Contributed story by Mike Shaw
Today marks the end of what must be one of the most exciting weeks in WRC history!… and none of it had to do with a rally!
It all started on Wednesday when rumors at the Paris Motor Show. The final confirmation came on Thursday morning that Hyundai will re-join the WRC as a manufacturer team with their new Hyundai i20 WRC. Also at the Paris Motor Show, there was release of the new Peugeot 208 R5. This caused much debate regarding the large number of rally classifications from R1-R5, S2000, and WRC versions of cars now in play and who was going to drive for what teams.
That debate was suddenly muted by Citroen’s announcement on Thursday that soon to be 9-times World Champion Sebastian Loeb will only compete in a limited season in the WRC for 2013. Loeb is transitioning to the WTCC (World Touring Car Championship) with the motor sport team he and long time friend Dominique Heintz created last year. So far Loeb is only confirmed for Monte Carlo in January. Mikko and Jarmo are confirmed for the entire 2013 season, however this opens up questions on who will take that Loeb’s seat when he is not running. Additionally, former Ford sponsor Abu Dhabi is now joining Citroen in 2013 and adding a third entry with Emirati Khalid Al-Qassimi.
If that wasn’t enough to get everyone all jumpy about 2013 and beyond, Friday brought multiple major press releases from the World Motor Sports Council that was also meeting in Paris. First came the announcement that everyone was waiting…and hoping for. The FIA announced that Sportsman Media Group and Red Bull Media House will be the new global promoter of the WRC!
From the Press Release:
“The WMSC approved for the FIA to proceed with an agreement with The Sportsman Media Group and Red Bull Media House to become the new global Promoter of the FIA World Rally Championship from 2013. The Promoter will be responsible for investing and developing the WRC with a view to increasing its profile, reputation and commercial value. In particular, the Promoter, working in close collaboration with the FIA, will be focused on introducing live television and an innovative digital media strategy in the next years.
As part of a cost-reduction process and to attract greater entries, WRC Teams competing in the 2013 FIA World Rally Championship will now only have to contest one non-European event. WRC Teams must however still nominate and take part in a minimum of seven events.”
This was only the beginning though because then the FIA announced further changes. The S2000 series will now be renamed the WRC-2 Championship and include 4wd cars from R5, R4 and S2000 groups.
From the WRC-2 Championship Press Release:
“The structure of the support Championships has been revised to reflect the interests and demands of the competitors. From 2013, the current Championship for S2000 cars will be replaced by the WRC-2 Championship including cars with four-wheel drive (R5, R4 and S2000). A specific cup for cars in the Group N category will also form part of the FIA WRC-2 Championship, and titles for teams, drivers and co-drivers will be awarded to those who have scored the most points in six of the seven events in which they have taken part.”
They also spelled out changes to the PWRC. The PWRC name is being dropped and will now be the FIA WRC-3 Championship. This series will now be all 2wd Group R cars from R1, R2, and the R3 variety.
WRC-3 Championship Press Release:
“The current Production Car World Rally Championship will be replaced by the FIA WRC-3 Championship, including Group R cars with two-wheel drive (R3, R2 and R1). Titles for teams, drivers and co-drivers will be awarded to those who have scored the most points in five of the six events in which they have taken part.”
Finally, not to be left out is the WRC Academy, although not much is changing other than their name. The WRC Academy will return as the FIA Junior WRC Championship. No other changes were mentioned such as make and model of car for the future Junior WRC Championship, but one would assume M-Sport and the Ford Fiesta R2 would continue as they already have a successful program in place.
A heck of a lot going on in the WRC, and for once it is all positive news. The future looks very bright for the sport, and I can’t wait for next season to get underway!