What does WRC really need?

thierry neuville

After the Croatia rally, we saw that passion is still the main fuel for motorsport, and important figures like Sebastien Ogier are capable of capturing the attention of the whole world and reigniting an interest that seemed lost just a few weeks ago. Everyone must play their part in relaunching the WRC: drivers, constructors, promoters, and the audience

What does the WRC really need? Rally 1 cars without hybrid, Rally2 Plus? A new format? No. Perhaps, after Croatia, the answer would come spontaneously, and the first entirely asphalt weekend of the 2024 season has given interesting indications on how one could intervene to save what, today, seems like a patient in an irreversible coma. Passion, a lot of it. And characters. That’s what’s needed. The three days in Croatia told us this mainly. We saw special stages full of fans and spectators again, with crowds opening their wings at the end of the Power Stage to literally embrace the winners in the true spirit of Rally. For a few hours, discussions and controversies were set aside, and everyone went back to enjoying the show that only the WRC can offer when it wants to. When this is allowed.

seastien ogier
We need more scenes like this

The beautiful roads around Zagreb made us understand that perhaps not everything should be hastily discarded as some would like. Of course, there are many aspects that need improvement, but in Croatia, we saw that general euphoria again, which had been missing for too long in the WRC. Undoubtedly, credit also goes to a very passionate and warm audience, which lately is a rare factor for WRC races, except for timeless classics. However, on more than one occasion, these classics have recently shown a gradual distancing of spectators compared to previous years.

We have rediscovered that Rally1 cars, as much as they are criticized and questionable, go damn fast, and when the grip starts to decrease, the show they offer is incredible. We understood that, although the drivers in permanent service in the World Championship are all very prepared and fast, there is a chronic need for personalities, and Sebastien Ogier confirmed this to us over the Croatian weekend. The Frenchman, beyond victory, has focused attention on himself, generating a considerable global contact traffic, and with a couple of statements, he has stirred up the waters of a championship on the verge of being boring.

sebastien ogier
Sebastien Ogier is still loved from spectators

If we were to look only at the Rally of Croatia, leaving aside other races of WRC 2024, we would not talk about a championship in crisis and in need of relaunch: the spectacle of (few, unfortunately) Rally1 cars, the beautiful fight in WRC2 with four manufacturers, a healthy WRC3. A house of cards that is weak and ready to fall at the first light breath. Now for WRC, there is a good period ahead, with a succession of “strong” races from an emotional point of view and for public presence: Portugal, Sardinia, Poland, Latvia, Finland, and Greece will probably give that extra push that WRC had in Croatia, capable of compensating for a chronic lack of constructors and characters.

Passionate audiences want to have fun first and foremost, and for this, complicated regulations, both sporting and technical, are not necessary; the recipe of all-mechanical Rally1 cars, without hybrid parts and without electronics, would be a winner for everyone because even manufacturers should understand that motorsport is made of emotions and that it’s not always a good showcase for technologies or products that are anything but exciting, like hybrids or electric vehicles.

Toyota remains the last manufacturer to produce a road car with a thermal engine derived from the technology of the car that races in WRC, the GR Yaris with all-wheel drive. Sales are going strong, and production batches are sold out even before entering the assembly line. The message is quite clear. Why don’t Hyundai and Ford take inspiration from their Japanese competitor’s example?

Toyota is confirming that WRC and rallying, in general, still have appeal to the public and drive sales. However, it’s also the main players (the promoter and the manufacturers) who need to make an effort to regain a direction that has almost been lost entirely.