Fly Away Stage Problems: Bad Idea or Bad Luck?

Photo Credit: Michelin

The moment I looked at my Twitter feed this morning, my heart began to sink. News was filtering through that the WRC convoy was delayed on the trip back to Leon from Mexico City. Apparently there was an accident that caused the closure of the main route. Immediately, thoughts of Argentina 2007 came back to my mind. Do you remember that one? The rally organizers hatched an ambitious plan to fly all the teams to Buenos Aires for a high profile super-special stage in the capital city. It seemed like a great idea until storms prevented the teams from returning, and the entire 1st full day of rallying was lost.

I’m not going to knock the organizers of Rally Mexico or the WRC for trying it again. The only way for rallying to continue to grow is through exposure to big markets. Bringing the rally to the capital city is a great way to do this. What I struggle with was the way it was done. As I wrote about above, this was already attempted once with disastrous results. This was an opportunity to learn from those mistakes and prevent it from happening again. I’ve learned first-hand this week that the Mexican highways can be a bit unreliable, so I can’t help but feel that margins were left too close.¬†and there wasn’t enough wiggle room for a delay. Fortunately, unlike Argentina, the afternoon loop of stages was still run, but it could have been worse.

I’ll admit it… I have a dog in this fight. I took a week off of work and spent a fair bit of money to come down to Guanajuato for the rally. I’ve been looking forward to it for months, so to lose a morning of rallying is pretty gutting. However, compared to the true stakeholders within the sport, my disappointment is pretty insignificant. What about Jari-Matti Latvala, Ott Tanak, and Sebastien Ogier who didn’t get the 2nd pass today to recover from road sweeping? With only 2 stages scheduled for Sunday, they will have a tough time fighting back from the time they lost. What about the teams, officials, and sponsors who spent millions on this event? What about the locals who may not be able to make it to any other WRC events? When speaking to them, it was clear that they felt pretty let down by what happened. When these people are considered, one can’t help but wonder if a few doughnuts in Mexico City were worth it.

Is the concept of a “fly-away stage” a bad idea, or was this just a case of bad luck? My gut feeling is that there are too many logistical challenges with picking up the entire WRC and moving it 300km away for less than one day. We’ve seen two attempts made now, and neither one was successful. If the organizers want to bring the WRC to the capital city, that’s fine, just don’t jeopardize the rest of the rally to do so. Why not have a non-scoring demonstration stage earlier in the week, or even better after the end of the rally? I’ll fully admit that hindsight is always 20/20, and it’s easy to sit back as an armchair pundit and criticize. I just would have hoped that in 10 years, some lessons might have been learned to prevent something like this from happening again. It doesn’t make the sport look as professional as it truly is, and that’s a shame.