Do we need tougher, rougher, meaner special stages?

MOTORSPORT - WRC 2006 - CYPRUS RALLY - LIMASSOL - 21/09 TO 24/09/2006 - PHOTO : FREDERIC LE FLOC H / DPPI

The wait is over, almost. Couple of days from now the WRC will spring back to life, after a VERY LONG BREAK. We will be following crews, cars and teams on their journey across some of the most difficult and engaging stages in the series. It is time for Rally Argentina and I for one hope it will be a tough one. I never really advocated nor prayed too much for nice weather, perfect conditions and easy living in the World Rally Championship. I am not calling for complete mayhem, floods, outrageous snow storms or unbearable heat – these things usually lead to stages being cancelled. I am not saying it should be impossible, just difficult and challenging. Side effect of that is that the spectators will most likely suffer quite a bit, but they’re a hardy bunch.

This short post is inspired by another one of those complaints we hear from time to time. Similar to how rally cars were a lot more demanding “back in the day”, stages were also, according to those complaints, a lot tougher in general. Whether by length, weather or type of terrain, stages were less politically correct in “golden years”. Maybe there is some truth in that, similar to how there is some truth in claims about cars being more about driving skills and less about technology. But times change, for some aspects at least. No matter how we twist and turn it, I don’t think World Rally Cars will ever go back to being barely driveable. But can we, and should we, do something about special stages? What could we do?

Finding a good special stage is not as easy as it may seem. We all have our special roads, hidden gems that would make fantastic special stages, if only they had similarly fabulous roads around them. And a city or a town nearby, to serve as a rally base. And the support of local economy and authorities. And a capable and experienced organizer. It’s not easy because stages are plural, you’re not looking for one, you need a whole bunch. What I am trying to say is, there are plenty of criteria to meet, and many of those aren’t much fun compared to, say, length or roughness or number of turns. Organizers need to find a compromise between many very different factors, but maybe, in general and as a trend, the WRC could look to add more demanding stages. A wee bit rougher, touch more technical, with chances of weather coming in and (literally) pissing on the celebration just a tad higher. Would that bring back some of the long lost challenge? Maybe, but even if not, it would probably help wash down some of the paint from the pink glasses of WRC nostalgia. You, of course, have a pair, don’t you?

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