Wednesday, July 05, 2006

WRC makes some big changes

The biggest piece of news to come from the FIA's World Motor Sport Council meeting today is the replacement of three events on the calendar with three of the six candidate rallies that have run this year under FIA scrutiny. So we say goodbye to Cyprus, Turkey and Australia and hello to Ireland, Norway and Portugal.

What are we losing? Well, it has to be said that Cyprus and Turkey are very similar to the Acropolis event and have run in the past as successive events. Many team managers were calling for the removal of Cyprus because it always did major damage to cars and generally cost more in repairs than any other WRC event. I give the FIA 10 points for getting rid of this one.

Turkey is a newer event, so maybe deserved a bit more of a chance to prove itself. Of the three Eastern Mediterranean rallies, this was the fastest and most diverse, with major elevation changes accounting for occasionally unpredictable weather.

Australia is a very unique event, and in conjunction with New Zealand justifies the travel expense for teams to go Down Under. By removing one of these events it makes the per-rally travel costs for NZ go through the roof. I don't feel one can survive without the other. However the real problem for Oz is local. A well-publicized brou-ha-ha between the sport's sanctioning body in Australia and the government of Western Australia (which plays a big role in promoting the event) has put the whole thing in jeapordy. The FIA probably picked up on this and decided to drop Rally Australia until it can get itself sorted out. I'm sad to see it go, since the landscape and roads are so very different to every other WRC rally.

The best news to come out of the calendar changes is the arrival of a second snow event, this time in Norway. I saw a 7-minute review of the '06 Rally Norway and they certainly weren't short of the white stuff, unlike the Swedish which has struggled in recent years to provide the depth of snow and solid snowbanks necessary. Sweden and Norway will run on successive weekends, allowing snow-rally fanatics to get more out of a rally vacation to Scandinavia. Whether it will impact attendance at the Swedish Rally, with Norwegians choosing to stay home for their own event, remains to be seen. One final item of note is that Delta Airlines has direct flights daily from here in San Francisco to Copenhagen, which itself is now connected to Sweden by the Oresund Link, a combined road/rail bridge/tunnel. How easy is it to go see some WRC snow rallies now? Almost too easy....

The ejection of three gravel events makes way for a snow rally, a gravel rally and another tarmac rally, in the form of Rally Ireland. This reflects a growing diversity in tarmac events in the WRC, from the cracked twisty pavement of Corsica to the smooth, fast roads of Catalunya to the multiple surfaces of Germany. This is a good thing indeed. The Irish stages most resemble the parts of the German event that are not in the vineyards or the army bases - tight, twisty, damp and with poor visibility. It will be a true test of the drivers, and a continuation of the Irish heritage of motor racing on its own roads.

The final new event is actually not new at all. Rally Portugal was part of the championship up until 2001, but must continue to live with its bad reputation for crowd control. Hopefully things have changed for the better. This rally is probably most equivalent to the Turkey event, so questions will undoubtedly be raised as to which is actually the better rally. Being English I'm required to hate everything Portugese at the moment, so I'm going to have to say that I disagree with Portugal's inclusion in the calendar. Actually, that's the truth - I see no reason why it should be back in the Championship, especially with its history of spectator fatalities.

1 comment:

Roy (linksheaven.com) said...

I'm looking forward to seeing what the FIA do in Ireland - the stages over here are frighteningly quick for the locals, let alone WRC.