Prior Convictions: WRC OMG

In the early 2000s the World Rally Championship had what it reckoned was a wonderful idea and a bold plan - to turn itself into one of the top five global sports in the world. Not just a top five motorsport, a top five global sport.

It didn't really pan out like that. As it sought to make spectator and TV coverage easier, it made itself less like rallying of old. Long stages, remote service areas and even entire rallies like the Safari Rally, of Kenya, were dropped. In came more Super Special Stages, single service parks, shorter stages over smaller areas and, with it, as the WRC tried to make itself more easily 'watchable', so it made itself more like rallycross.

And rallycross, as it turns out, did rather well out of rallying's migration. Because while rallying set about removing the heart out of what made it special, rallycross reminded the world that it, too, was exciting loose surface driving; only with the added advantage of the fact that it was actually only based in one location, and featured very cool, very fast cars that actually competed head-to-head, in a way that WRC's virtual spectator was, quite literally, only imagining.

In the UK, what was heralded as a brave new era when Channel 4 began terrestrial TV coverage in 2002, which later moved to ITV, eventually shifted to ITV4, then Dave, then ESPN, and then, by 2013, nobody. For most of this decade, the WRC has pulled in four eligible points-scoring manufacturers a season. Between 2000 and 2004, there were seven.

Meantime, rallycross moved out of its niche, 'extreme sport' world, the FIA World Rallycross Championship was established in 2014 and attracted drivers like former WRC champion Petter Solberg, Ken Block; even Sebastien Loeb has competed.

Is it unfair to think that watching WRC, then, became watching fewer cars than you were used to, and not necessarily very interesting ones at that, raced by people you don't know in places you don't care about and largely won by the same man? Perhaps. But there are only so many sports you can follow, right?

I'll admit I haven't watched it a great deal recently. And then the other week this video landed, which features WRC driver Thierry Neuville making a Hyundai i20 do things I had not considered possible. The way it moves but stays flat over rough terrain, the way it lands but doesn't bounce, the way it brakes but doesn't dive, the way it shifts from straight line to turning: about half a dozen times in this clip what I am sure is a certain accident turns into perfect control. The suspension and tyre tech must be off the scale.

I am a man of few resolutions - thinking that by and large you're the same twat on January 1st that you were on December 31st - but I'm going to make an exception in 2018, and add some WRC to my spectating life. The WRC begins on January 25th in Monte Carlo.


Photos: LAT Photo, Red Bull Content Pool]

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Comments (16) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Leggy 06 Jan 2018

    I do enjoy watching WRC but it’s trying to follow the TV coverage as it’s not well publicised. Also when I have watched it the amount of time watching the racing seems disproportionately small compared to the interviews.
    Will be watching the Rally Cross at Silverstone this year though.

  • rwindmill 06 Jan 2018

    WRC against all my expectations, has improved markedly over the past couple of years. Yes, it still has problems but the sport itself is doing much better.
    The biggest problem by far though, when it comes to watching it on tv is the editing of the coverage. There is far to much in-car footage used, too much time spent interviewing the drivers and too much waffle from the presenters. The images we really want to see as fans, are cars going impossibly sideways around corners etc, and on average in minute 30 min highlights program there is 5 mins of external car action.
    This is why rallycross does much better on tv, it's all external footage. I appreciate it's easier to cover a whole rallycross track with about 4-5 cameras, but tv companies have to understand that it is external footage that draws the viewers in.
    In-car footage gives you no impression of what the car is doing, and as for virtual spectator well, i might as well get the PlayStation out and do my own rally!!

  • Zajda 06 Jan 2018

    Rallycross is great action, TV friendly, but true rally is thrilling to see 1st hand. I was there in Poland when Neuville nearly lost it on 100+ mph jump 0:19 and 0:56 into the video. Pretty intense moment and other cars were doing crazy things too. You can't experience this kind of stuff wathichg RX on stadium.
    There is still s lot of people willing to overcome the discomfort of travelling and follow the rallying. But without extensive TV coverage there is no hope to bring more money into the sport.

    Edited by Zajda on Saturday 6th January 11:39

  • Prinny 06 Jan 2018

    Interesting swear filter failure? wink

    let’s see.



  • popeyewhite 06 Jan 2018

    In the "meantime"

    Yes, it does matter unless you're writing a comic.

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