While we’re still waiting for the roadbook for the World Rally Championship season finale at Monza to be released, we did learn how much of the rally will take place at the circuit and how much time will be spent in the mountains earlier this week.
The news isn’t exactly what the fans had hoped for. It’s an even 50/50 split – half the stages taking place north of Bergamo in the foothills of the Alps, the rest on the Formula 1 circuit and its internal roads.
Reactions in the service park have been mixed. There is plenty of sympathy on offer for the organizer, whose rally has been drafted into the calendar as a stop-gap measure for the second year in a row.
But that sympathy is tinged with disappointment.
“The track is a unique thing for us to do but in my opinion it’s not what rallying is, and not what rallying should be either,” said M-Sport’s Gus Greensmith.
“We’ve had 11 good rounds. I don’t know why we had to go to Monza, to the circuit. For me it doesn’t particularly make much sense.
“As much as it is a nice challenge, it’s not what rallying should be.
“We had hoped for a few more normal stages and a few less other stages but again, it’s down to what’s available.
“It’s also a very big thing for Monza to keep a lot of the action within the track, which makes perfect sense. But for sure I’d have hoped for more actual stages to finish the year off as well.”
That 50/50 split of circuit and mountain stages had come as a surprise to Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala, who had been anticipating entire days of the itinerary being spent up in the mountains.
The closest the event gets to that is on Saturday with six closed-road stages and two back at the track.
“What I heard is that originally the plan was that they would be doing a lot more in the mountains and it would only be one day in the race circuit,” Latvala told DirtFish.
“I think it would have been a really nice concept to do Friday and Saturday with the mountain stages and then one last day on the race circuit. But it looks like now we’ll do stages every day in the race circuit.
The other option was to have just 11 events in the calendar, which I think is something that I wouldn't like to see eitherRich Millener
“It was not as great as we were expecting and I think for the drivers it would also have been better to have proper stages. But unfortunately it is what it is. Now we have to go according to that.”
Fellow WRC team principal Rich Millener struck a more empathetic tone. While he understood Greensmith’s desire for more mountain stages, the M-Sport boss reiterated some of his thoughts regarding the 2020 edition, where he felt WRC had much to learn from the Monza concept.
When asked about his feelings about the lack of extra mountain stages this year, Millener replied: “Mixed I guess.
“It’s always great to have a rally that’s out in the stages and one we all like and know. But at the same time, we’re quite a small group of people [in the paddock] that have a very biased opinion on what rally should be.
“Having the opportunity this year to have full spectator access and get these people into the grandstands – and to get people that maybe won’t go out to the stages to watch rallying having it brought to them in Monza – is a really good opportunity for us.
“The other option was to have just 11 events in the calendar, which I think is something that I wouldn’t like to see either.
“I do believe there are elements of Monza that we can learn from and take forward; maybe not as many stages on the circuit as we’re going to have.
“But again, you have to give some respect to the organizers that they are kind of held in limbo until six to seven weeks before they are to run a WRC-spec event.
“To expect them to go out and spend all year getting some extra stages outside the circuit just in case they get a rally is very difficult to do. We should be grateful that they stepped in at such a short opportunity to do this.
“And once we have 20–30,000 people milling around in the grandstands and the pit area coming to see WRC, we’ll all think it’s fantastic.
“I don’t have any problems with it at all,” Millener added. “I’m quite looking forward to it, having gone to Monza when it’s just a circuit event and a single-venue rally. The atmosphere when the people are there is great. So I think it’ll be good fun.”
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville hadn’t even seen the basic itinerary when we spoke to him – he too had hoped for more stages away from the circuit, saying that the “more stages in the mountains, the better it is.”
But Neuville was keen to praise the circuit’s potential for exciting action, so long as there is no repeat of the rain and fog that hung over Monza during last year’s season finale.
“I think the biggest thing will be the weather,” he said. “If it’s horrible like last year, it will be not very interesting on the track. If it’s dry on the track, the stages can be really fun.”