The common sense cost cut with DirtFish’s support

DirtFish's podcast has gone down well in the WRC service park

Jari Huttunen

DirtFish is used to bringing you the news from the world of rallying, but this week former team manager and sporting director George Donaldson has helped us make the news and set the agenda.

Donaldson brings the voice of reason (common sense, technical know-how, experience and sage, sage commentary) to Spin, The Rally Pod, but his words on last week’s ‘Cancellations, postponements and rallying’s immediate future’ episode have clearly struck a chord with plenty in the World Rally Championship.

Donaldson said: “The world is slowly grinding to a stop here. If we don’t get restarted in the next couple of months, it’s a heck of a long slow curve. Millions of people are losing their jobs everywhere and it is going to be a tough restart in the UK, which seems to have weathered some parts of the storm quite well, Germany incredibly well.

“Governments have spent tens of billions of pounds supporting business and it’s all going to come back in the form of taxes – probably for you and me and not business paying that back.

“The world’s going to get expensive and look for value – I think we need to look at a couple of things here. The first is the team owners are always telling us: ‘Shorten the events, it doesn’t matter, two days is fine, it’s cheaper, blah, blah, blah’.

“Why don’t we get rid of million-pound rally cars? Why don’t we get rid of the idea of half a million-pound rally cars? Let’s go back to our R5 cars. OK, put slightly bigger restrictor in it. All the manufacturers apart from Toyota have one, but, quite frankly, they made a World Rally Car in nine months [so] they can make an R5 car in seven months.

“Let’s get the world simpler and cheaper. An R5 car cooking on near 400bhp is going to be every bit as spectacular as current World Rally Car. Maybe not just as fast, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Get rid of the special aerodynamic packages, keep it very, very straightforward.

“This is the time now to simplify everything, to get the cost right down, just tear up everything we’ve had so far and start again. R5 has been the most amazing formula and we’d have 30 cars out there competing against [Sébastien] Ogier and [Ott] Tänak.”

Ogier Toyota WRC Mexico

Within hours of the podcast being released on DirtFish, we were contacted by several senior figures in the service park supporting Donaldson’s words.

One source said: “We have to embrace exactly what George is talking about. This is why we are asking the FIA to reconsider everything right now. Everything.

“The world we saw as recently as February is completely different to the world we see now. The world we saw last year when we were dreaming of the [2022] regulations is from another generation, another world. Manufacturers, they cannot afford this now.

“What we need is fast, decisive action from the FIA to stop what’s happening for the 2022 car and take everything back to the basic.

“The R5 car is the way forward now. If we want to save the sport and the championship and make everything right for the future then we have to go in this direction.”

There’s no question that Donaldson’s perspective on the current situation is on the money. Of course it is.

It’s the difference between Hyundai and Toyota going to their boards and asking for tens and tens of millions or just millions to run a WRC programme. It’s the difference between keeping the series’ longest-running supporter M-Sport at the races and backing Malcolm Wilson’s team into a corner where a WRC presence simply makes no economic sense.

I want the WRC to represent advancing technology as much as anybody, but not at any cost. And certainly not at the potential cost of the championship itself.

Is that being melodramatic? Well, that depends if you’ve tuned in to the news recently and watched as car manufacturers shut down, stayed silent and watched millions turn into billions of dollars being dropped. Manufacturer budgets will not be the same again, not for a very long time and motorsport – like marketing – can’t bury its head in the sand and expect not to be impacted by what’s going on in the world right now.

We’ve seen this time and again with world rallying, this constant journey between boom and bust – from the extremes of Group B to the doldrums of Group A; brilliant two-litre World Rally Cars to a two-horse race between Ford and Citroën.

A completely policy and regulatory U-turn would be a massive decision for FIA rally director Yves Matton to take, but it does offer the championship the opportunity to get ahead of the curve and preempt what’s set to be one of the toughest times in recent years.

Where would it leave Toyota? Opinion varies from a certain series departure to the potential for an R5 car being built in a matter of months. Would Hyundai leave if the proposed 2022 cars remain? There’s the same breadth of response.

What’s beyond question is that privateer participation would be considerably higher off a Rally2 platform.

And yes, I know you thought this whole thing had gone away. So did I. But, we’re living in a fast-moving and ever-changing world right now. The governance of rallying needs to reflect that and at surely, at the very least, give Donaldson’s views some airtime.