‘WRC needs superstars, not just winners’ – Ben Sulayem

The new FIA president thinks bigger personalities would increase the WRC's global appeal


Despite the fact there’s plenty of incredible tales, exceptional battles and phenomenal drivers, rarely does the World Rally Championship get its moment in the mainstream spotlight.

It’s something rallying has struggled with for several years now, but up until now nobody has been able to reverse the trend and open rallying up to the entire world.

And while there are no easy answers to tackle the issue, the FIA’s new president Mohammed Ben Sulayem believes that to increase the attraction of rallying, the drivers need to appear heroic to the masses.

“Stars. You need stars,” Ben Sulaymen said when asked by DirtFish’s Colin Clark how rallying can be made more appealing.

“You don’t need just winners. You have a winner over a championship and you have champions.

“I mean there are people who won so many times, but you need a talker. You need someone who pulls people.

“You need someone who on the camera, he learns fast and to adapt himself that he attracts more people, audience.

“I mean, now when we did it [when I was rallying myself], we didn’t have what you have now. We had more cameras, we had so much, and we were limited to our exposures.”


Although some may be quick to argue that the competition itself should be enough to entice people to watch rallying, that will only be true for so many.

Despite the fact Sébastien Ogier has won the last two World Rally Championships, both went right down to the wire. In categories like Formula 1 that would be front page news everywhere around the world, but with the WRC, while it was the top of everyone’s list in the rallying community, it didn’t get the exposure it truly deserved on a mainstream level.

And that begs the question, how many people became interested in watching F1, tennis, football, or cricket purely for the sport itself regardless of the competitors vs the number of people who started watching because they were interested in a particular individual or drama involving a number of vocal competitors?

I think we all know the answer to that.

It’s the personalities that keep you going back for more, especially in the early stages of following a sport, and rallying is no different.

And although rallying may naturally be limited in its exposure because it isn’t regularly shown on terrestrial television, the fact that social media and digital technologies are so readily accessible and available means that there are still plenty of opportunities for the WRC to boost its audience while also introducing a new generation to the off-road world at the same time.

That’s not lost on Ben Sulayem, but he doesn’t see it as a problem solely for the FIA or WRC Promoter to resolve. There’s also a responsibility on the drivers to ensure it’s entertaining.


“[We need to] spread the appeal of our sport,” he said, “and also spread that the drivers have also a responsibility, not only just to win stages and rallies, but actually to win people.”

Fans need personalities to remain engaged for the long term. That’s not to say rallying has to go down the route of becoming an entertainment factory, but especially in a category where there’s no wheel-to-wheel racing action, the WRC needs drivers who are comfortable enough to put themselves in the limelight on a regular basis.

It doesn’t need to be forced or manufactured, but if the WRC is to increase its global reach someone, somewhere will need to do it eventually. And hopefully then, it will allow everyone to see just how truly heroic these drivers are and how exciting and exhilarating rallying really is.