The need to ‘improve the show’ is becoming increasingly important in modern racing. Apparently the incredible achievement of a team dominating a championship is no longer entertaining and since F1 decided this was the case, everyone else has followed suit.
However, one form of racing that remains incredibly entertaining, is World Rallycross. Who doesn’t enjoy cars that accelerate from 0-60mph faster than F1? Or five-car-wide battles into Turn 1? Add to that jumps, drifting and the odd rear end tap and you have a formula that is guaranteed to wow the crowds.
This is not just a theory, according to IMG (the series promoter), WRX global audience figures (sum of live broadcast, highlights and re-runs) has grown by 41% from 2017 to 2018, with race attendance increasing by a similar margin. Compare this to the 7.8% growth in race attendance that F1 was shouting about earlier this season, and you can appreciate the achievement of WRX.
In addition to constantly developing the racing product, WRX, like most categories decided to look into electric to grow the series further. Therefore, IMG, along with the FIA, turned their attention to an all-electric rallycross championship, where Williams Advanced Engineering would supply the batteries and Oreca would provide the chassis. Sadly however, this fell through which contributed to the manufacturers decision to leave WRX.
As it turns out, with all teams now effectively privateers, the competitiveness of the championship has actually increased and by some margin. ‘It was a busy winter with the Peugeot effect of them closing down their motorsport department which was then followed by teams losing support from various manufacturers, but actually we’ve come through with more entries this year without manufacturers compared to last year. It became more attractive because suddenly the privateer teams saw themselves with a chance to win the championship,’ highlights Torben Olsen, Managing Director of World RX for IMG. ‘Even better is the fact that we have had three different winners [in four rounds]. Last year, we had 12 rounds and 11 of them were won by the same driver. So, it has equalised the performance of the teams, so it is a more even playing field.’
In general, championships live in fear of losing manufacturers, and rightly so as often it means waving goodbye to a huge chunk of investment. However, this has resulted in the governing bodies continually chasing the manufacturers, modifying their regulations to encourage them onto the grid, while the privateers are effectively just taking part, with very little chance of ever winning. This is of particular interest when you consider the current situation of WEC and their Hypercar hunt, and how F1 continues to skew the rules to benefit the larger teams and the engine manufacturers that are already involved.
Yet, WRX lost all of its manufacturers and has not only bounced back, but is healthier than ever. ‘We were worried that it would not be a big grid this year, we thought there may be 10 or 12 cars, but in the end we have 17 regular entries which is fantastic,’ beams Hansen. ‘Also I think many people thought that the competitiveness has gone down a couple of levels, but when we saw Mattias Ekstrom come back at Spa, of course he wasn’t in the latest spec of car, but it was still upgraded, it was not easy for him. This showed that the performance level is still very high, even if it is a championship made up of just privateer teams.’
So, if ‘improving the show’ is the main goal of modern racing, then surely a competitive grid of battling privateers trumps the conventional two-or-three-way manufacturer fight for the championship? Series like WRX are certainly proving so.
Source: Racecar Engineering