Fernando Alonso bought himself a cycling team, the movie Rush is apparently full of win and heroism and awesome, Kimi Raikkonen is not bothered by money at all, Max Mosley is not happy with the current state of Formula 1 and the now-failed idea of teams deciding on their own spending… oh, and one of the most iconic WRC events is not going to be part of the series in the next three years. Not a big surprise but a shock and an ugly bit of WRC news nonetheless. At first I was certain they were pushed out by the FIA and new promoters, but I suppose I am wrong – this time, organizers decided to withdraw from the calendar. “Bold move”, some say. Well, sure, if you follow that line of thinking, they were the ones to call off their involvement, so they must be bold, right? Yeah, well, no.
Rally New Zealand organizers say that the current system of rotating WRC calendar slots with Rally Australia each year is not working. It never did and it never was going to, because if it was introduced to cut costs, it failed miserably. I am not sure who originally came up with this idea, but I wonder how difficult it was to put 2 and 2 together. If you’re forcing organizers to literally become goddamn financial gurus and marketing artists, trying to secure backing for biannual events, you should be crazy or just a bit incompetent to think such system is actually saving money. But someone back at FIA thought this was a great idea and so NZ and Australia were in and out of the series, year after year, not able to secure stable backing and, as Rally NZ organizers point out, to ensure the continuity of world class marshaling.
Supposedly, FIA was fine with the system and they wanted it to continue? No idea, they’re dead silent when it comes to 2014 and beyond calendar. But if that’s the case, then Rally NZ organizers were in fact pushed out of the championship, fair and square. They were forced to accept this idiotic system of switching with Australia and since that did not work, they decided to split. However, since we do not know how WRC calendar for 2014 will look like, there is sooooooooo much room for various guessing and speculating activities. So much room. Perhaps the FIA had no intention of running Rally New Zealand in 2014 at all and this parade in the media is just that, a parade to make the whole deal a bit less painful and more of a “shit happens” incident. We have no idea which events will form the next year’s calendar, but once we get our hands on it, some things and reasons may become more evident.
I am not at all saying Rally NZ organizers are playing the FIA game and talking the talk to the public. I am actually confident they tried their best to keep the event going – their efforts were praised by just about anyone who ever traveled to the New Zealand and enjoyed the hospitality, high level of professionalism, superb stages and fantastic atmosphere. But with only one side talking (Rally NZ organizers) and other side being as silent as the monks (the FIA), we are not getting the “bigger picture”.
Reports suggest Rally New Zealand organizers are pushing for a new kind of WRC deal – one that will enable them to host the event for three years and then switch it over to Australia for another three years, and so on. This again puts the ball in FIA’s court – is the motor sports governing body, together with series’ promoter, able to form and shape the rules, regulation and business model for the sport on a long term basis. Can they guarantee the whole model is going to be able to sustain itself for years to come, so they can allow NZ and Australia to go with their idea of 3 years on and off? So far I haven’t seen any comments from Rally Australia, so I do believe it’s NZ’s original idea, for now.
Rumours say Poland is going to be back in WRC calendar next year. Which to me reads: Robert Kubica is going to be in one of the factory (semi)backed WRC cars. He is not yet ready to discuss 2014, though. Some good circuit racing offers are on the table and of course he wants to get back in to Formula 1, if at all possible. I might be digressing a bit, or am I. He is a huge name not only in Poland and it goes without saying that the Polish event in WRC, with Robert driving one of the WRC cars, would be huge thing commercially. Of course, if FIA and promoters find a way to extract some of that potential and line their pocket with some cash. Plus, it’s Poland, it’s Europe, no long distance journeys to the Middle Earth. But now I’m really just fishing for excuses.
Same rumours say Rally Acropolis is also going to be sentenced to death and shot, if you’ll excuse my choice of words. I guess, and I like to do that, it’s about money. Same money organizers have a very hard time finding and securing. But here’s the thing. Teams also like to say how difficult it is to secure the financial structure for WRC season. Now isn’t that interesting. Let’s put 2 and 2 together and see if we come up with 4 or with 0 (as FIA does, apparently). Organizers and teams say it’s difficult to find money. But of course it is! Who in the right frame of mind would “give” you the money if you’re offering NOTHING IN RETURN. Basically, current WRC backers and sponsors are throwing their money away (some say they have enough to do that) and surely their sole interest is not to gain commercial success and global recognition through WRC. Because WRC is nowhere to be seen. Daily reports late evenings. Rally reports, cramming three days of intense racing into one hour? You miss it, and you missed it. There. Is. Nothing.
As always, I am sure I’m just scratching the surface of real issues and problems, but it’s hard to paint the bigger picture with the limited information and insight we, or rather I, have.
And while we type our heads off and discuss this and other WRC matters far and wide, FIA remains silent. On the new stages format. On the new calendar. On the new TV plans.
But poke them about Formula 1 and see them bleed enthusiasm.
Farewell, dear Rally New Zealand. Keep the faith and stay strong, we REALLY NEED YOUR AWESOME CHARACTER IN WRC. Maybe, just maybe, this WRC is no place for you, and you’re not to blame. It’s a very weird and slightly confused sport these days. We hope to see you back, and soon.
photo: Matt Jelonek / Citroën Racing archive