WRC & US – Canada, should not be a question of if, but when
Everybody knows what the deal is at the moment. World Rally Championship is trying hard to save a buck and control the costs, but at the same time it cannot afford to lose it’s character and diminish the meaning of “world” in it’s name. So we get plenty of rounds in Europe, none in Asia, coupled with few long haul rallies, some of which are rotating with another event in the region. At the same time, there is a debate going on about the ways to reshape and rebuild the series, to make it more appealing to the global audience, but we’re sort of stepping on our own tail. Even more so if we add the now infamous initiative, proposed by FIA president Jean Todt, about the return of the endurance events. It’s a bit foggy, to say the least. Recently, FIA officially addressed the topic of WRC’s future, but we did not hear anything new. Instead, we heard about the “endurance” and “adventure” from Mr. Todt once again, while at the same time manufacturers are trying to control the expenses, followed by promoters, who are looking for a way to make everything more fitting for easy-to-digest modern TV. Many ideas and initiatives, colliding and opposing each other at times, and it’s not easy to keep all parties happy.
Perhaps this lengthy intro has nothing to do with the topic I wanted to bring up, but I believe it actually has everything to do with it. United States and Canada are, as we know, not ranked high on the list of priorities, but if we ignore the usual reasons, we see no real substance in this being the case. Sure, rally is still not competitive against other major motorsport series in the US and Canada, and it’s basically still more about enthusiasts than large factory teams and drivers. But, they are not far, and they are working extremely hard to raise the game with each new event. People are getting familiar with the format, and of course, they love it. If run properly, rally championship is one of the most extreme motorsport series, and they love extreme across the pond. With China, Russia and Brazil often being mentioned as the next new additions to WRC calendar, I see no reason why WRC should not be aiming for the States as well – their national series might not be the level of WRC or ERC right now, but isn’t that actually a bonus? Besides, I highly doubt any of the countries mentioned has a series that is really stronger or “better” than the Rally America, for example. Perhaps a round in the US is exactly what needs to happen for the sport to literally explode in the US and Canada. We know how good and capable motorsport enthusiasts and professionals are over there, and I’m sure everybody knows what they’re able to achieve in terms of promotion. This simply must happen.
During the years of Citroën’s domination, it didn’t make much sense for WRC to be looking towards North America, as a potential new playground. But things have changed recently. Citroën confirmed their switch to WTCC next year, and we still don’t know what they’ll do in WRC. Most likely, they’ll run a team, similar to what Qatar and M-Sport are doing this year, while also building and selling R5 customer cars. Perhaps this is a good time to mention my idea of converting a DS3 into 208 WRC, but that’s another story. With Citroën seemingly out of the picture, as far as full manufacturer entry is concerned (if it comes to this), WRC is going to be run with Volkswagen and Hyundai as manufacturer teams, and M-Sport, as unofficial Ford squad, unless the blue oval decides do make a comeback. All teams, except Citroën, have direct interest in the United States and Canada. For Hyundai, Volkswagen and Ford, US and Canada are major markets, even though the models used in the WRC may not be available across the globe. But brand-wise, all three are present and could use the kind of promotion, provided by grueling and demanding WRC events. Not long ago, Toyota was mentioned as the possible new entry in the WRC, which adds further weight to the argument of WRC in the US / Canada.
Granted, my perspective on this may be skewed, and I am pretty sure it sounds overly simplified, but basically, isn’t it like putting 2 and 2 together. There is much to gain for WRC in the US and/or Canada. Both nations love extreme sports and the sense of adventure, and we have plenty of both in WRC. At least I feel and hope we do. In order for WRC to succeed in the US, it’s important to promote it properly, and ensure the event itself is run flawlessly. Basically, that means it would be a big challenge for organizers and professionals, but I am confident it’s actually not that far fetched. Perhaps WRC would also need to go through some changes, to be able to make it in the NA, but changes are on the menu anyway. Perhaps it should lose some of the “eliteness” and become more open to privateers and smaller teams. Hopefully those changes will be applied in such a way, that the WRC round in the US and/or Canada will no longer be a dream, but reality. Ultimately, perhaps by bringing WRC to USA or Canada, our series can finally find that missing link between audience, investors, manufacturers, drivers and fans – maybe all we need is a breath of fresh air (or dirt!).
But before it does, the idea of spectators sitting in camp chairs, few feet away from the track at Pikes Peak needs to go. Seriously. There is nothing worse than a spectator fatality, especially if it’s actually very avoidable. Don’t let it happen, in any kind of motorsport.
photo: Neil McDaid