Tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of fans stand on the brink of delirium. World Rally Championship nirvana in the shape of events in Estonia and Belgium could be coming their way in the next few months. And not one of them will want to waste what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
With no competitive action since Rally México in March, the WRC is bracing itself for a significant influx of fans once competition is up and running again later this season. Too many fans is a nice problem to have – and a very real one for the WRC in 2020.
WRC Promoter’s Simon Larkin admits control of those numbers is vital. He said: “We are actually having to think that the appetite from our fans is going to be so great that we have to proactively manage [that] to make sure we’re not going to have too many fans. That our sport does not become too accessible, that we are actually going to create a problem for ourselves, for the event organizers, for the ASNs or for the government.
“That’s where we have to even think about the structure of our events, the format of our event. How many stages, how many spectators can we honestly fit in, and how do we manage them? It’s making sure we do this in a manageable way and use events that can actually manage and deal with that sort of influx of spectators.”
Larkin has seen rallying’s popularity build in specific regions and countries – including World Rally Champion Ott Tänak’s homeland Estonia, and Belgium, that of Tänak’s Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville.
“For the last couple of years, we’ve had thousands of Estonians coming to every event, and we’ve had thousands of Finns, the Belgians and others coming.
“If we’re going to start in Europe then we know there is going to be a huge influx at whatever is our first or even our first couple of events. There is going to be that enthusiasm to come back and see [the WRC] live. We have to be conscious of that.”
Far from fearing the high numbers of fans, Larkin feels this coronavirus-enforced break and subsequent hike in demand for rallying has delivered an opportunity to pause and take a longer look at protocols and processes in dealing with it.
“From the World Rally Championship point of view we’re quite a complicated sport as we take place over a large area. Some of our events gets 400,000 to 500,000 spectators through them. This is going to cause us some planning, and some implementation issues. But, it’s also given us a good time, to be honest, to think about the sustainability of motorsport as a whole and WRC as a whole. How we fit into the priorities of people in the future, be it in forms of transport, our own justifications, our own footprint we create. And I think that’s quite a good thing.
“I think it’s a good time to reset. I think we were reaching the point where this sort of reset was probably going to have to happen anyway and I think it’s given us a good time to pause for that.”
The implementation of change will, according to Larkin, strengthen the WRC’s offering in the market for motorsport.
“We can come out of this as a stronger, more viable product because we’ve been forced to think outside of the box on every little element of every part in each of our championships and each of our elements [of] our justification for what we do,” he added.
“And I think that’s going to give us a stronger position to be able to sell our championship, or even to justify to a lot of stakeholders.”
*In our June 17 story about the promoter introducing new events to the schedule, DirtFish talked about two-time World Rally Champion co-driver Timo Rautiainen ‘heading-up’ the FIA and WRC Promoter’s joint task force. The Finn is part of it, but doesn’t lead it.