Halttunen calls for WRC format change

World champion co-driver wants greater variety of shorter and longer events


Clover leaves don’t last forever, so a quarter of a century is good going. The World Rally Championship should be proud. But it’s time to move on.

David Richards was the instigator of the cloverleaf format on WRC rounds. At a time when manufacturers were flooding in, Richards wanted to offer a more formalized, controlled and centralized approach to rallying.

Maximum stage distances were reduced, linear routes were lost and manufacturers were encouraged to build service park hospitality structures to rival those seen in Formula 1.

It worked. The WRC grew, manufacturers continued to flock across all categories and everything was fine and dandy with the cloverleaf.

That prescriptive – start on Thursday evening, two loops of stages and three services per day with a powerstage finish on Sunday – formula looks long in the tooth now.

Even DR himself is admitting it worked two decades ago, but it’s probably time for a refresh.

Fellow world champion co-driver Jonne Halttunen agrees with the Briton.

“We do need a change to the format, in my opinion,” Halttunen told DirtFish. “The rallies feel like the same just in a different country.

“For me, we can make them different – we saw with COVID times that we can run two-day events for WRC and these work. Let’s do that. And some maybe 2.5 days with a shakedown on Friday morning or something like that.

“But we can also keep the endurance element to make sure we keep the DNA of the sport. For example, why don’t we do a five-day Safari? For the service, we need to move this out and use more remote services to get back to being closer to the people.

“Rallying has been the same for such a long time and now we can see the world is starting to change and we need to make changes as well. Look at Formula 1, there are changes which are working very well in that side of the sport – we can take some tips from them. Basically, we need to get back to the people.”

Halttunen’s not alone in his view, which is why FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem instigated a WRC working group led by Richards and Robert Reid. The format of events is being discussed at the highest level right now, with the acceptance that change has to come.

The one thing which won’t change is the Sunday lunchtime powerstage. Broadcasters are anchored to that and, we’re told, that’s the WRC’s equivalent to the Holy Grail of a 2pm local time Sunday start to every F1 race. That never changes. It can’t.

Except it can and does. Night races anybody?

So, if F1 can change, so can the WRC. I’m not about to advocate linear routes all around (unless you think that’s a good idea too…), but Halttunen’s bang on in that COVID forced a level of creativity we hadn’t seen for years in the WRC. Let’s have that back.

What about a 36-hour event starting early Friday morning and finishing Saturday evening or a one-day sprint? Reducing the rally week is route one to cutting costs.