M-Sport Ford team principal Richard Millener feels the World Rally Championship needs to be doing more for spectators, particularly in service parks.
Last month’s Croatia Rally ignited the topic after a bulletin was issued halfway through the weekend, stipulating that “it is forbidden to restrict the view of other competitors to the service bays”.
Toyota had used advertising boards to obscure the view of its GR Yaris Rally1s in service, and thus not let its rivals know what tires its drivers were choosing – a commonly-used tactic on asphalt rallies in particular.
Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala explained to DirtFish: “We haven’t been covering everything, but we have had a bit of a little cover over there.
“But regulation-wise it has been fine and we were still obeying the regulations but OK, if the FIA was not happy with that, then we needed to change and we changed it..”
Millener, Latvala’s counterpart at M-Sport, doesn’t agree with the practice though.
Asked by DirtFish if M-Sport and Hyundai protested Toyota, or if the FIA took it upon itself to introduce the new regulation midway through the rally, Millener gave a passionate response as to why he feels prohibiting teams from obscuring the view of the service bays is “non-negotiable”.
Millener said: “It’s something we’ve discussed in the past and it’s purely just down to spectators – we’ve got to be more open. It’s as simple as that.
“These people are paying to come in and watch and we’re not allowing them because we’re trying to get an advantage out of it or whatever by hiding our tire choice… sorry but it’s just non-negotiable.
“The spectators have to see what’s going on. Without them the sport doesn’t exist and if we have to regulate that not happening, so be it.
“I am very much proactive in making sure that these things are visible for spectators. I had a chat with the [WRC] Promoter after Croatia because the rally road [in the service park] had loads of guests and spectators in the rally road watching the servicing, yet all the people who are stood in the spectators pens who have queued there for hours are seeing nothing because all the guests are in front – well that’s not good enough.
“It’s not on, it’s not fair.
“I remember queuing for hours myself to watch, and there’s nothing that pisses me off more than the people who are genuinely dedicated and waiting not getting to see what they’re there for. And the boards are an example of that.
“I can totally see why Toyota did it, they’re pushing the boundary of a non-written regulation, but it’s not good for the sport and we’ve got to be more open. It’s as simple as that.”
DirtFish understands that this topic was broached during an FIA Commission last November and will be proposed as a regulation at the next World Motor Sport Council meeting in June.
Asked if he expected it to become a regulation, Millener said: “It’s banned in Formula 1. In Formula 1 you are not allowed to put barriers up from a certain point in the race weekend, and it enhances the viewing experience be it on the television or be it in the pitlane.
“It goes across to that – we can’t hide away from what we’re doing. There is a huge conversation to be had going forward about how we market the sport better, and make it more interesting, make it more exciting.
“At the moment there’s a lot of stories going on that are hidden because we’re so scared that each team might find out what we’re doing. But we’ve got to make it more viewable, we’ve got to have a strategy for how we’re going to improve and make it more interesting to watch.
“We’ve got All Live now – fantastic, and we’re used to that and we can watch as much rallying as we want but we’re just watching rally cars on the stage. We need to have some more stuff in, we need to find the next step now and hiding away from the people that come to see us – ie the fans – is non-negotiable. It has to be changed.
“So if it has to be regulated to stop it from happening, then so be it. That’s just what we’ve got to do in my opinion.
“Everyone’s going to have their own opinion but we have to respect these people who are coming to watch us, and queuing up for hours to see your favorite cars and drivers to then see a board put up in front of you as soon as they come in, you see the car pull out, you don’t even see the driver come in because he’s got in the car behind the board, that’s not good enough.”
Asked the same question, Latvala said he expected the Croatia bulletin to become an FIA regulation in the future.