verdict?


While the 2.5-day WRC round is nothing new, it was a necessity for some rallies through Covid-19, last weekend’s Alghero-based event was the first to utilize it as a WRC Promoter initiative designed to shake-up a formulaic approach followed by rallies for almost 30 years.

Sardinia’s competitive action took place within a 48-hour window, beginning on Friday afternoon following shakedown earlier that day. That allowed the recce to run through Thursday, enabling personnel to arrive a day later. So as well as providing more intense competition for fans to enjoy, it meant less time away from families for competitors and lower accommodation costs for teams.

“The stages did seem to follow each other much quicker and with less downtime,” said Hyundai WRC program manager Christian Loriaux, “and it was more active, more exciting. I didn’t have to feel this weekend I was waiting half a day between two stages. So that was really good.

“And it’s good to make the format shorter in terms of bringing people a bit later and saving a bit of budget, because at the end, the rally was exciting and we can save a bit of budget.”

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The format is nice, but how they make it is stupid Dani Sordo

The intensive schedule, with a long Saturday contributing more than half the event’s stage mileage, meant the overall competitive mileage was down only 17% on last year’s rally. But with no midday service on any of the three legs, it increased pressure on man and machine on what is already a physically demanding rally.

“It was very long hours for drivers and engineers and team management,” said Loriaux. “And some of the mechanics had a very, very short night and long day, so that could do with a bit more review. But I think it’s moving in the right direction.”

Among the drivers, podium finisher – and two-time previous Sardinia winner – Dani Sordo was critical of Saturday’s route which featured two pairs of two stages, each run twice, with only a 15-minute regroup and 15-minute tire-fitting zone between the morning and afternoon loops.

“The format is nice, but how they make it is stupid,” Sordo told DirtFish, “because [the] first day, it was good, shakedown and then some stages. But Saturday, it was a long, long day and also two stages, around [again] like four stages [in each loop]. And after, no service.”

Shorter days and/or longer halts could provide promotional opportunities, according to Elfyn Evans. The Toyota driver, who dropped nearly two minutes to team-mate Sébastien Ogier across Saturday, also felt he could have benefited from having more chance to debrief and prepare for the next section. Reintroducing remote service locations is a potential solution.


Remote service would allow more than just tire fitting

“I think it doesn’t take a lot really to deliver that [remote service option],” said Evans. “It should be quite a simple fix, and it gives the rallies a lot more flexibility also – [they] can cut the road mileage a lot down [and it gives] the option then to shorten days quite a lot, and give a bit more time for us to be with fans or whatever you want.

“But when you have 15 minutes in a 16-hour day to eat your lunch, it’s not ideal. That and process all the information you’re trying to do and talk to the engineers and all the rest of it; it’s short at the minute and quite difficult to manage.”

Team-mate Takamoto Katsuta, who was forced to retire on Saturday afternoon with a gearbox issue, concurred. “It didn’t feel so short because we had so long time in the car,” he said. “No midday service, only tire fitting zone. It’s very, very hard and demanding for the cars, and drivers and co-drivers.


Drivers felt the heat of intensive schedule

“I’m not a big fan of this. This kind of rally needs a midday service, at least.”

Next week’s World Motor Sport Council meeting brings an opportunity to approve sporting regulation changes, offering WRC rounds more freedom and scope to tweak itineraries – that’s expected to include the return of the remote service park.

“We had the tire [fitting] service here – that service becomes a proper [remote] service,” explained Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala. “Taka had a problem, but we couldn’t fix it because we didn’t have parts over there. So like this, we could keep all the cars driving in a rally with the proper services.”

WRC2 pacesetters Sami Pajari and Yohan Rossel enjoyed the challenge but were also in favor of incorporating a midday service. “For one or two rallies like that, it’s good,” added Rossel.