The WRC points system lesson to be learned from México

Drivers have incentive to push on every stage on Rally of Nations, thanks to its unique points scoring system

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As head of content at DirtFish, it’s my job to look at every channel we distribute content on. So believe it or not, yes, I see your comments. And I listen to them.

With all that time accrued on our digital platforms, I’m usually pretty solid at predicting what the post-event World Rally Championship chatter is likely to be.

There was plenty to talk about after Sweden: Ott Tänak and Kalle Rovanperä crashing out on the same stage was hugely unexpected and completely changed the dynamic of the rally. Takamoto Katsuta blew his best chance ever to score a maiden WRC win. And Esapekka Lappi ended the longest wait in WRC history to score a second career win.

But no, none of that dominated the post-event zeitgeist. It was all points talk. Elfyn Evans had put five points more on the board than rally winner Esapekka Lappi.


Lappi wasn't bothered by points chatter as he cruised to his second career WRC win in Sweden

I was shocked by the reaction, not because of an unexpected amount of positive or negativity. I was surprised by how much debate there was about who’d won the rally in the first place. Was it Lappi, fastest on the clock from start to end, or Evans, who’d score the most points?

In my mind this was abundantly clear. Esapekka Lappi won Rally Sweden. This is the only correct answer. But the amount of people who believed the new points system changed the way rally winners were calculated was a cause for concern.

I’m not one for knee-jerk reactions. I like a good dossier, a thoroughly researched white paper and plenty of time to analyse a decision before committing to it. I’m not going to advocate for the new system to disappear overnight, nor implement a replacement on a whim.

But the current system of having Friday-Saturday points and a separate Sunday system, where carrying over a lead from Saturday into Sunday is no longer rewarded at all, is very clearly not the final form either. It needs further work. If you have the brain space available to think through it, it makes sense. But most of us don’t; we’re preoccupied by a million other things. We need to look at it with a single glance and get it immediately.

There’s an element of last month’s Rally of Nations’ scoring system may have the answer.

Simplicity is necessary – and the scoring system from Rally of Nations, the event known as Rally México when part of the WRC, is not that simple. But don’t be alarmed; being knee-jerk at your first glance of its system will only make you miss the lesson that could be learned from it.

There are two elements to its points scoring. The first bit is a coefficient that ‘balances’ performance across multiple classes of car, with Rally5 cars given a more beneficial performance factor than Rally2, for example.

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The Rally of Nations has a unique points scoring system, but it all adds up to a great show

That’s not the bit we’re interested in here. It’s what they do after the balancing is factored in. Stage points are awarded and then used to contribute to an overall rally total. For Rally of Nations, the stage points of two drivers were used to make a combined team points total.

A few weeks ago I raised the point that a revised points system is as much about how it is packaged and the language involved, rather than the concept of splitting points being awarded across multiple sources. Two words can bring about the fix of removing complexity from the points discussion: Sprint and Endurance.

What Endurance should represent is clear: the old way of doing things. Tradition. Whoever gets from the first stage on a weekday to the final stage on Sunday in the least amount of time gets the most points. End of.

A revised points system should do more than make Sundays super. All the days should be – no, need to be – super.

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Nil Solans still had plenty of incentive to push right until the last stage in México

Stage points are nothing new: Junior WRC gives out one bonus point per stage win. But I’m not talking about that here: I’m talking about intermediate points. Score them in the traditional 9-6-4-3-2-1 system or something reasonably similar for each stage. Count them all up at the finish on Sunday and hand out Sprint points, based on the final outcome of this intermediate classification.

Like in Sweden, the driver who kept their foot to the floor for most of the rally is likely to get the most points from that element of the rally. And they might still outscore someone putting in a Lappi-like drive in Sweden. But you know what? It won’t matter. Because in this scenario, Endurance will be what rallying always was: the driver who got from the start to the end fastest. It will remain the core element of rallying and the clear primary narrative. Sprint points will be looked at as a bonus – there will be no confusion as to who’s won, because points were handed out for covering every single competitive mile fastest, rather than a section of it.

Over in Mexico last week, drivers like Nil Solans felt the itch at the tip of their fingers to go faster. Solans was in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX so had no real chance to set a fastest time outright – but run into him on Sunday morning, after the coefficient system had meant he’d scored maximum stage points twice, and it was the first thing he’d mention. In the overall standings he had nothing to fight for but he kept on pushing anyway, even without a Saturday night reset as the WRC has.

Based on the reaction to Sweden, this topic isn’t going away any time soon. But there’s no point railing against it: going back to the old ways isn’t the answer either.

Like Rally of Nations’ unusual system to make countries equal in unequal machinery, the WRC has a near-new system that’s still rough around the edges. So long as our destination is a system that remains almost as easy to understand as the old one but addresses the flaws that modern-day rallying have exposed in it, then we’re going in the right direction.