The desk has been cleared. The pictures packed away. Any minute now, the name will be coming off the door. It’s Jean Todt’s last day in the office.
FIA president since October 2009, much has changed since the former World Rally Championship runner-up sat down at his desk on Paris’ Place de la Concorde for the first time.
Or has it?
A Frenchman by the name of Sébastien was our champion then… and still is today. We might not have had an abundance of champions (only two new ones since 2009), but the cars have progressed in 1.2 decades. The WRC has finally stepped into the light of sustainability.
Or it will next year. We’ve had fast cars – the fastest – and now we’ll have the quietest as electric, hybrid and Rally1 arrives to mark the end of Todt’s tenure.
One thing he hasn’t succeeded in changing, however, is one of the big things he talked about the first time he met the WRC media in Portugal, 2010.
“When did rallying become an office job?” he asked me in Faro. “The cars go out at nine o’clock in the morning, they come back for lunch and they go out until five in the afternoon. This is not what I remember for rallying.
“Endurance is at the heart of this sport. We need to bring that back.”
Gone kind of backwards on that one JT. The Acropolis was the longest rally the season you arrived, with 231 miles. This year Portugal put up the biggest competitive route with 209 miles. Surely that’s hard to swallow for a man used to navigating his way across a three or four thousand mile route around Ivory Coast.
Those big numbers weren’t reserved for African marathons. In Todt’s last season in the cockpit, the Tour de Corse included 710 miles of stages.
Talking of Corsica, his influence in landing the WRC back on a French island close to his heart was felt in 2015. Ajaccio had been replaced by a Loeb-loving Alsace for the previous five years before Corsica found its way back to the calendar for the next five.
As well as putting endurance back into the world championship, Todt talked expansively about putting the ‘world’ back into the World Rally Championship. He wanted a 50:50 split between European and flyaway rounds as soon as possible. OK, coronavirus has intervened, but we left the Far East the year after Todt arrived and we haven’t been back since.
Japan’s been within touching distance for the last three years and China came close – it remains open to speculation just how close – in 2016. But Sébastien Ogier’s 2010 Sapporo win remains the last WRC action in the Orient.
In terms of sporting regulations, the bonus points-paying powerstage arrived. And stayed. Qualifying came. And went. But curiously continued to entertain at a European Rally Championship level
And then there was the running order. Todt and his rally director Jarmo Mahonen were firmly removed from the Ogier Christmas card list when the championship leader running first on the road became a thing for two years. It’s hard to remember a more unpopular rule with one single driver.
And that was, it has to be said, a glorious failure. By its own admission, the decision was taken to slow Ogier down. It didn’t. Instead poked the tiger. And what a furious tiger Ogier turned out to be.
From a technical perspective, Todt presided over one of the dullest generations of cars – the 2011-2016 1600cc World Rally Car. Just my opinion, but running what were essentially glorified Super 2000 cars with a ‘global’ engine up front wasn’t a massive step forward for the series. Remember the global engine? Any sense it made failed to proceed from paper to practice.
While 1600cc World Rally Cars might not have been the most spectacular, they did work in terms of bringing manufacturers back – which, by some measure, makes that one the most successful era. MINI, Volkswagen and Hyundai all arrived, with the Koreans staying on for 2017.
Ah, 2017. Having been perhaps overly negative about the previous generation, I can’t speak highly enough about the last generation. They were, quite simply, sensational. And good on Todt and his people for backing themselves.
Back in 2016, there were no end of folk questioning the sense and safety of what would become the fastest rally cars in the history of time. Even some of the drivers – certainly a good number of the co-drivers – had their doubts.
Todt was right. The doubters were all wrong. The ‘2017 car’ was a epoch-defining car.
The R4 car was anything but. It was, quite frankly, a disaster. So much so that you don’t really remember it, do you?
The sustainability side of off-road motorsport is something which can’t please Todt on his departure
This was the universal kit which included an engine, transmission and suspension parts. The ORECA-supplied kit came in three different sizes in an odd attempt to make one size fit all. It was an attempt to equate a bastardized four-wheel drive Renault Clio to a Subaru WRX in an effort to cure the ills of the FIA’s ‘regions’. It didn’t work. ORECA did a brilliant job in developing the car, but, for me, the whole concept was flawed.
And the question of how best to deal with Regional Rally Championships (that reminds me – we also had the odd technical ‘innovation’ of the Regional Rally Car – a de-tuned World Rally Car for the Regions which didn’t work either) remains.
Sliding the ERC under the WRC Promoter’s umbrella is a great plan. Nobody knows more about promoting rallying than the Munich boffins who are building and polishing the pyramid’s pointy bit up top. But what about Asia Pacific, Africa and the Middle East? Still plenty of work to do there.
Rally Star is a brilliant way to start that work. This talent development program, which over-arches all the regions, is a brilliant concept.
If you have a Playstation and a copy of the latest WRC game, you can qualify for the continental finals and real-time competition in an XC LifeLive TN5 Cross Car.
Genuinely, Jérôme Roussel and Yves Matton should take a bow on this one. It’s a special competition which, for the first time in the history of our sport, offers the opportunity for truly undiscovered talent to go from their sofa to the very top of the World Rally Championship.
And spread the Rally Star word across the regions is going to bring more awareness of the sport. And that can only be a good thing.
But, as Todt close the door for the final time, it’s Rally1 that everybody’s talking about. We have hybrid and we have 100% sustainable fuel. And, let’s not forget, we have what look to be the safest rally cars in the sport’s history.
As you can imagine as a former competitor, the safety of the crew is close to Todt’s heart. The other stuff, the stuff aimed at helping to contain climate change and cut carbon dioxide emissions? It’s all a little bit late. Hybrid’s been a thing since Todt was wearing red and celebrating regularly and often with a man called Michael.
For me, the sustainability side of off-road motorsport is something which can’t please Todt on his departure. In 2018, World Rallycross had the absolute golden ticket of going all-electric. Somehow an open goal was missed. It’s taken four more years to get that and the WRC moving under anything but internal combustion.
Let’s end on a positive. Todt took the WRC back to Africa this year and that’s an enormous tick.
Au revoir, Mr Prez. Thanks for the chats.