At long last, WRC Promoter has been announced as the new commercial rights holder for the World Rallycross Championship.
The agreement will likely inject fresh life into the series, and unlocks a whole range of possibilities for what could happen in the coming years. But what do we want to happen in this new era for World RX?
DirtFish’s rallycross editor Dominik Wilde got together with senior staff writer David Evans, Luke Barry, and Stephen Brunsdon to put together a wishlist for what we want to see from World RX’s new promoter.
Location, location, location
World RX’s decision to move from traditional venues to half-baked semi-permanent courses at Formula 1 venues made sense, at least on paper – a high profile world championship needs the sort of space and high quality facilities that traditional old-school track can’t always offer.
But my gosh were they dull.
Spa-Francorchamps – which was helped by its natural undulations – aside, World RX’s more ‘modern’ additions have been flat, unimaginative, cookie-cutter courses. That’s just not good enough for a naturally entertaining series.
The 2020 season, with its return to Finland, proved that old-school tracks still have a place in a modern-day World RX – so can we please have more of them?
If WRC Promoter wants to be taken seriously as the team pushing rallycross, Lydden Hill’s an absolute must.
Silverstone was all very nice; nice pizza, fancy fish and chips, great tunes from Razorlight and Dizzee Rascal. But who cares about any of that when you can have three supercars side-by-side attacking Paddock Bend? I’d take that and a moody burger any day of the week.
I also want to see rallycross back at DirtFish. I’m sure some of my other colleagues will talk with much more authority on the last time we had thousands of horsepower aiming for one apex and let rip at the push of a button in our backyard – but for me DirtFish is the mothership of all off-road motorsport. Trust me, when you get there, when you stand surrounded by the Cascade mountain range, looking down into the world’s coolest gravel playground, you’ll get it.
WRC Promoter is now in a unique position. As the name suggests, it is the promoter for the World Rally Championship but, having concluded a deal to take over World RX’s promotion too, it now runs two of the FIA’s five world championships.
It would be a squandered opportunity if this wasn’t capitalized on. However in all fairness to WRC Promoter, there is already evidence that the WRC and World RX could enjoy a closer working relationship going forward.
The WRC was supposed to be track sharing with World RX in Belgium last November before both events were scrapped due to COVID-19. On the showpiece day of the RX event (finals day), the WRC was making the trip from Ypres to Spa-Francorchamps for two special stages on the famous circuit.
While we missed out in 2020, there’s absolutely nothing to stop this from happening in the future; and the benefits are potentially endless.
As David Evans alluded to earlier, World RX sharing the bill with other stuff was all well and good, but it wasn’t really what the doctor ordered.
Now, imagine an event with both WRC and World RX on the same bill. A Goodwood for those of us that don’t mind getting mud on our trousers, a literal festival of speed, but one with championship implications for, in our eyes at least, the FIA’s two best world championships.
Naturally, it wouldn’t work everywhere – a World RX race at the surface plate-like Yas Marina circuit is bad enough, a WRC event there? No thanks. But places such as Belgium, Finland, Germany, there’s plenty of possibilities to hold the greatest race weekend ever.
An electrified future
For much of the past two seasons, the talk of World RX’s switch to electric cars was a matter of when, not if. A clear roadmap from WRC Promoter on what the electric future will look like and when it plans to adopt such regulations will need to be one of the very first areas to address. We know they’re to be phased in at the top level from next year, but when will they take over entirely?
If World RX wants to bring back manufacturers to the top-level (and I am sure it does), then the promoter needs to come up with a realistic timeline and effective working groups to get the brands to commit. Ongoing uncertainty will do nothing to alleviate the concerns manufacturers have.
The electric future concerns privateers too, with outfits such as Kristoffersson Motorsport and Hansen Motorsport admitting to feeling uneasy with preparing costly units and maintaining a race team throughout the season – with all the running costs and repair work the hard world of RX brings with it.
Historically, Hansen and Kristoffersson have been aligned with manufacturers Peugeot and Volkswagen respectively and it makes sense for them to do likewise whenever electric regulations are fully adopted. But without a clear picture of when this happens, it makes it harder to strike a deal and get ready in time for the big switch.
Three years ago, rallycross stood on the verge of absolute motorsport greatness. The failure to keep the manufacturers onboard and to deliver electric was shockingDavid Evans
Another box that has to be ticked immediately is electric.
Three years ago, rallycross stood on the verge of absolute motorsport greatness. The failure to keep the manufacturers onboard and to deliver electric was shocking.
Yes, I get the need for privateers, but, properly packaged, promoted and presented, rallycross has the potential to capture Generation Z like no other. It has to be electric, sustainable and outrageously exciting. RX can do all of those things.
An attractive broadcast package
During the IMG tenure, World RX was able to grow substantially and a main reason for that was its broadcast coverage.
Park the clearly expert commentary line-up of Andrew Coley and Dan Rooke to one side for a minute and think purely of the spectacle of rallycross available freely (for the most part) to a burgeoning audience of motorsport nuts, and it was the perfect example of getting the most out of the investment.
Whether the new promoter is as willing and able to continue the live streaming of qualifying heats on YouTube or not remains to be seen, but what is key is making sure that the championship doesn’t directly follow the same business model as the vastly more established and more popular WRC in moving to a 100% subscription-only service.
Yes, there will be those who counter this argument by saying that the semifinals and finals of World RX in most territories are behind some form of paywall and that is true. But the bulk of the action was free to watch, without geo-blocking and available anytime to replay. That must surely be a priority for WRC Promoter to continue IMG’s work of building the reputation of World RX and, more importantly, generate new followers in the future.
That’s not ruling out a World RX ‘All Live’ equivalent, however. With WRC Promoter now at the helm, this is a great opportunity to invest heavily in the category and the benefits of a subscription-based platform akin to All Live cannot be disregarded.
One of the main attributes of All Live is its variety, with season reviews available on demand, various onboard footage and a constant stream of live, dedicated coverage, for a small fee. World RX has so much potential in this form of the broadcasting business model to explore, and you can be sure that this will prove a hit with the fans as well. Can you imagine re-watching the minute precision of Johan Kristoffersson navigating around Höljes, or reliving some of the most dramatic finals from right inside the car?
We often hear complaints about how Formula 1 is behind a paywall everywhere these days but, despite those complaints, there’s little difference between this model and the one used in other sports. Pretty much everything is on a premium channel these days.
Except for World RX. Sure, as mentioned, in many territories the juicy bit of the weekend is restricted to ‘proper’ television, but the abundance of freely available online coverage made it unique among FIA world championships.
Yes, paid content can be beneficial to participants and fans alike, opening the door for increased prize money and an overall better quality product for example, but whatever WRC Promoter decides to to, be it keeping it free or following its WRC template, it needs to strike a balance between pleasing the existing fanbase (an often impossible task in rallycross) and attracting new fans to the discipline.
The great thing about rallycross is that it still retains a ‘race what you bring’ mentality, albeit slightly more sophisticated in the Supercar era. But if the recent past is anything to go by, the effect of guest drivers on the championship has been staggering.
Sebastian Eriksson’s 2019 victory at Höljes, five years after being denied a sensational win at the same venue, was a great moment for the category and one that proved that you don’t need to be a full-timer to take it to the big guns. A guest drive also put 2016 World Rallycross Champion Mattias Ekström on the RX map in 2013, and then a part-time campaign brought him his – and the Audi S1’s – first victory the following year.
Others have followed in the same fashion en route to securing full-time drives, such as Timo Scheider, but with WRC Promoter now steering the future of RX, there is a real opportunity to make guest drivers more common.
What I would love to see in the future is a quirky (not gimmicky!) concept of VIP cars open to anyone within motorsport to come and have a crack at World RX. One per round. It’s the sort of thing that the Porsche Carrera Cup and Lamborghini Super Trofeo do in circuit racing and the Andros Trophy ice-racing series has adopted in the off-road world.
A VIP car could conceivably pitch someone like Lewis Hamilton or Sébastien Ogier up against the likes of Kristoffersson, Bakkerud, Hansen and Ekström. Now, how cool would that be? On top of that, the marketing value of World RX would skyrocket and suddenly, you’ve hit a whole new market of potential fans.
We’ve discussed the WRC and World RX sharing venues, but why not embrace the collaboration in other ways? We’ve seen several drivers compete in both series before – and in Petter Solberg’s case, win championships in both – so clearly there are transferable skills between rallying and rallycross. But wouldn’t it be cool to see the current crop of each discipline tested in a different environment?
WRC Promoter could run a Supercar for a wildcard star driver on each World RX round, persuading drivers from the WRC to give World RX a shot or simply selling the drive to a local hero. And equally, surely WRC Promoter could find an outfit willing to run a World RX star on certain WRC events in the Rally2 class? Johan Kristoffersson, Niclas Grönholm and Mattias Ekström have all done that off their own backs in recent years.
It’s a plan with a precedent, too. Global Rallycross had the ‘Star Car’ plan in 2013, although its first guest driver Scott Speed did so well first time out that he kept the seat and is now something of a rallycross legend.
You’d be surprised how many off-road fans there are out there that are only interested in either rallying or rallycross, not both. This could change all that to the ultimate benefit of both disciplines.