WRC event in three days?

It has been proposed often, especially lately, that WRC events should be shortened to cut costs. How could it happen in practice and what different parties think about it?  In this post we hear from the rally organizers, the drivers, the fans and others about their views on shortening the events from four to three days, or other ways to cut costs.

Cover image by Richard Simpson / Flickr (C)

The current COVID-19 crisis has resulted in postponements and cancellations, and it’s still uncertain when the next WRC event can be run. Budgets are tighter than ever and cost savings are sought at every corner.

The discussion was started by the M-Sport team principal Rich Millener. He suggested to DirtFish that FIA should loosen up their rules and allow changes to be made into the standard WRC event format in order to get the rest of the season run. Among his suggestions was a two-day event.

Sebastien Ogier also said in DirtFish’s recent video that the format of the rallies could be made “more compact”. In his view, two full days of competition could be enough, reducing the time the team has to spend on one event.

Esapekka Lappi had similar thoughts as Ogier in an interview by YLE Urheilu. In his mind, the road sections should be shorter so the rallies could pack even more stage kilometres in one day than they do now.

“We may have road sections of over 100 km several times a day, and that takes time!”

Shorter events have been suggested earlier as well. Already in the beginning of 2018 Oliver Ciesla from the WRC Promoter company planned in an Autosport interview that the calendar could expand to 15 or 16 events through the cost saving of shortening the events by one day.

Even this blog has touched on the subject before.

Thursday’s Gone?

In practice, a straightforward way to shorten the rally week would be to start everything one day later. The two-day recce would last from Wednesday to Thursday. Subsequently the shakedown would be contested a day later than normally, on the Friday morning. The rally would start the same afternoon. One leg of stages and a super special would complete the day.

Saturday and Sunday could remain as they are now, perhaps with just the kilometres pumped up to the maximum. The length of the event could remain close to the current minimum of 300 km.

The clerk of the course of Rally Finland Kai Tarkiainen doesn’t buy this idea. He reminded It Gets Faster Now! that Thursday in the current event format isn’t just resting in the hotel room between the morning shakedown and the evening super special.

“By trying to pack everything into shorter timeframe, we would lose all the opportunities the fans have to meet their heroes in a less stressful environment than during a service break, the organisers would lose all their PR & promotion opportunities with the drivers, and everyone would just be running around like mad to make it to the next scheduled item on the list”

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Would the drivers turn their backs at fans for the sake of cutting costs? Photo by Nico Quatrevingtsix / Flickr

Although Tarkiainen especially points out the oppoturnities for fans to meet their heroes, Esapekka Lappi mentioned in the YLE interview “driving 50 km to a town just to sign autographs” as an example of something that could be trimmed from the current event. However, he also added that he understands the marketing and financial aspects of doing that.

Iain Campbell, the clerk of the course of Wales Rally GB, agrees with his Finnish colleague. He explained to It Gets Faster Now! in great detail how shortening the rally by one day would affect the fine-tuned synergy between various partners. Most importantly, the ticket income would decrease significantly while most of the costs wouldn’t do so.

What about the spectator’s point of view? Teemu Lampinen – who travels to at least one foreign WRC event most years – told It Gets Faster Now! that removing Thursdays would be a change for the worse.

“It would mean practically the same expenses but less to see”.

One person who commented on the subject to It Gets Faster Now! prefers to remain anonymous. This familiar face found often from the service park suggests rallies should be shortened.

“If you think about mechanics as an example, their active working hours are not more than a few hours although they have to spend the whole week in the service park”

Kai Tarkiainen doesn’t think reducing one night at the hotel is worth the effort. However, Esapekka Lappi estimated in the YLE interview that shortening the rally week by one and a half days would save close to twenty days of traveling throughout the year.

Another way to do it?

While the rally organizers aren’t excited about the proposed event shortening, they have their own ideas for implementing something similar.

Iain Campbell suggests that if Thursday is cut off, Sunday should then be a full two-loop day like Saturday. He would use the Friday morning for completing the recce, midday for shakedown and evening for the opening stage . He acknowledges this isn’t possible everywhere.

“That all presumes that the special stages are close to each other and the service park.  That there is a shakedown and spectator special nearby. Geographically very few have locations are lucky enough to have this, and that is before you think of sponsor requirements, accommodation requirements, spectator access, daylight hours, dust….the perfect event itinerary does not exist.”

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The road sections from the service to the stages can be long, for example when going to Mid-Wales. Photo by Kyn Wai Chung / Flickr

Meanwhile, Kai Tarkiainen has good experiences from shortening the rally from the end of the week, rather than from the beginning.  He told It Gets Faster Now! how Rally Finland ended already on the Saturday evening for a few years and it seemed to work well for many stakeholders.

“The teams liked it as they could pack up early or use less staff on the Sunday with higher wages, and we as organisers liked it, as Sunday has always been a quiet day on the stages, so we didn’t have to organise any for the smaller crowds”.

AUTO : WRC FINLAND RALLY 2012
Rally Finland 2012 ended on the Saturday evening with podium and a big party. Image by Michelin Motorsport / Flickr

Teemu Lampinen also remembers these years of Rally Finland in the beginning of 2010’s. He also would prefer a a rally to run from Thursday to Saturday instead of Friday to Sunday.

“It depends on everyone’s life outside rally. The week in this society starts typically on Monday. Sunday could be used for returning home or resting for the upcoming week”

Less (rallies) is more?

A different approach to cut the costs would be to reduce the amount of rallies on the calendar, but make them longer to keep the amount of competition unchanged on the seasonal level, in order to preserve the value of the championship. In the end, the cost of traveling and shipping the equipment is always roughly the same, no matter how long the event is.

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The amount of service trucks is the same, whether the event is three or four days long. Photo by Rab Lawrence / Flickr

One way to make the rally longer would be to run one leg of forest stages already on Thursday, but keeping the current format from Friday to Sunday. Again, Kai Tarkiainen wouldn’t want to make this change.

“[It] sounds a bit like stretching the limits”.

He explains it would mean having to keep all the personnel required to run the rally employed for one more day. In the meantime, the increased ticket sales from Thursday would not compensate the investment.

Iain Campbell wouldn’t even want to reduce the number of events anyway.

“To be a World Rally Championship, it needs to visit the world.  I think the 2020 calendar of 14 rounds was excellent for this. “

Teemu Lampinen also understands the concern of some countries losing their spot on the calendar. However, he sees lengthening the event positive through the eyes of a traveling spectator.

Is it broken, should we fix it?

<p>Iain Campbell doesn’t find it meaningful to shorten the events in search of cost savings. Instead he would make the teams look again at how much they are spending on their cars.

“One of the biggest savings would be to the car formats.  Let the marketing people design the rules, not the engineers.”

Campbell could also do with less extensive and expensive service park hospitality. This could also help with designing the route, as currently there are limited opportunities for finding suitable locations for WRC service parks.

“Standardise the service area setups that can be easily transferable by one transportation company.  The Hyundai set up is beautiful but takes a team over a week to build and then four days to dismantle. “

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A part of the Hyundai service park setup. Photo by ligreq / ligreq

It seems that after all the current format seems to work well for most parties involved. Lampinen reminds that we don’t see any headlines when something works well. Tarkiainen echoes this by saying simply:

“if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!”

Post scriptum

After these interviews were made, both Tarkiainen and Campbell had to cancel their events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, their comments are still relevant when we look at the rest of 2020 or future WRC seasons.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Martin Holmes, whose passing we learned of on the day this article was published. Holmes was one of my earliest memories of rally journalists and has been an inspiration to write detailed rallying articles. Rest in peace.

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