Something Rally México manager Gilles Spitallier told me last week really stood out.
“Rally México is very, very particular,” he said. “You can watch two seconds of the rally and know it’s México.”
Any rally organizer is going to sell their rally as best they can, so this comment needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
But I’m not about to disagree with Gilles – are you?
Few events, past or present, in the World Rally Championship are as distinctive as the WRC’s only current North American round.
Whether it’s the festival-like atmosphere of the Thursday night start in downtown Guanajuato, the sombrero-wearing fans cheering their heroes on at El Brinco, the countless number of cacti or simply the sight of cowboys in their fields juxtaposed by the world’s best rally drivers speeding by, Rally México offers something no other round can.
But not just visually – the challenge of the stages, namely the altitude of them, means year on year the rally adds something genuinely different to rallying’s global tour.
Surely, that’s what we want in the WRC. Events that are all the same wouldn’t be shining the best possible light on this supremely diverse and spectacular discipline of ours.
So why are we currently in a situation where instead of México signing a multi-year deal and remaining there for years to come, the headlines surrounding the rally revolve around the fact it could very well be losing its spot on the calendar to the USA?
You’ve got me.
That’s not to detract from Rally USA’s bid, by the way.
The positive noises coming out of Tennessee are massively important for rallying. The chance to tap into the US car market is vital for the three competing manufacturers Toyota, Hyundai and particularly Ford, while the opportunity to tap into the American sports market could be huge if approached and marketed properly.
Just look at the benefits an increased US interest has done for F1. The sooner the WRC can establish a foothold in the USA, the better.
But why does any of this goodness have to come at Rally México’s expense?
They say you can’t have your cake and eat it too, but as far as I see it the WRC is being offered a ‘buy one, get one free’ offer and declining the free slice.
WRC Promoter event director Simon Larkin made the situation pretty clear when I spoke to him in Mexico.
“Our absolute ambition is to have two events in the Americas next year,” he said. And of those spots, one has already been reserved by Rally Chile, which has a deal for a “minimum of two years”.
So that basically makes it impossible for the WRC to visit both the US and Mexico in 2024.
“I would say so, yes.”
Which of those North American countries we all board the plane to in 12 months’ time appears to hinge on the validity of the USA’s bid and how successful any potential test event proves to be.
If that goes well, expect it to be bye-bye León and hello Chattanooga.
As great as an event in the US likely will be, it won't be able to replace México simply because of how unique México is
I’m not going to pretend that I fully understand all of the factors that go into designing and delivering a world championship calendar. There’s a very good reason why I sit at my keyboard and type and don’t have any involvement in those sorts of important discussions.
But as one well-travelled individual put it to me as we boarded our flight out of León: “I don’t understand why we can’t have both when there are so many events – Finland, Estonia, Latvia – that are so similar in Europe.”
As great as an event in the US likely will be, it won’t be able to replace México simply because of how unique México is. It shouldn’t be expected to I hasten to add, but with a limit on how many American events we can seemingly have, comparisons will inevitably occur.
Spitallier’s solution of a back-to-back double weekend of Rally USA then Rally México is certainly one that feels like it’s worth exploring though.
Again, I’m not a logistics expert (I refer you back to my earlier comments about being a typist) but speaking to someone who is, they see no reason why it can’t work.
Consecutive weekends would be too challenging, but there’s absolutely no reason why a one week break between the rallies couldn’t be pulled off. In fact it should save teams on logistics with cars not needing to go home afterwards like they do currently for every other event on the calendar.
Plus, it would allow for a brief bit of vacation time which nobody would ever turn down.
All in all it just feels a bit of a shot in the foot to be restricting the WRC calendar to just two American events.
Perhaps, as with most things in motorsport, it’s financial might that’s prohibiting México from locking down a secure future and thus prompting a different strategy from WRC Promoter.
But having visited it for the first time this year, I’m now acutely aware of just what we’ll be missing if we lose México. The rally is too different to be absent on a calendar that includes two like-for-like rallies in Estonia and Finland and likewise in Sardinia and Greece.
I fully understand the reasons for the calendar predominantly being European given the size of the fanbase, the history of the events and most importantly the logistics for the teams which are currently based in Finland, Germany and the United Kingdom respectively.
But equally this is a world championship. We need to be trotting the globe as much as we can, and we need events to have their own distinctive flavor.
Losing an event as colorful and unique as Rally México would be a blow in any case. But losing it simply because we’re restricting ourselves to just two of the 14 events being in America would be tremendously disappointing and, at least for me, very difficult to understand.