The WRC doesn’t care about privateers. It’s a controversial statement, but I’m going to stand behind it. Why do I say this? It wasn’t so long ago when the manufacturer teams left the WRC high and dry during the economic down-turn in the mid 2000’s. Who was it that filled out the rally entry lists to prevent the championship from becoming a complete laughing stock? Was it a big-budget factory program that stepped in to save the day? Nope… it was the privateers running in old Fabia’s, 307’s, Lancer’s, and Xsara’s that gave the WRC the car counts they needed to still be considered a legitimate world championship. If it wasn’t for these individually funded efforts, the championship would have consisted of 2 Citroens and 4 Fords (M-Sport and Stobart). Sadly, the WRC doesn’t seem to remember those days. It’s been a decade now, and there are now 4 (soon to be 5) factory teams entered in the championship. However, in their relentless pursuit of these big name manufacturers, the WRC forgot about the people who are the fabric of the sport… the people who stick around when everyone else falls away.
Martin Prokop found this out after being slapped with a 5 minute penalty for breaking the seal on his Fiesta’s gearbox to repair it for Rally Sardinia. Now, the rules are the rules. I’m not blaming the WRC for enforcing the regulations that were set forth at the beginning of the season. I am, however, blaming them for letting things get to this point. Nothing has been done to either level the playing field for the privateers competing against the manufacturers or to create a place for them to compete on their own. Unfortunately for Martin, after years of struggling to keep up with the factory teams, this penalty was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He has announced his withdraw from the championship to pursue his interests in sports car racing and rally raid.
Can you blame Martin? Can you blame Robert Kubica for withdrawing from several rallies this year? What benefit does the WRC hold for privateers anymore? Who wants to participate in a championship that will cost massive amounts of money to barely finish in the lower points paying positions. In addition, what sponsor would want to pay money for maybe 30 seconds of television time on an end of rally highlights package? It just doesn’t make sense.
The title picture of this article was taken at this years 12 Hours of Mugello which is organized by the Dutch group, Creventic. This is pure speculation, but I can’t help but feel that after Martin and Robert were exposed to an organization that values privateers, they were forced to reconsider their allegiance to the WRC. No, it doesn’t make the headlines or network television, but Creventic has built a highly successful endurance racing series by doing one simple thing: listening to their constituency. They sat down with the privateers and gentleman racers and listened to their needs. The WRC would do well to take a page out of Creventic’s book and have some open dialogue with what remains of their privateer competitors. Martin himself even said that if they had done this before laying down the penalty, he might still be willing to compete in the championship. As it stands now, Prokop’s gone, Kubica may not come back, and Lorenzo Bertelli is on a very short leash. If he doesn’t stop ending his rallies with a damaged car, that family money may dry up very quickly.
Something needs to be done for the privateers, and soon. No, they don’t bring the big bucks, but they are the lifeblood of the sport and they deserve just as much of a say as the manufacturers.