What Dakar can teach the WRC

At a time when the WRC seems perpetually in limbo about it’s future, the recent Dakar Rally felt like an event that could teach it a few things. 700,000 people turned up to watch the start, thousands more lined the (accessible) stages and it was trending worldwide on twitter. Here are 3 things the WRC could learn from the Dakar model.

Monstrous vehicles

The cars at the sharp end of the Dakar field look spectacular. From the beefed up Mini XRaid to the new Peugeot 2008 DKR, these are big, loud and muscular cars. Compared to the current breed of ‘super-mini’ based and fairly (by historic WRC standards) sanitized World Rally cars, there is no contest on which I’d rather see at full tilt.

This is not a call for unlimited rules and the weird and wonderful designs that the Dakar includes. The rally raid vehicles would look odd on the stages of the WRC but the principles behind them are really relevant. More spectacular racers equals a more spectacular show.

Tests of man and machine

Dakar is the ultimate test of man and machine in motor sport. It’s an energy sapping, bone shaking, car destroying challenge that is a triumph to finish let alone win. Contrast that with the current spec WRC format and you see where things have gone wrong.

When Colin McRae was in his prime he used to dominate the New Zealand Rally. His rivals pointed to the multiple long and tough stages it featured; real tests of driver, co-driver and machine. Gone now are the days when drivers suffered suspension problems, mis-fires and the like with the short ‘blink and you miss it’ stages that were created when the WRC wrongly went all out for TV coverage in the 2000s. These days, unless a car runs quick and problem free it won’t figure in the top 5.

The WRC cannot be the ultimate test that the Dakar is. Nevertheless the stripped-down-for-TV format (which ironically now gets little TV coverage) has lost the ethos and original spirit of the World Rally Championship. Bring back the real challenge of the WRC.

Reconnecting with the extreme

Over the past 2-3 years the WRC has been looking over with great concern at the seemingly inexorable rise of World Rallycross. Like Dakar some of it’s popularity can be attributed to the cars looking and being extreme in nature: big turbos, wild and almost permanently sideways, noisy and a general assault on the senses.

The WRC used to have that. The WRC used to feature some of the most extreme versions of road cars in motor sport. Many of us grew up with the Lancia Delta Integrale, the Subaru Impreza, Sierra RS Cosworth and Mitsubishi Evo. Does a Ford Fiesta, VW Polo or a Hyundai i20 really deserve to be in the same category?

Most of what Dakar is would not help the WRC. Nevertheless there are plenty of concepts and general principles that, as a championship, it really should take note of.

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