It will soon be easier to count which of the world’s countries are not in negotiation for a World Rally Championship slot this season than those that are.
With just three fixtures left on this year’s calendar, there’s a scramble for what’s being seen as four or five possible dream openings for events which wouldn’t normally get much of a look in for a WRC round. Tuesday’s news that Latvia is talking to WRC Promoter and the FIA and today’s revelation that Belgium could also join the schedule are just the latest, and DirtFish has been told that another rally in Belgium, one in Estonia, two in Spain and more elsewhere are all in the running.
Stepping up to the WRC is not as easy as slapping a few more stickers on the side of the cars and making room for a bigger service park. Committing to the WRC will be a major sporting and financial undertaking for these rallies – and it won’t be for all of them.
While Formula 1 has been ready to run for a few weeks now, WRC Promoter’s Simon Larkin talked about the complications the WRC faces in the FIA’s ‘Restart your engines’ eConference on Tuesday.
“I’m jealous of anyone who can close a stadium,” said Larkin. “It’s a bit more difficult for us to secure 150 kilometers-worth of stages per day. And it’s for that sort of reason that our restart had probably been a little bit more affected than others and the difficulty of rescheduling a WRC event. Or the lead times to reschedule a WRC event with the regulatory timelines, the statutory requirements for us to be able to close and have unilateral access to public roads.
“We probably had to wait a little bit and see what happens with a lot of government regulations in each of the countries we go to.”
On the flip side, Larkin said rallying’s popularity – and the prevalence of events – offered plenty of choice for filling calendar gaps.
“One of the benefits of us being such a mass participation motorsport, all the way up from grassroots up to the WRC level, is that not only across Europe, but across the world there is actually quite a lot of events taking place at a level below the WRC, that perhaps can provide – or this crisis can provide – the opportunity to step up to WRC level. And even in such a short time.”
Managing that step from a sporting and safety perspective will be the job of the FIA and WRC Promoter’s joint taskforce, headed up by two-time world champion co-driver Timo Rautiainen.
“Because of this joint taskforce we have a foundation to work with these potential new events to immediately bring them up to a level that’s acceptable to the FIA to allow us to restart,” said Larkin. “And this is allowing us, with confidence, together with the FIA, WRC management, to try to bring new events in and to work with our existing, still-scheduled events to try to have a bit of a COVID-safe return to the championship.
“And this is an intense process we’re going through now, and we hope to have a very positive response from everyone very soon.”
Initial reports of a calendar coming in time for Friday’s meeting of the World Motor Sport Council now look optimistic, according to Larkin.
“So, in terms of a new calendar we’re working very quickly. We hope to have something in the next couple of weeks. We’re working very closely with the manufacturers, who are very keen to return back to action. Because just like us, they are businesses and they are passionate about the sport that they’re involved in – and we want to make it as soon as possible. But we need to do it in a concerted way. And as soon as possible.
“This is an evolving process between ourselves and the FIA. We are under a lot of discussions with a few events that between ourselves and the FIA have been deemed suitable for potential joining of the championship. But this is not something that we can rush, because safety and government regulations are something we have to look into very closely, and it is something we are looking into.”