Power stage shootout (hopefully) explained; should WRC trade TV for internet?

Volkswagen Motorsport team principal Jost Capito is one of the main promoters (no, not that promoter) of the infamous new model for the final power stage, also known as the shootout stage. So far we’ve heard a lot of bitter criticism of this idea, and I am proud to say I tried really hard to whack its ugly head whenever it emerged from the hole. Until now this idea sounded just horrible, because with the information we had it seemed that WRC was about to lose its plot completely. I am not sure why nobody came forward to explain this damn thing in more detail until now, but better late then never (if I were evil, I would now say that this last phrase could be claimed by the WRC timing service provider as their official split/stage time motto, but being evil is bad, for karma at least). During Rally Argentina, Colin Clark of WRC Live sat down with Mr Capito with only one topic of discussion; power stage shootout. What did we learn from this interview? Well, many things, actually. For example, we now know that Mr Capito coined this idea years ago, in 2007 to be more precise. So instead of blaming the promoters, we should (have) blame(d) him. But was the blame justified? It sure was, at least due to the fact that until now we only had tiny bits of information available and nobody really knew for sure what this new concept is all about. Again, a tiny bit of communication between the key elements in WRC (teams, drivers, promoters, fans, media, we’re all in this together) can make a huge difference! I do thank Colin Clark for finally cornering Mr Capito and extracting more details about the shootout from him.

So, what’s this idea all about then? Is it any good or still horrible? In my opinion it’s still, more or less, pretty bad if not just horrible again. Yes, it makes a bit more sense now, but it’s still going against many principles of the sport and at the same time provides very little guarantee that it would bring more people to the sport and in front of TVs. It is certainly not simple, even if the basic math behind it is logical and even I was able to understand it after few politely provided instructions. But it’s math! Why? Why do we need math in WRC? I simply cannot understand the idea of introducing more factors into the mix, especially since we often hear how WRC is, at the moment, too complicated and complex for ordinary people. In fact it was Mr Capito who said that WRC, as it is, will never attract new fans because it’s too hard to understand. Wait, what? If the idea of adding stage time upon a stage time upon a stage time and whoever collected the least amount wins is complex, how is more math going to save it and make it more simple?

Let’s have an example, shall we (math translated and provided by Michał Hryszko). Penultimate stage of 2014 Rally Argentina is over and Jari-Matti Latvala has 97.5 seconds advantage over Sebastien Ogier. Only thing remaining is the 16 kilometer power stage. Let’s convert it to shootout stage for this experiment. We need few more things added to the equation. First, we must know how many kilometers crews completed up to that point. Let’s round it up to 375 km. The math then goes like this:

current advantage / total kms = speed difference between Latvala and Ogier in seconds per kilometer

then it’s on to this

speed difference x length of powerstage in kilometers = new time difference between Latvala and Ogier

In our case (see tweet above), the 97.5 seconds would be reduced to just 4.2 seconds! And this is the advantage which Latvala would have before starting the final shootout stage against Ogier. From 97.5 seconds to 4.2 seconds. How? Why? How and why? Why the #”%$ would Jari-Matti Latvala allow for 97.5 seconds to become 4.2 seconds? Do we really need to twist the sport so much? Can you even think of all the possibilities for more than one other thing going horribly wrong because of this? For example, is every single power stage going to be equal in length? But then the stages leading to the last stage should also have exactly the same amount of kilometers on every event. Maybe I’m pushing it too far now, but maybe I’m not. Either way, this whole thing makes close to no sense to me.

Then there’s the element of math and how it works. Why do people think that this new calculations would make WRC instantly TV friendly and globally popular and at the same time they say that without this new math WRC is too complex and difficult to understand. I’d like to quote Debra Morgan aka Dexter’s lovely sister, when she colourfully said “Fuck me sideways” but isn’t adding more things to explain, to consider and to calculate going to make things even more complex? I am not the proper judge of that, because more often than not I get confused by simplest of things, but I don’t think this idea will make any change whatsoever to the way our sport is presented and accepted on TV and by TV audience. In some of my earlier posts I talked about the things I think should be improved or changed, because if we change just one stage, this will, in the end, mean nothing because WRC will remain as sidelined and ignored by mainstream media and audience as it is today. Unless they start using explosives and hire Michael Bay or Mythbusters to do the shootout stage, I don’t think it would change much.

And I won’t even go into explaining why the idea of reducing time gaps is so utterly wrong from the sporting perspective. I understand that Mr Capito is most likely reacting to pressures from above and he very much wants Volkswagen to remain part of the WRC. But is this the best and only way? Is it his job to come up with models for promotion and development of the sport? Partly it is, but don’t we have promoters? Do we really need to hear a team boss talk about WRC future instead of promoters or, satan forbid, FIA? What the hell!?

I can almost see Mr Capito talking to Volkswagen board members during their visit to final day of 2015 Rally Germany.

JC: “Yes, Mr Volkswagen board members, our driver was 2 minutes ahead of Citroën/Hyundai/Ford up to this last stage, but nobody saw it because we only want to show this last stage on TV. Now, this stage will be very very exciting and everybody will watch it on TV! We reduced 2 minutes to 10 seconds, it’s going to be so exciting, you’ll see!”

VW: “So everyone watching on TV will now think our car is only 10 seconds faster than Citroën/Hyundai/Ford?”

JC: “Yes, but think of all the TV viewers…”

*meaningful glances exchanged between board members*

*stage finishes with one tiny spin costing Volkswagen driver 11 seconds, and other team wins in front of TV audience*

*unemployment ensues*

Internet is the solution, not TV?

David Richards, who once was in charge of promoting the sport as well as leading the Subaru factory team, reckons WRC could do well to drop the idea of mandatory TV presence and look for alternatives. According to him, one such alternative is quite obvious – it’s everywhere, it’s fast, cheap, accessible and offers huge possibilities. People call this thing internet. I admit I defended and promoted the idea of TV with all my heart, but you may recall I did it with other solutions and platforms in mind too. TV and TV alone is not and never would be enough, and TV today is more and more about internet than your ordinary couch and TV set. If WRC continues to ignore internet as a serious platform, no TV and no power stage will help it. TV has its place and it should be part of the media package, but it should not be the only thing WRC ever talks about.

David Richards comments can be read here.

Full interview with Jost Capito is around this corner.

Do follow Michał Hryszko and Colin Clark on Twitter.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying math presented here is 100% correct and in line with Mr Capito’s idea. I must admit I had trouble understanding his concept fully in that interview.