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Has the WRC finally turned a corner in its promotion pursuit?

OPINION: The World Rally Championship has faced plenty of questions in how it plans to raise its profile. Now the answers are starting to arrive and green shoots of progress are appearing

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Harmony within the World Rally Championship has been a rare commodity over the last 12 months. Conflict over a lack of promotion or uncertainty over future technical regulations has been a regular theme.

But at Rally Portugal last weekend, there was a moment where the WRC Promoter, key stakeholders and the FIA all appeared to be singing from the same hymn sheet. There was a genuine feeling that the green shoots required to take this championship forward and unlock its potential to be a top player in the global sporting sphere are beginning to grow again.

This light-at-the-end-of-tunnel optimism for the future has arisen following a presentation delivered by the WRC Promoter outlining its key initiatives to improve the promotion of the championship.

While there has been a strong pushback from the manufacturers regarding the FIA’s proposed technical regulations for next year, and plenty of headlines have been devoted to uncertainty over rules for 2027 and beyond that are designed to attract new players to the table, raising the profile of the championship is just as important to stakeholders as firming up the rules.

The two factors go hand in hand. If the championship’s profile is raised and more eyeballs are watching it, the return on investment increases for those competing. This also makes opting to compete in the WRC an easier decision for automotive management boards to sign off and commit significant budget.

Last Saturday’s vision was a crucial moment for the WRC as it strives to be the ultimate version of itself. The meeting was held almost exactly a year after the WRC’s current plight was made clear by an outburst made by Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, stating that the championship was at a critical point and needed change to improve its appeal.

Neuville's outburst one year ago has had the desired effect of spurring the WRC into action

Neuville's outburst one year ago has had the desired effect of spurring the WRC into action

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

The need to raise the bar has certainly been highlighted by the incredible success Formula 1 has achieved under Liberty Media, which has put pressure on all sporting disciplines to up their promotional game. Neuville's words triggered action.

A forum was held between the promoter, drivers and teams in Sardinia last year to discuss ideas to improve the category. Elfyn Evans’ co-driver Scott Martin has since joined the WRC Commission to offer competitors a voice in the decision-making process moving forward.

Changes have been made with the introduction of a new points system for this year. It has made Sundays more exciting, but has been largely derided for devaluing wins and being overly complicated. Later this month will be a trial of a 48-hour event in Sardinia, which intends to offer event organisers flexibility and variety in formats. There have also been significant improvements in the social media output from the WRC Promoter.

"They will implement a lot this year, like having a test year, then implement a lot more for '25"
Pernilla Solberg

The FIA rolled out its vision for the future of the WRC in February, causing uproar among the teams with its proposal to remove hybrid power while making aero and power downgrades to the Rally1 cars three years into a five-year cycle. Autosport understands that there is a strong chance these changes won’t eventuate for next season. The teams have however been supportive of the FIA’s proposals for events to be more flexible and varied.

Amid all the movement behind-the-scenes over the last 12 months, Saturday’s presentation was perhaps the culmination. While finer details of the promoter’s initiatives are yet to be disclosed, it was communicated that it plans to put direct investment into realising its dream of breaking into the US market with an event in Tennessee in 2026. This was followed by plans to increase fan attendance at events by creating a better experience and further investment into digital and social media.

There are also plans to improve its broadcast package through a “command centre” that will feature more data and Formula 1 style team radio. It is understood helmet cameras, similar to those in operation in F1, are also being investigated to add a raw experience to the broadcast.

As previously reported, team bosses from Toyota, Hyundai and M-Sport-Ford have all been supportive of the measures. But perhaps more importantly, so was the FIA as the World Motor Sport Council looms, with technical and sporting decisions due to be made on 11 June.

“We had this presentation from WRC Promoter about the future and it's something we know it's very important for our manufacturers to know the way ahead,” said the FIA’s WRC Commission president Pernilla Solberg.

Pernilla Solberg (right) recognises that things appear to be moving in the right direction

Pernilla Solberg (right) recognises that things appear to be moving in the right direction

Photo by: McKlein / McMaster

“We've had several meetings with everyone to understand where they want to take us, what events and what direction is super important for everyone to make a clear, stable road ahead for us.

“This is something I think we've all missed and longed for. I think the presentation they made was really good and gave some clear indicators of what they want and how willing they are to invest and to take responsibility. That was really nice to see, and for me very nice that they acknowledge that.

Insight: The other Solberg making waves behind the scenes in the WRC

“And then also confirming that we will go to the US, and they will invest in activation much more for fans on events and activation more in social media to maybe have a different tone. And also different techniques in how to broadcast, how to capture the images we have from the cars, what kind of cameras they use, so a lot of technical things as well. That was also very nice to see how they are willing to invest in equipment as well to broadcast the cool sport that we have.”

The FIA’s chief commercial officer Craig Edmondson went further, adding: “It was a really constructive, positive meeting. It was a major step change I think in the direction of travel with the promoter, and I feel very, very positive for what the future holds for WRC because of that.”

Now it’s time to work together

The pieces of the puzzle have been laid out and it appears all stakeholders are in agreement, so now it’s to push forward. Solberg believes that some of these initiatives could come online this year ahead of a wider rollout in 2025.

“I think they will start already this year to implement things,” she said. “They have already started...

“I'm not a very good person on social media, but they have invested in talking a bit in a different tone. They've done some clips and experiments of how to explain our sport better, not just taking for granted that everybody knows. I can't remember from the top of my head, but they will implement a lot this year, like having a test year, then implement a lot more for '25.”

Measures are already under way to improve promotion of the WRC

Measures are already under way to improve promotion of the WRC

Photo by: M-Sport

This progress will be music to the stakeholders and to the fans. But Solberg was also keen to stress that achieving the desired goals will require everyone to work together. Perhaps that is the most important message.

“I think we all agree that we all have to improve what we do, we can't just point at one of us saying 'it's only the promoter's fault',” Solberg added. “What is really nice is to have the feeling that everybody acknowledges that we have to do better together.

“If we're going to succeed and if we want to become an attractive motorsport, we have to do this together. We can't just blame one part and not take responsibility ourselves. So for sure, we all need to do better.”

Can the WRC stick together to navigate the path ahead?

Can the WRC stick together to navigate the path ahead?

Photo by: Toyota Racing

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