Evans questions WRC testing limitations

Evans believes seven test days per year isn't suitable rally preparation – but M-Sport's team principal has a different view

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Should World Rally Championship teams be allowed to conduct more testing than current rules allow? Elfyn Evans thinks so. But his view is not shared by everyone in the service park.

Under the current regulations, each manufacturer is limited to 21 days of testing per year. These can be distributed across its driver line-up as it sees fit.

Elfyn Evans was vocal about the current limitations following Rally Italy Sardinia, stating that the restriction makes life more difficult for drivers and is more limiting than any other form of motorsport.

“It’s always difficult with the current format,” Evans told DirtFish. “I think it’s, give or take, seven days per driver per year. I don’t know of any other professional sport where a driver can only practice for seven days of the year, because that’s ultimately what it means here.”

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Evans has yet to score a podium finish on a gravel rally this season – he finished fourth last time out in Sardinia

Formula 1’s testing restrictions are fairly similar in terms of hours spent behind the wheel; across all practice sessions that take place before qualifying and races, drivers can accrue up to 60 hours of track time. F1 teams also conduct 24 hours of pre-season testing but are limited to running one car and driver at a time.

By comparison, on a day with no unexpected stoppages, a WRC pre-event test day typically runs for nine hours – making for a season total of up to 63 hours. And while there are 10 days of extra tire testing as Hankook prepares to enter the WRC next season, no setup or development work is allowed during those.

A key difference is the ability to hone setup directly on the roads being driven. F1 drivers practice on every circuit they compete on; that is not the case in WRC, as with the restriction of 21 days per team per year, each driver cannot test in every country they’ll compete in during the season if a team splits its allocation evenly across all its full-time drivers.

Amending WRC testing regulations was not on the agenda at the recent World Motor Sport Council meeting that confirmed Rally1’s retention until the end of the 2026 season. Evans is hoping it will now move up the priority order.

“It’s not really been talked about so much,” he added, “but it definitely seems difficult to prepare thoroughly now, with the way things are at the moment.”

Evans’ view is not universal in the service park. M-Sport team principal Rich Millener believes additional test days are not a silver bullet, highlighting that Ott Tänak’s 0.2-second win over Sébastien Ogier at Rally Italy Sardinia this month means change isn’t necessary.

He said: “Drivers will want to drive as much as possible. I would counter-argue that we had the closest result in WRC since Jordan 2011 in Sardinia and most people didn’t test. So, you know, is testing going to make a big difference?

“At this point in the cycle of the cars, when we’re three years in and we’re going to test and set up very minute things, is it a big thing to worry about? I don’t know.”

Millener confirmed to DirtFish that M-Sport is not planning to use its entire 21-day allocation due to budgetary reasons. But that’s also partly down to running only two drivers; on paper, Adrien Fourmaux and Grégoire Munster have 10.5 days of testing available each, if M-Sport was to share its allocation equally between its drivers.

M-Sport ran a three-day test earlier this week ahead of the summer’s three fast gravel rallies. With teams unable to test in every country they compete in due to the mathematical limitations of test days, M-Sport chose Estonia for its fast gravel test; similarly, Toyota had conducted its Rally Portugal test in Sardinia earlier this year.


Without a championship title to chase, M-Sport is not planning to use its entire allocation of testing days for the 2024 season

While Millener accepts it’s not ideal, he also questioned how much impact those restrictions have on a practical level.

“It will probably be quite a big compromise,” said Millener. “But, again I would argue, how many times have I seen people go testing and report they’ve had a fantastic test, then get to the rally and everything’s wrong, and they don’t like it and it’s not set up how it was on the test day?”

Manufacturer teams are also permitted permanent test sites with up to 12 kilometers [7.4 miles] of road; Toyota and Hyundai both have theirs sited in Finland, while M-Sport uses the Greystoke Forest roads which it owns.

Those permanent testing sites are irrelevant when it comes to rally preparation, Millener believes.

“We’re not using it for setting up rallies, and I think that’s the same in Finland for Toyota or Hyundai,” he said. “You wouldn’t use your Finland road to try and get yourself prepared for Greece, so there is only a certain amount of benefit you can get from that regulation.”


Mārtiņš Sesks' Estonia test does not cut into M-Sport's allowance; as a non-manufacturer entrant, Sesks gets his own seven-day cap for the 2024 season

Mārtiņš Sesks will make his top-level WRC debut at the wheel of a Ford Puma Rally1 at Rally Poland next week, having completed a single day of testing in Estonia and with another test day in Latvia penciled in prior to Sesks’ home rally. But Millener believes opening up testing regulations won’t help young drivers either.

“If we give young drivers additional testing, the more experienced drivers will then not be happy that someone else gets more than them,” he argued.

“Honestly, the result in Poland [for Sesks] is going to be the same whether you do one day or two days of testing. We’ve got to have some regulation in place, but that’s why we always say it takes a number of years to get the junior drivers up to the level of the top.

“And it’s not just driving on test days. It’s learning the rally knowledge, it’s learning rally craft in those cars at the top level. So, suddenly saying junior drivers can have X number of extra days isn’t going to suddenly make them competitive.”