Rallying might not be managing to grab the same kind of limelight as Formula 1 in terms of being a mainstream discipline talked about by even the most casual of fans these days, but there’s always been something about it that makes it incredibly special.
In the world of Formula 1, everything is behind a catch fence. Fans are kept at not just an arm’s length, but usually hundreds of meters away from the action on track.
Whereas with rallying you can be right up in amongst it, sometimes even playing an active role in a driver’s rally, pushing them free if they’re stuck, or standing back in a safe place but close enough to feel it all as a car hurtles by at mind-boggling speeds.
But it’s not just on the stages where rallying wins out either in terms of accessibility. Service parks too have historically been open areas, allowing spectators to easily see teams working away on cars, getting them ready for the start of the day, or racing to carry out repairs before the midday service ends.
They provide a fascinating dimension that allows you to immerse yourself in a way that no other form of motorsport really does.
However, in Croatia, Toyota tried to play a notorious, historical F1 game.
In an attempt to create a sense of intrigue and prevent its rivals from working out which compound of tires the GR Yarises would be taking on to Friday afternoon’s stages – with the weather radar forecasting intriguing conditions – it put up some boards, strategically blocking the view of the tires on the cars.
You used to see a similar thing all the time at grands prix. Teams would put up boards across the garage from the moment they arrived at the circuit, right through to qualifying or stand in the way of cars on the grid to stop you seeing certain aspects of it.
It created a sense of intrigue, but it also denied fans and spectators fascinating insight into what actually goes on between sessions.
But after years of hiding away, F1 finally saw the light and banned it altogether. Instead, everything now has to be on show at all times.
For me, rallying has always been about being open in all aspects. Allowing spectators to get as close to the action as they dare, and that should be no different in the service park.
And that’s why it was so refreshing to see a bulletin being issue stating that for the remainder of Croatia Rally no view of a car was to be blocked while in service.
It was a great move, one that not only was applauded by M-Sport team principal Richard Milliner but also one that would have been respected by every spectator wandering around the service park.
But now WRC needs to go a step further.
It needs to follow F1’s lead and make it mandatory for the entire season so that spectators can see and appreciate all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, away from the on-stage action.
There’s no denying that rallying’s popularity is currently lacking compared to some other forms of motorsport.
It’s not got the same level of exposure as championships like Formula 1 or MotoGP, so it can ill afford to give away the treasures that make it so special.
By keeping all aspects of rallying open and accessible, it can do wonders to attract even the most casual of motorsport fans looking for their fix. This is its USP.
The fact WRC was willing to take swift action to ensure that ethos is never harmed said a lot in Croatia. It’s something F1 didn’t achieve, since it took several years before it did anything to ban the views being blocked.
WRC put the fans first and made sure they were not deprived in any way.
It’s now up to the FIA to stamp it out completely and take what was only a bulletin in Croatia into a written regulation going forwards – which, to its credit, it is understood to be doing.
Rallying might be sitting slightly outside of the major spotlight right now, but decisions like this ensures it does remain one step ahead when it comes to fan appreciation.