New rules are nice, but what will they cost?

Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR), Ola Fløene (NOR) Volkswagen Polo R WRC (2015) WRC Rally Poland 2015

Yesterday, we were all about “wow” and “yes!” and “finally!” when the news about the new 2017 WRC regulations broke out. It was a good day of smiling faces and hope for a better, stronger, lighter and more exciting future. But will this future also be affordable and/or sustainable? I want to believe. I want to believe that all existing teams took part in shaping of said rules, especially when it comes to long-term financial stability of their motor sport programmes. Cars are inevitably going to get more complex and therefore more expensive, which, sadly, always calls for caution. I want to believe new rules are merely an evolution rather then a revolution of the existing package and I also want to believe these new rules are being introduced not because something is wrong with the existing set and cars, but because it isn’t. Is World Rally Championship strong and stable enough to handle such change – by stable I am mostly referring to the number of the manufacturer and capable privateer teams competing in the series? Let’s ignore Citroën Racing’s threats for a moment, because they do have their own agenda and I am not exactly thrilled about it, but again I ask, is WRC strong, stable, popular and promoted enough that it can handle the increased costs?

I do like the idea of WRC cars being more elaborate in every way, but I also don’t feel like cars were lacking so much and that the championship suffered greatly because cars weren’t wider, more perforated and 20% more powerful? I was always under the impression that WRC’s popularity problems (some say those exist) were not caused by cars lacking excitement, but by ultimate domination of one team and one driver. Will that change with new rules is hard to say, but I think it’s a bit silly to think rules were made in an effort to topple Volkswagen or Sebastien Ogier. Frankly, I don’t see it happening, even if this new engine’s power output will be very similar to that of the WTCC cars and some of the bodywork may also be close to what WTCC or even World RX cars are using, this is, in my book, quite irrelevant as long as every team puts in enough resources and expertise. I am no stranger to WRC Conspiracies, but I am having a hard time picturing Citroën taking advantage of the new rules just because they have a WTCC engine and an aero package ready and tested and they also have Sebastien Loeb aka The Retired Dude at their disposal. Some people are suggesting (one of the few not too optimistic theories which emerged after yesterday’s FIA reveal) new rules were in fact shaped so they favour Citroën, but I do not see it happening, not even if the rules were specifically made by Citroën and Loeb himself – other teams, if they’re interested in competing against the PSA, would just do the same, develop their cars and – compete. Or they would leave and you would end up having a series very similar to WTCC. I won’t touch any allegations about possible Citroën’s rule bending in WTCC because I don’t care at all about that silly series. Citroën is a rally championship winning team and WTCC or not, they’re still vastly more popular as a rally team than a circuit racing one. I hope they realize that before their hunger for some exposure in China pushes them out of the WRC.

I would really like to hear more about the financial aspects of new rules and I would like to hear about it from team bosses, WRC promoters and the FIA (maybe something WRC Live crew can ask next time WRC rally is in session?). They did briefly mention the money aspect in their comments yesterday, but it definitely wasn’t enough. It’s good to know Toyota thought new rules are good and feasible enough to join the series, that’s encouraging, but not every manufacturer is Toyota big and WRC should not be a wallet sizing contest, at least not entirely. Can WRC stay exciting and popular but also affordable enough to keep the teams and privateers engaged and interested? I’ve no romantic prejudices about competing teams, they’re not doing that because they love motor sport, but because they have their own agendas and marketing reasons – WRC should try hard to remain as optimal platform for those agendas as possible. Because even though we may feel WRC is strong and stable right now, it only takes one bad rule change or a decision to ruin it all – we’ve seen it happen in the past and I do hope we never see it again.

No, I won’t discuss another conspiracy, saying FIA is pushing absurd rules into WRC in an effort to alienate manufacturers and shovel WRC back to obscurity, this time. Have some comments from yesterday’s FIA release instead.

“Defining the principles has been an extensive but very rewarding process,” said Jarmo Mahonen, FIA Rally Director. “All of the sport’s stakeholders have been involved to ensure we meet commercial, marketing and promotional objectives, while at the same time recognising what our fans want to see. The cars will look dramatic and have more character; such are the freedoms we hope to see defined in the final technical regulations. Seeing one of these cars in action will really set the heart racing and that’s exactly what was intended.”

FIA Technical Director Bernard Niclot said: “There were three main objectives with these regulations; make the car spectacular, be mindful of costs, and maintain, if not increase safety. The cars will be striking, there is no doubt about that, and there are small but always significant improvements in relation to safety. We have been attentive to the level of investment for manufacturers currently involved in the Championship and these regulations have also helped attract Toyota back to the series which is fantastic news. I think we have achieved our targets in helping to add yet more value to the WRC.”