First of all, it’s hard to really compare Intercontinental Rally Challenge to it’s FIA counterpart, World Rally Championship – different set of rules, business vs. official WC status, different events, teams and drivers… but in the end it comes down to basics of rallying: crews, teams, fans and media.
Despite the fact that Intercontinental Rally Challenge is also feeling the consequences of global recession and sponsors and teams are careful about every euro spent in motorsport programmes, there are still great rallies to enjoy with superb drivers and excellent media coverage to top it all off. Of course I would be even happier with even more teams, crews and rallies outside Europe, as well as more solid guarantees of long-term future of the series, but IRC is still a major motorsport show as is and fans still enjoy and appreciate it.
In it’s current guise IRC is not very “intercontinental” and the amount of teams able to challenge for overall victory is quite limited (although in “support” classes situation tends to be a bit better), but with still very strong media package and spectacular events in calendar the series is very popular. Proving rally never lost it’s popularity and fans are still in love with it, but it’s upto teams, organizers and FIA to try and devise a package which will keep rally at the top of motorsports ladder. And try to put huge finanical, personal and egoistical interests aside for once.
That being said let me list a few things I find most interesting and attractive about IRC (in no particular order).
1) Events – undoubtedly some events are less famous and spectacular than others, but year after year IRC is spoiling it’s fans with major candies: Monte Carlo, Corsica, Ireland, Azores, Targa Florio… and these are joined by no less impressive rallies hosted all over Europe. Hope remains of a better future and more events outside Europe as well, but if IRC should retreat to Europe for a while in order to survive then so be it.
2) Media support – unlike the FIA and it’s oddly amusing accreditation instructions and procedure, IRC does things in a hopefully different way. All documents are easily accessible and straightforward. I would assume same can be said about the procedure, although I haven’t yet tried it so I cannot say for sure. Another very strong point of IRC vs. WRC is rich media support through official website: Media Lounge stores all major press releases, previews, reports, huge photo gallery (with high-res photos, imagine that FIA/WRC promoter/whoever), video collection… and you don’t need to provide Swiss bank account details to access it nor do you have to pass NSA/FBI/MI6 checks.
3) Competitors – drivers drive, co-drivers yell and cars scream. That’s about it – but what makes IRC competitors so special is their determination and professionalism. Aware they are part of major international sporting series, all IRC regulars and wildcard entries are giving their best not only on stages but in media relations as well. Seen as some kind of stepping stone towards WRC, IRC is really doing grand job in bringing teams and fans together while at the same time giving drivers and co-drivers an opportunity to gain experience, attract attention and sponsors and all that in well organized and easy to understand format. Andreas Mikkelsen, Craig Breen, Jan Kopecky, Juho Hanninen, Dani Sordo, Francois Delecour… these are the star drivers capable of superb outings and a real inspiration to fans and younger crews looking to test their skills against some of the best.
4) Manufacturers – there aren’t as many as we would have liked and even less are able to fight for overall victories, but even if they were all driving Fabias or even old 207s I wouldn’t care that much if show was properly organized and rallies were exciting. On the other hand, each new manufacturer brings new hope into series, giving new talents a chance to compete on international scene while at the same time showing off their products to wide audience thanks to great promotion.
5) Promotion – organized and run by Eurosport Events, IRC has it all, pretty much. Friendly to fans – check, friendly to media – check, TV coverage – check, live radio – check, active in social networks – check. Occassional live TV stages are huge bonus to the overall package. Despite some problems and room for improvements, IRC is, to me, excellent sporting and rally show and I can only hope WRC will match it closely sometime soon.
List could go on, but in short, IRC is excellent rally championship despite the shortcomings and problems – what is encouraging is they’re aware of problems and they’re working on solving them in an attempt of bringing even better experience for everyone involved.