The FIA World Motor Sport Council's announcement that Eurosport would take over the faded European Rally Championship from 2013 marks the end of the television firm's Intercontinental Rally Challenge, but has raised hopes of a revival for the once-great ERC.
Eurosport commercial director Francois Ribeiro spoke to AUTOSPORT about plans for the 2013 series, and why Eurosport missed out on the World Rally Championship promoter role.
Q. What will Eurosport Events do for the ERC?
Francois Ribeiro: Eurosport Events becomes the promoter of the FIA European Rally Championship under a 10-year agreement from 2013 onwards.
It will have a seat on the FIA Rallies Commission, liaise with organisers of all potential events over a calendar, produce ERC TV programming, provide very solid umbrella coverage on Eurosport and Eurosport Asia Pacific, distribute ERC TV programmes outside Eurosport, run the ERC website and social media activity and develop ERC commercial rights.
Eurosport events will keep working closely with manufacturers, teams and drivers - as it has done in the IRC - to provide the best possible entry on all ERC rounds and encourage as many car manufacturers as possible to homologate cars conforming to the Group R regulations, including the new R5 regulations.
With R5 in mind it was very pleasing to see Peugeot Sport using the Paris Motor Show to unveil its R5 challenger based on the new 208. Ford's partner team M-Sport will also be building an R5 version of its Fiesta with several other manufacturers set to announce projects shortly.
Q. How will Eurosport add value to the ERC?
FR: Since 2006, Eurosport Events managed to get most of IRC teams, drivers and rally organisers feel part of a series, almost a community, developing a successful series together around IRC promoter. ERC was lacking promoter so Eurosport Events will try its best to transfer this spirit into ERC, steering all different parties towards same direction.
Obviously, Eurosport Events will bring its vast expertise in event promotion and organisation as well as its innovative television production and distribution to the series. Eurosport Events will support each round with the same team as the IRC, highly experienced personnel including specialists in logistics, television, marketing and communication.
We have no intention of downscaling the current promotional effort when we switch from the IRC to the ERC. Our outstanding staff have the sole objective of restoring the ERC to its former glories of the 1970s.
Q. Is this simply a rebranding exercise?
FR: The opportunity to take on the promotion of the ERC is a significant one for Eurosport Events.
Not only does it enable our company to showcase our vast expertise and experience on an even more prominent platform, it also provides the chance to strengthen the ERC, an important international rally championship with a 60-year history, while also growing our already strong relationship with the FIA.
Q. What does the merger mean for existing IRC drivers, partners and teams
FR: Bottom line, the IRC drivers and teams will now compete for a prestigious FIA title and still benefit from a very strong promotional package provided by Eurosport Events.
Q. But it's the end of the road for the IRC, right?
FR: The IRC will not run in its current format in Europe, but Eurosport is still open for one-off event outside Europe with champions from all other FIA regional championships such as Asia-Pacific, Africa or South America.
Q. How will you decide which ERC and IRC events keep their calendar slots?
FR: We will speak to all of IRC and ERC promoters if they wish so, but there will not be space for all the 21 existing events. The 2013 season will offer competition on all surfaces, snow, asphalt, gravel and a combination of snow and gravel.
Besides economic criteria, this range of surfaces will assure the credibility of the championship, the quality of the show and training for young drivers to bring them to the top level, as [Kris] Meeke, [Thierry] Neuville and latterly [Andreas] Mikkelsen can testify.
Q. Was Eurosport Events not in the frame for the WRC promoter role?
FR: The FIA called on Eurosport Events last January for to develop a rescue solution following the collapse of the former promoter North One Sport. Despite being given 10 days' notice [Eurosport] delivered TV production and broadcasting and international sublicensing of the Monte Carlo Rally thanks to the efforts of a very proactive and skilled team, who delivered a high-quality job.
Eurosport Events and the FIA tried their best but couldn't agree a long-term partnership after Monte Carlo. Still, last July, Eurosport Events was encouraged by some key WRC stakeholders to make a second approach to the FIA. However, the FIA ultimate decided to appoint another promoter.
The FIA wants to turn the WRC more global and focus on car manufacturers while the ERC will remain Euro-centric, cost-efficient and dedicated to teams.
We therefore see no conflict of interest between both championships and we are committed to avoiding any clash of dates.
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