As the World Rally Championship goes through the gears ahead of its Rally Estonia return in September, one perennial debate has also reared its head. Running order.
With the remaining gravel rallies all looking to run shorter, two-day events, the concern is that the championship leader will not have the mileage on Sunday to catch that time back.
Estonia has sought to overcome this by reversing the running order on Saturday lunchtime, but Toyota’s technical director Tom Fowler feels there must be a better solution.
“A two-day rally puts a lot of challenges in place in terms of making it sporting,” Fowler told DirtFish.
“We hear so much about the running order and how much the championship leader is losing in the first day.
“As soon as you go to a two-day rally, unless you really re-think how the road order works, you’re going to be in a situation that on lunchtime [of day one] that your championship leader – and their close contenders – have lost a lot of time and they’ve only got one day to get it back.
“We’ve seen before when somebody’s first on the road for one day it’s very difficult for them to take it back in one day.
“It will be a shame for the rally to be won after the first day.”
Fowler asked the question of whether it was time for the WRC to adopt a qualifying stage for the first time since 2013, something which the European Rally Championship currently utilizes to decide its first leg running order.
“The qualifying stage had some benefits.
“At the moment we spend a lot of time in the service park in the first part of the week and that’s not very interesting; shakedown is pretty boring really and nobody really does anything important at shakedown anymore.
“Quite often there’s some sort of tire benefit to not doing much and obviously there is a risk involved with each run.
“I think the qualifying stage can help with the right order but also it can make some interest for that whole day which is usually just full of time wasting.”
M-Sport Ford team principal Richard Millener disagreed and pointed to some of the closer championship battles in recent years as evidence that there’s no need to change.
“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we’ve had those great battles,” Millener told DirtFish.
“For me, I would leave the running order as it is right now. You get close rallies when you have the people who don’t want to be first on the road running first on the road. The last few years have been brilliant and, to be honest, this is trying to fix something that’s simply not broken.”