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GP Week : Issue 173
RALLY >>> IRC A fter a run of six full years the independent IRC series have come to an end, on account of the newly ordained elevation in status of the FIA’s official regional championships. Victims in many ways of their own success, it was no surprise that the FIA secretly envied the promotional success of the IRC series, which led to the promoters being invited to turn their attentions instead to the European Rally Championship. The IRC had the best of both worlds, the benefit of the structured technical regulation systems instigated by the FIA, coupled with the free spirit of running events in the way they wanted. It was with deep respect to the way that the IRC ran their championship that the FIA officially recognised their event calendar and with deeper respect that the FIA saw how the ISC systems could in turn develop their own championships. The motivational force behind the IRC is European Events Limited, which brought innovative and imaginative television coverage of events. The series all started very quickly in 2006, when the then-named International Rally Challenge got off the ground, with a four round series that encompassed events in South Africa, Belgium, Madeira and Italy. The basic plan was that the IRC should be an alternative series to the WRC aimed at being attractive to the national importers team level, so it was decreed that World Rally Cars would not be eligible. These were the dying days for Group N cars and the early days for Super 2000 and the initiative came at a time when Fiat were dominating the new Super 2000 scene. No official IRC championship title was proclaimed in 2006, but had this existed, Giandomenico Basso and the Fiat team would have taken the prizes. Things were building up for a full season in 2007. The free organisational spirit was in some ways a welcome breath of fresh air to rallysport but there were some confusions. The biggest problem was a knock-on to the essentially commercial nature of the series. Events had to contribute towards the costs of running the series, particularly the television coverage, and drivers could only score points in the championship if the manufacturers of the cars they drive had registered, which means paid, for the right. This led to situations in the early days where Eurosport would ignore the achievements of teams who won the events outright, if they were not registered. With the world championship calendar having difficulty to break out of its established pattern, the IRC presented the sport with the chance of a completely fresh style of calendar, in which not only could new territories discover international competition but teams could pick and choose which events they wanted to enter. In this way the IRC brought international rallying back to places like Brazil and China, to which many wanted the FIA to return with the WRC. As global economies tightened, so the long haul events gradually became less popular with the teams, and despite a series title change to Intercontinental Rally Challenge, the series became based entirely on mainland or off shore events in European countries. One of the great successes of the series was the ‘No World Rally Car” rule, because this opened up the championship to many manufacturers and teams who were daunted by the commitment of running cars in the WRC, or where budgetary opportunities did not enable them to run a programme at a higher level. Six different manufacturers scored outright wins in the series (Peugeot, Fiat, Ford, Mitsubishi and Mini – only two manufacturers won WRC events during the life of the IRC) though often it was the manufacturers’ specialist suppliers such as M-Sport, Ralliart or Abarth which put their name to entries. The IRC was a chance for aspiring drivers such as Juho Hanninen, Thierry Neuville, Andreas Mikkelsen and Jan Kopecky to enjoy a regular career programme on their way up the sport, and a place for many established WRC drivers, like Freddy Loix and Toshi Arai, in later life. The concept of the IRC started ABOVE: IRC founder Marcello Lotti (left) with Francois Ribiero, (Eurosport) . BELOW: Colourful start to the 2006 IRC Zulu Rally South Africa 41 GPWEEK.com // 41 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: