You’d be forgiven for thinking the only thing going on in British motorsport, or world motorsport for that matter, was Jenson Button’s Formula One world championship win last Sunday.
But one of the FIA’s ‘other championships’, the World Rally Championship, is rolling into Wales this weekend for what could be the last edition of the Wales Rally GB (as Rally GB may be set to head back up north next year). Rallying is always a sport I’ve admired from afar, but have never had the chance to witness it first hand.
Well, I’m here in Cardiff (yes it’s raining) for a look behind the scenes at what goes on in the tormented world of the WRC. One of the reasons I think the WRC suffers from a lack of coverage in this country (aside from the lack of any real British heroes) is the fact it’s not particularly a television-friendly sport.
In a world of fast-paced football, cricket and rugby games on television, and of course the slick coverage the F1 receives on the BBC these days, viewers see sport as a commodity, which is hard-hitting, action packed and over before you know it. Rallying is of course two of these things, but due to its length and what casual viewers would consider a lack of actual racing, it’s difficult to package as a frontline sport on mainstream television.
I doubt I’m the only one who thinks that the coverage the WRC does receive in the UK is bordering on hopeless. Freeview channel Dave shows an hour-long highlights package after each event, which actually shows very little action and instead focuses on the oh-so insightful thoughts of an unknown ‘celebrity’.
From what I have seen so far, rallying seems a very accessible sport, which isn’t being given a fair enough crack of the media coverage whip. The WRC paddock is currently set-up in the centre of Cardiff, with plenty of fan-friendly shops, simulators and sideshows to keep the public interested.
If I’m honest, (with my reference point being the F1 at Silverstone) despite its accessibility, the whole event seems to have a tired feel to it. The locals seem to see the rally as part of the furniture. Although there’s lots of publicity material around Cardiff, it’s lacking the feel of a real buzz that a major event would usually bring to town.
Rallying has the power to create road car icons – just look at what its done for the Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Evo and Ford Focus RS. Go back through the archives and the list becomes even longer - think Audi Quattros, Ford RS200s, Cosworths, Minis, MG Metros; the list goes on.
The sport has lost too many big name manufacturers in recent years, leaving just Citroen and Ford. New regulations are on the horizon, so with the sheer volume of hot hatches on sale now, you’d hope some firms would take a look at the WRC’s cost-cutting measures and see it as not so bad value after all. Maybe we’ll have some more quasi-rally road cars to idolise within the next few years.
So let's hope that whoever wins tomorrow's FIA presidential election, they help give the WRC the new lease of life it so desperately needs. The championship has already lost flagship events such as the Monte Carlo rally and the Safari rally and it can’t keep on relying on two manufacturers to keep it going.