The World Rally Championship’s new promoter group is planning a major restructuring of rallying to create a clear path of feeder series for drivers entering the sport.
Although the official FIA Junior rallying championship runs on WRC rallies, graduates to the top level currently also progress through a wide variety of one-make and regional championships as well as the parallel Production series.
World rallying’s profile is set to get a boost from Kimi Raikkonen’s switch from Formula 1 next year, while American rallying and X Games star Ken Block is also close to a deal to join the WRC and MotoGP superstar Valentino Rossi will continue contesting occasional rallies and has spoken of rallying full-time when he retires from motorcycle racing.
But as well as attracting established names from elsewhere, Neil Duncanson – CEO of the WRC promoter’s parent company North One – believes it is essential for rallying to develop its own new talents.
“Sebastien Loeb may well be the greatest driver ever, Kimi Raikkonen, Ken Block and Valentino Rossi may all be coming, but we need a sharper structure. We also need to drill down further to find the new generation,” he said during a presentation on the WRC’s future at the Motor Sport Business Forum in Monaco.
“Formula 1 has its genesis in karting and we need our own. Rally drivers can’t climb into a car, legally at least, until they’re 17 or 18. We want to create a completely new sport and a new vehicle for kids as young as seven. They won’t all go on to become WRC drivers and champions, but they may well all go on to become better drivers.
“Then we need a more effective pyramid – a clear path for drivers to climb up to the WRC peak.”
WRC tyre supplier Pirelli’s Star Driver programme currently gives five drivers chosen from a series of regional shoot-outs the chance to contest five WRC rallies in Production cars, but the company’s motorsport boss Paul Hembery said that scheme was just the start of the changes planned.
“We’ve seen that we need to take rallying down to the buggies, we need to get kids into rally cars, we need to give those kids the chance to go up through a structured approach through the sport and then arrive in what we believe we’re going to call an academy, which will be a one-make series on the World Rally Championship stage, creating a platform for success for the best young drivers,” Hembery said.
Simon Long, CEO of WRC promoter ISC, said the feeder categories were an essential part of the future plans for the WRC, which also included a new ‘classic’ series to run on the world championship events.
“We need to understand how to invest in the future talent of the sport – whether it’s talented event promoters, talented drivers, or talented engineers,” Long explained. “We’re now putting in place a strategy that will link the bottom to the top, that will link national, regional and international championships.
“We’re looking to have a clear strategy in terms of the way you graduate both into the sport and up to the top. At the top we have the best, the World Rally Championship, but we also have support championships in the form of Junior WRC, Production cars and even single make.
“From 2011 we’ll be introducing a WRC classics series where you can see the iconic cars of yesterday.
“When you look at Formula 1, MotoGP and other sports, all of them have academies that responsibly nurture the talent of tomorrow. We want to have a minimum of 100 competitors at every rally. That can include 30 WRC cars at the front of the field, then a number of juniors, a number of celebrity one-off drivers, right the way down to the amateurs.”