Just as crews were making their way towards the overnight service I had a pleasure of discussing one very interesting matter with one of America’s most distinguished rally enthusiasts, Steven Harrell. On Twitter he is known as @DVMSteve, and I for one think that “D” stands for “decimal”. Why’s that, you ask. Maybe because Steven enjoys his rally as much as he enjoys statistics and, I suppose, math. This discussion started when Steven tweeted about missing the old times and the infamous starting position dramas we used to have on gravel events. According to Steven, drivers were expected to make some pretty interesting and unique decisions and they had to be very careful about the amount of time they can afford to lose in order to gain a more favourable starting position for the final day of the event. Drivers were not as free to run flat out from the word go as they are now, because they had to keep in mind the gaps and the need to fine tune those to avoid being the sweeper, starting the final day as the first on the road.
I argued that this, as exciting and engaging as it may be, is not good for the future of the sport. Sure enough, as Steven said, crews were still pushing hard right until the final sections of the last stage on Saturday, so the risk of spectators seeing cars moving slow instead of being pushed to the limit was low. But the very thought of “slowing down on purpose” just sounds out of place, especially if WRC wants to keep its image and reputation – we want new fans to recognize WRC as a sport for the risk takers, slowing down feels like cheating. It’s actually bad enough that we have splits delivered to the crews on stages, so they can adjust their pace on the fly, but since splits are key part of safety tracking there is no going back now I guess. Bringing back the dreaded tampering with the starting order is a big no no in my book, but something else came to our minds as the discussion went on.
By putting 2 and 3 together and coming up with 7, as FIA sometimes does, I wanted to somehow include Steven’s ideas and push drivers, co-drivers and teams to start thinking about tactics beyond just how many spare tyres they’ll put in the cars. Power stages seem like a good starting point. Maybe not in their current form, but how about this: add few more power stages to the mix, make them more valuable (not by much) points-wise and perhaps then drivers would not be so ready to think about slowing down and losing points. This idea had some good, but also some bad points. You cannot turn entire Saturday into a collection of power stages, hoping that the drivers would keep pushing instead of slowing down. Or can you?
Steven wanted tactics to play a more prominent role, while yours truly was all about keeping the speed and push-hard approach, as much as possible. Multiple power stages idea was deemed semi usable, but then I had another idea. How’s this: have each stage award points, every single stage. Fine tune the ratio between the overall points and the points won on stages, so they are important and valuable enough. Why not take it even further – perhaps increase the amount of points gained in increments, so SS1 earns less points than, for example, SS5. Stages value can keep growing from 1st to last stage proportionally OR we can have it “reset” for every individual leg, so every day first stage earns less points than the last.
I am convinced there are at least a dozen ways in which this fantastic (it is, isn’t it?) new system can be abused or tricked and I’m curious to hear about those ways. Perhaps my interpretation is quite rough, or maybe it’s too detailed and complex, but I believe power stages are good foundation if we want to bring tactics into play, without risking too much and going back to drivers slowing down at the “yellow boards”. Can you imagine those scenes in live TV? Steven was ready for this, though, saying “no worries, no live TV for WRC anyway”. He’s an evil person at times.
It’s 4 AM at the time of writing and I am pretty exhausted, so I’ll put some numbers on the paper tomorrow to see whether this makes and or no sense at all. But I feel it would offer some kind of alternative to the “slow down” approach.