Something has changed in the WRC lately and you have to know how to read it. Precisely 10 years ago, we interviewed Pedro de Almeida, at the time Director of the Rally de Portugal and his motto was: “Innovate to stay”. I don’t think that has changed, but something has changed in the WRC, and I’m not talking about regulations. These have already changed twice, however.
Pedro de Almeida was referring to what the Rally de Portugal would need to do to stay on the WRC calendar: “we have to consider the competition. Of the 11 races played in Europe, six seem to have a captive place. The Monte Carlo Rally will not take place because it is the most emblematic event in the WRC, nor will Sweden because it is the only snow rally in the championship; France and Germany will hardly lose their places by the forces of their
builders and markets attached to them; Finland will also always remain due to its history, while England is seen as the birthplace of rallies and Spain the World Cup rally with the most marketing returns. After all, only Portugal, Italy and Greece are left.” What then is the solution? According to Pedro de Almeida, it is only possible to do three things: we must always be much better than the best; then the Vodafone Rally de Portugal must be error-free and always present innovative solutions; and, finally, we have to be open enough to do what others don’t want to do, such as the night sections”.
A great vision, which is still applied by the ACP, but Pedro de Almeida was not sure about some things: it is true that the Monte Carlo Rally will hardly leave the calendar because it continues to be the most emblematic event of the WRC, Sweden has already left , but if you notice the WRC Promoter soon found a similar solution, the Arctic Rally, so it is easy to see that if the Swedes have the conditions to maintain themselves – and they have achieved them this year by taking the rally very far north – they will always have place on the calendar.
Where Pedro de Almeida was wrong was in “France and Germany will hardly lose their places due to the forces of their manufacturers and markets that are attached to them”, and this means good and bad news for Portugal: on the one hand, as we have no relevant car market , this will always be an obstacle, but on the other hand, we know that France and Germany left because they didn’t get a relevant monetary agreement with the Promoter and because their races weren’t of great value to the WRC that justified their stay. Here we come to the conclusion.
“The Rally Finland will always remain because of its history”, quite rightly, while England is seen as the birthplace of rallies. It’s true, but it’s already out of the WRC. Why? Trade agreement! The Rally de España has a lot of marketing feedback. OK, it’s important, but Spain has also been left out recently when a sort of rotation started.
We have known for a long time that the WRC is very close to heading to the USA. In conversation with Peter Thul (WRC Senior Director Sport), last October, this manager revealed to us that the WRC is going to a rally in the USA very soon, almost certainly in 2023.
He also revealed that the WRC promoter was ‘following the Russians’: “because it’s very important for our manufacturers”, now he’s definitely not, and then obviously “in China, because it’s the biggest market today and with who we’ve been talking to over the last few years”, and here the question remains obvious.
The WRC already tried a few years ago, it was close, but the Chinese put in little effort and the race fell. Now the WRC is back in charge, and there may be news, when the Chinese are there. Which is not easy.
Conclusion: Pedro Almeida said at the time that the solution for Portugal is to do three things: “we always have to be much better than the best; then the Vodafone Rally de Portugal must be error-free and always present innovative solutions; and, finally, we have to be open enough to do what others don’t want to do, such as the night sections”.
In this last aspect, it is not of enormous importance, but in the other two aspects, the ACP has made a Rally de Portugal “always much better than the best”.
This is what the ACP is betting on, this is what has happened, and this year’s list of entries proves it. We went to see it and the conclusion is devastating: since the Rally de Portugal returned to the WRC in 2007, which did not have so many entries, in these years (2007-2022) only six rallies had more participants (Rally da Corsica 2015, 123 at the start, Finland 2011, 118 starting, New Zealand 2007, 112 starting, New Zealand 2008, 111 starting, Great Britain 2007, 108 starting, Germany 2007, 102 starting, Portugal Rally 2022, 100 entries).
As you can see, the WRC hasn’t had 100 entries for several years. The 2015 Rally de Portugal came close: 94 competitors at the start. Therefore, the fourth round of the 2022 World Rally Championship is the event with the highest number of entries: 100.
So, what you have to do to keep the Rally de Portugal on the WRC calendar is to always make it very difficult for anyone who decides to even think about taking the race off the calendar, and that’s exactly what has happened.
There are no coincidences, the Rally de Portugal is a huge party, there is no driver who does not love our race, and not just in one aspect or another, it is in all of them.
Of course, I cannot fail to mention that there must always be the necessary support for the event to take place, but when you look at the return that the event gives to the country and only what the state receives directly from taxes, it covers several times the public investment that is made, there is absolutely no reason why the rally should not be supported.
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