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GP Week : Issue 173
RALLY >>> IRC off as a back-to-back exercise in which the new generation touring cars being proposed for the World Touring Car championship, then being promoted by Marcello Lotti in conjunction with Eurosport, would replicate the cars being used in the IRC. Television viewers would watch what appeared the same cars competing one weekend on the track and the next weekend on the stages. This was intended to be a strong selling point for manufacturers. This was the way that Jonathan Ashman, then representing the manufacturers, and FIA Vice President Marco Piccinini approached FIA President Max Mosley who gave his blessing to the idea of the championship. Although many of the assets of one sport passed on to the other, the homologation of the same type of car for both disciplines did not happen, but as the IRC championship took shape so a different aspect became evident. It began to prove that a marketing-led championship could succeed in rallying. The power behind Eurosport Events was the Director of Motorsport Business, Francois Ribeiro, who explaine: “We pushed the IRC as much as we could. We had a good relationship with the teams and the event promoters. Most important was that we had a sustainable business model. We are particularly proud of the way we were able to work with the Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo. Monte-Carlo has now gone back to the WRC where it belongs, but Eurosport is happy to have been able to provide live coverage on every stage on the event, across 59 countries in Europe. Nobody can take that away from us. “The identity of the championship relies on close competition, popular and accessible events, a friendly atmosphere and a mix of very young talents against experienced drivers.” The success of the IRC was undoubtedly due to the hands-on attention by the Eurosport Events personnel, most specially their rally manager Jean-Pierre Nicolas. Nicolas was one of the most successful rally drivers in the sport 30 or 40 years ago and brought to the championship the knowledge of how to make the championship fun for everyone involved. His personal touch and his non-stop attention provided fail-safe assurance for teams and drivers even when the series ventured into territory uncharted in international rallying. He personally liaised with the organisers and the teams, and this brought a stamp of authority based on experience to the championship. He brought idealism into a happy and workable relationship with reality. When Nicolas retired from active competition in 1984 he helped set-up Peugeot’s remarkably successful customer competition department and joined Eurosport Events when the IRC project began. With some 70 IRC events having been run since the first tentative day in South Africa till the final round in Cyprus there have been memorable events galore. Long-haul events have not been as regular as first hoped, but qualifying rounds were also held in China, Kenya (the traditional Safari Rally), Brazil and Argentina, as well as a quasi-European event in Turkey, and they were all spectacular. The two rallies run in Russia were ground breaking, the first time an international rally of such importance had been held in the country. Probably the most indelible memory will be the fierceness of the competition, especially in 2011, the year when no fewer than four events were won by a margin of 1.5 second or less. What comes next? The FIA takes pains to emphasise that the ERC is a stand-alone operation and that the IRC influence is limited to the work of Eurosport Events as promoters but it is clear they will bring a sea-change into the ERC through their IRC experiences. For years the ERC had been a sporting back-water, a chance to garner a title or two for teams and drivers unable to tackle the major championships. Indeed the system of coefficient scoring in which drivers gained different levels of points from events meant the series had become more of a competition between organisers rather than competitors. If the new-style ERC shows the same degree of success as the marketing led background of the IRC, the IRC will have left behind it a most valuable contribution to the sport. 42 GPWEEK.com // 42 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: