David Richards is a man who’s rarely short of an opinion. Winning world championships from inside and outside the car – as well as holding the series’ promotional rights – has given him a real perspective on what works and what doesn’t.
The potential for bonus points on specific stages in the WRC, for example.
Any thoughts, DR?
Yes. Here goes: “It’s like a game show: are you going to go for the big prize or are you going home now?
“Have you got balls or not?
“You’ve got to understand that’s the audience we’re playing to. You create a drama. The bloke who’s seventh has something to go for.”
Makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s about offering reward to ensure interest in the game remains right up until the end.
Here’s the thing, those comments from Richards? They’re 24 years old.
Overhauling the points-paying structure in the WRC is nothing new. As the 1999 season got underway, FIA president Max Mosley and rights holder Bernie Ecclestone were promising change in the shape of live TV coverage of the final stage with three, two and one points on offer for those setting the first, second and third fastest times.
Sound familiar? Thought so.
It was all going well until Media Pro, the company filming the WRC, went south before the season even started. Ecclestone stepped in and supplied more TV folk than you could shake a stick at via his International Sportsworld Communicators firm. The loss of Media Pro did mean, however, that plans to run the first live TV stage in Sweden had to be shelved.
Didier Auriol made history on the French island, becoming the first driver in the history of the WRC to take a bonus point as he won the nine-mile Cannelle d’Orcino stage. The Toyota star was, however, far from a fan of the system which he felt offered a disproportionate number of points compared to the 10 then on offer for an outright rally win.
There were issues with the length of the stage and ensuring complete coverage of all competing cars. And then there was the tactical approach from the factory Citroën Xsara kit cars of Philippe Bugalski and Jesus Puras – running first and second in the overall classification, team principal Guy Frequelin made it clear they weren’t to challenge for bonus points and jeopardise the win.
Why were these sensational Xsaras going so slowly? How was the car winning the rally the slowest on the live TV stage? Confusion reigned among the casual fans.
There were more tactics when the second and final live TV points stage ran in Finland as Auriol and Thomas Rådstrom were retired from the classification to give them a better potential start place on the road in the pursuit of three points.
It worked for Auriol who bagged the big three for the second time. The Frenchman, along with Tommi Mäkinen (who was second on the rally-ending Ruuhimaki test), made more history as they became the first drivers to score championship points having retired from a WRC round.
Just as it has today, changes to the point structure of the WRC sparked controversy of a similar nature almost quarter of a century ago.
While not everybody was in agreement, the changes which followed 1999 helped establish conditions for the WRC to blossom with more manufacturer support and innovation than ever before. Much of that came from Richards following his acquisition of ISC from Ecclestone.
We’ve come full circle in the need for innovation and change. Just be careful what you wish