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  • Writer's pictureDrew Bentham

Are we witnessing the death throes of rallying or the metamorphosis into a great new chapter?

Drew Bentham looks into the possible future of rallying

There’s a lot wrong with the sport at the moment and it’s no joke! Not enough events and key events missing from the calendar, expensive Rally1 regulations, little manufacturer interest, discontent from teams, questions being asked of the promoter and the list goes on. Add to that the wider issues of the world and things look grim. So before we can look at ways to improve the situation, let’s take a look at the issues.

Ex-driver, Sebastian Loeb.
9 time WRC Champion Seb Loeb, created a legend for himself during the WRC period.

A little history first. In the wake of group B, action had to be taken to make the sport safer for both

crews and fans. It had too. So over the coming years, the FIA changed the format of the rallies, regulations covering the cars and more strict crowd control. Whilst there were ups and downs, some dragging of heels we ended up with 3 day events and the WRC cars. And what followed was a glorious phase of the sport. Legends were made. This came to an end in 2021 when WRC was out and Rally1 was in. A response to a quickly changing world which heralded in electric power for the first time, making up to 500bhp available for the drivers. We’re now back and beyond the speeds of group B, but in much much safer cars. All of this is great but it comes with a cost. That being, well, the cost. EV machines in the form of Rally1 are hugely expensive even in motorsport terms and this forms a big part of the lack of manufacturer interest.

From the manufacturer perspective, we have to look at what rallying offers in terms of business and marketing opportunities. The demand on manufacturers to change and adapt to new technologies is huge. Seemingly the desire to continue with ICE power units is on borrowed time, all of which flies against the direction, and intention of the WRC. So we have the expense and now, an ever decreasing amount of eligible cars that could be entered.

So why would any manufacturer consider entering in the first place?

Well Rallying has to become relevant again and quickly! It is the belief of those across motorsport, not just rallying that a possible future lies in sustainable fuels; bio and synthetic alternatives that could extend the life of the ICE. To be fair those engines are already running at high efficiency levels, so if a long term low/zero emission fuel can be designed to work, to an extent that can be rolled out to the pumps, using the same system we already have, then maybe the ICE might get a reprieve. Governments are banning petrol and diesel by 2030, to my knowledge that doesn't mean the ICE as a unit per se.

Can sustainable fuels take over from EV's? It has to if rallying is to survive in any recognisable form.

So let's assume this has happened. The other major problem plaguing the sport is a lacklustre promoter. From the outside it looks like very little has or is being done. Rallying needs a Liberty Media, or at the very least that kind of support and programme. In the last 6 years under Liberty, F1 has undergone a rebrand, a vastly increased presence on social media and video streaming platforms, a huge Netflix deal and a huge increase in popularity and races in the US. All whilst keeping the focus on competition and improvement of the sport over drama and profit. And it's working. they now have 4 US races with more being discussed. Thanks to social media, Liberty has been able to capture the imaginations of a much younger audience and as a result they have seen a significant increase in market share, or profit to put it another way.

The WRC promoter at least has the right idea with digital TV content, although more could be made of the social channels. With RallyTV, it looks like substantial effort has gone into centralising TV coverage to take it away from terrestrial/satellite networks and directly onto the web. A smart move. Over the coming few years, more and more traditional channels will likely do the same, and I can see TV as we know it migrate lock-stock into some form of subscription streamer. Whilst this is great news for the World and Euro series, it needs to filter down to the national levels. The British Championship has not had any real coverage in years, not outside of the independent work done by the likes of Special Stage, without whom we'd be without. I would argue that the highlights show be the one that they try to sell to the likes of ITV and C4 so that it reaches as many people as possible. But it needs to go further. Promo events, branding links, connections outside of the stages.

Netflix has been the most successful part of the promotion package by a long way. Now I don't think the same kind of drama exists in rallying, but we do have great characters, great stories and the teams at all levels pull off some amazing feats. I'm convinced there's plenty to fill a series. And funnily enough I have one planned with a pilot ready to film. I just don't have the investment secured. But even if I don't do the show, someone should. The US market is ripe for picking and I don't say that with any offence in mind. The US could be an important ally.

America has an established rallying series in the American Rally Association, and a familiar name has risen to the top in Lia Block. They have the rallies, the marshals and the competitors. With the right courting, we could see some US events being added to the calendar. I really can't see why the promoter isn't trying to do more in America.

American Rally Association logo
American Rally Association

There needs to be an increase in the support for events to run. Britain has a long history with the sport going back to 1973 when the championship was founded. How then has the situation been allowed to get to a point where Rally GB, in one form or another, is not only dead but looks likely never to return? We have drivers, co-drivers, technicians and teams that are based here all without a home event. The circus that is the WRC generates healthy revenue, €105 million in WRC Croatia this year. I approached Greg Smith MP to discover what happened and how the latest bid fell apart, but he declined to speak to me, quoting too busy a schedule. Northern Irelands bid was only missing the public funding required to host the event once more. How much were they asking for? 2. Yes, just £2 million would have allowed the event to run which likely would have made the UK government a decent profit back in tax. Crazy.

Earlier I posed the question why would a manufacturer enter the WRC. Well without the market and any good reason too I guess we know the answer. So there's a few things to start with.

Ok that's enough negativity for now. Let's look at the upside. Rallying isn't F1. Its roots are in stock cars you take to the shops, on terrain that would make an F1 car cry for it's mummy in all weathers over 3 days and far longer mileage. This is a test of a car not matched by any other industry standard or sport in the world. If your car can survive and have success here, it truly is the best in the world. This has to be rallying's biggest selling point, literally our car's harder than yours!

To get them to the end of an event, you need the best crews in the world to drive them and the best teams in the world to keep them going when things go wrong. You don't see an F1 mechanic having to replace a gearbox or drivetrain in a 30 minute service in the middle of nowhere.

This is a unique selling point only rallying can boast and in my opinion, one that should be exploited to maximum capacity.

A green solution to future proof the sport and work alongside manufacturers. Check.

A full promotional package from a promoter with a clear and purposeful direction. Check.

Support from the FIA to establish new events in new territories and re-establish old ones. Check.

Showing manufacturers that rallying is (or will be) a global market and is committed to worker together to a greener future. Check.

I'm more than aware non of these are actually checked or even in place. But I can say these are all sensible places to start, and if the powers that be haven't been able to see this yet, then you can have this for free. We just want the sport back to where it should be.

Further Reading:

American Rally Association -

WRC Commission set to discuss event format changes -

WRC's Sustainable fuels -

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