The inevitable questions started popping up not long after Volkswagen Motorsport announced their plans to remain in the World Rally Championship for the next five years. Questions like “does that mean that the shootout powerstage concept is now a reality”. Seeing how eager Volkswagen’s team principal Jost Capito is about this idea, which is essentially his own, I can only imagine he used that idea to persuade Volkswagen’s board to prolong the company’s commitment to rallying. Which then must mean that this idea is well and truly en route to be added to 2016 rule books. At the same time other teams say the talks are still going on about this very thing, yet nobody nor their cat will ever reveal anything substantial to us, mere public and fans. Ok, I’ll correct myself here, we (you and me) don’t know, but some do and it’s all over the place right now, so you can safely bury your hopes and accept that yes, next year we’re about to enjoy the overly exciting and in no way artificially flavoured shootout stages.
Before I go on, allow me to illustrate, because I like to do that, a few scenarios. Three drivers head to final stage with 10 seconds separating them. The final stage is a rough mother of a test, but 3rd placed driver saved some tyres and he goes bonkers, outpacing everyone by 11 seconds. Yet, he did not actually fight the first placed or second placed guy, nope, he had to do the shootout thing against the fourth placed driver. Well, he wins his shootout and he is also the fastest on the stage by quite a margin, yet, the best he could hope for is third place, even though he should rightfully be the winner. Granted, chances are drivers will not push to be within 10 seconds once shootout is in effect, so this scenario is maybe a bit impossible. Also, third placed guy was fastest because 1st and 2nd placed drivers did not need to push outside of their own shootout pair. Which turns this sport upside down and makes it ridiculous.
Another scenario. Driver is 40-ish seconds ahead of second placed guy and he arrives to power stage to have his advantage cut to 2 seconds. Then he slides a bit wide in one of the corners and takes 3 seconds to find grip in a sandy bank. Bam, rally lost.
As I mentioned in my tweets, it would be really interesting to see shootout stage concept applied to every event in Sebastien Loeb era. But again, there were no power stages in some years and yeah, Loeb would probably beat even the shootout to death with his driving.
One (if only) thing bugs me though, and constantly. All we ever hear about 2016 and beyond, especially on a more constant and/or regular basis, is the shootout stage. Is this the only major thing WRC Promoter and FIA are preparing for next year? Are they happy with the level of promotion done in 2013 and 2014? If they are, why shootout stage? If they’re not, is shootout going to be the only thing standing between utter failure of the sport on one hand and the magnificent revival on the other? Surely they cannot put all their hopes into this one thing, especially if it changes the essence of the sport (and it does, I will not argue about that!). It’s almost like millions of new, not yet initiated fans of rallying are waiting for this one thing to appear next year so they can storm the WRC beaches, still not knowing anything about the sport and still not learning anything about it from the things like shootout stage. It will be like telling them the sport is about one thing then showing them a completely opposite thing on TV. What if that fails? Are WRC Promoter and FIA preparing other things, such as more elaborate promotion packages aimed at diehard fans and newbies alike, things like shows and documentaries about the sport, its history, drivers, teams, things like live cameras on stage ends, things like live tracking…?
If shootout stage idea fails, what then? Are we going to kill it off at the end of 2016 or stick to it for the next who knows how many years?
And still, the silence is overwhelming. For once, Red Bull are nowhere to be seen. Or heard. Still, one hope remains – hope that Volkswagen will start losing rallies under shootout scheme, regularly. Sort of a taste of your own medicine. Even though it’s not Volkswagen to blame, not nearly as much as FIA and promoter, who had to let one team come up with an idea for promotion and then enforce it.