The WRC word from inside the Paraguayan president’s office

As featured on the ’gram… WRC Promoter chief Simon Larkin visited Paraguay’s president Santiago Peña last week

Thierry Neuville

Emerging from the inner sanctum, shaking hands with the bodyguards and the special agents who’d been part of his world for the last hour and a half, Simon Larkin smiled. Buttons were pushed, doors opened, sleeves spoken into. It was all a bit James Bond. Not to mention a touch surreal.

It’s what happens when you emerge from a South American presidential office.

Having discussed the potential for a Paraguayan round of the World Rally Championship with the nation’s premier Santiago Peña, Larkin was professionally pleased with the last 90 minutes. Personally, the WRC’s event director was asking himself some questions.

“The president’s the same age as me,” he told DirtFish, “I’m thinking to myself: “What have I been doing? This is guy’s running a country, while I’m putting some stickers up!”

“In all seriousness, the president was great – he was interested and enthusiastic. And the fact we’re having meetings at this level is a demonstration of the WRC’s standing in the business of global sport. Demand is very high for a calendar slot in the world championship right now, we have way more countries vying for a place than we have places available.”

A demonstration of the seriousness with which Peña is taking Paraguay’s bid for a 2025 WRC round is evidenced by Larkin’s appearance on the president’s social media channels.

The president said: “We are working to ensure that our country is home to one of the stages of the World Rally Championship. We talk to Simon Larkin, promoter of the World Rally Championship, about the country’s potential to advance sporting events worldwide.”

South America has a long history in the WRC, with Argentina, Brazil and now Chile hosting an event. Famously fans have come in their millions to watch, developing an atmosphere and appreciation of the sport that’s rarely matched anywhere else in the world.

Ott Tanak

Fans support was always strong on Rally Argentina, which was last held in 2019

That’s why the WRC is chasing two South American rounds.

“We’ve talked about a commitment from two rallies down here for a long time now,” Larkin said. “We’re in the process of a [contract] renewal with Chile and, naturally, we’re talking with Argentina as well as Paraguay. Additionally, there are broader discussions with other countries in that part of the world.

“It’s a very exciting time for countries to be involved with the World Rally Championship. Let’s be very frank here, as a series, we bring millions and millions of dollars to cities and regions and that’s a very attractive proposition.

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Chile marks the WRC's only trip to South America in 2024, but Larkin hopes that isn't that case next year

“I’m impressed with what I’ve seen here in Paraguay, the roads would offer another fascinating chapter that’s quite diverse and different from any of the other 13 [2025] rounds. That’s what we’re looking for. But as well as that, the rallying culture and community is huge in Paraguay. I was walking through a shopping center with Gustavo Saba last night and he was being stopped for selfies and autographs on a Wednesday evening in Asunción. There’s a real love of rallying down here. We like that.”

Whether or not Paraguay has done enough to land one of 14 apparent golden tickets for next season remains to be seen. But if the president has anything to do with it, the WRC will be visiting a fourth South American country very soon. Not often you get to say that.