The FIA’s new president Mohammed Ben Sulayem believes that the World Rally Championship needs a complete overhaul if it is to attract new manufacturers in the future.
Toyota, Hyundai and Ford have been the three competing brands in the WRC’s top class since Citroën pulled out of the championship at the end of 2019 and there’s not been more than four manufacturers competing at rallying’s top level since 2005, when Subaru, Peugeot and Škoda were among those involved.
This year’s Rally1 cars were introduced in the hope it could attract new manufacturers by ensuring that WRC cars can remain relevant to roadgoing counterparts, whilst also being more eco-friendly.
But as it stands, no new names have come to the table, and 14-time Middle East Rally Champion Ben Sulayem – who was voted as the new FIA president in December – doesn’t see that changing any time soon without some fundamental changes.
“We have to go back to a white piece of paper, and we should not just have patches, we have to look at it in a helicopter view,” Ben Sulayem explained to DirtFish.
“We have to engage the manufactures. Some of the manufacturers, I said ‘what do you think of the commission?’. They said ‘we pay money’. I said ‘do you get value for it?’. They said ‘no’.
“We should listen to them. I am not blaming the FIA. I am saying it’s a joint venture from the FIA and also the promoter and also the manufacturer and we will have to engage also with the organisers who are representing governments some of them.”
Ben Sulayem states that he has been saying for the last “30 years” that manufacturers need listening to and that there needs to be a focal point to drive the attraction of the championship.
And while he is seeing progress, he admits changes need to happen faster if the WRC is to thrive in the future.
“I always said ‘please let’s have a promoter’,” Ben Sulayem said of his past interest in the WRC.
“We never had a promoter for 30 years. I never stopped asking people. I’m not saying in the last 10 or 12 years, I’ve been saying it in the days and years before.
“Let’s look at it where it’s been ignored and now you see the manufacturers are having themselves more sales of the 4×4 than normal cars.
“It took me 30 years, but I don’t want the rest of the championship to take 30 years. We don’t have that much time.
“I mean the landscape is changing and we are under a lot of pressure, and I feel that engaging and listening to the manufacturers, that they want to go but then we have to lead with our technical department.”
He summarized: “We don’t expect a magic wand in one year or two years. It has to be a process.”