Is the WRC’s start order running on empty?

| Photographer Credit: Peter Whitten

Road cleaning and running order is probably the World Rally Championship’s most controversial topic, and is something that’s been going on for many years.

It was actually the Perth-based Rally Australia that really brought road cleaning to a head in the 1990s, where the loose, ball bearing gravel meant that running first on the road really was a disadvantage.

New Zealand provided a similar problem too, as indeed, do nearly all gravel rallies where tenths of a second can make the difference.

For those who’ve been around the sport for ever (myself included), it seems that the top-end of rallying is getting a bit over-protective, and the WRC are now doing everything they can to ensure that ‘every child wins a prize’.

Nowadays we have team managers forcing drivers to drop back in the order to assist their team-mates, and stewards awarding time back to drivers who, heaven forbid, have been caught in somebody else’s dust.

Part of the attraction of rallying is that it is man and machine against the elements, and correct me if I’m wrong, but that includes loose gravel and dust.

The current system sees cars starting rallies in championship order, which this weekend in Italy means Sebastien Ogier will start first on the road. His disadvantage of clearing the loose gravel for those behind means he’ll probably end the day in the lower half of the top 10.

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team

Fair enough, you’d say, but at least he’ll start between 6th and 10th for day two. But that’s not the case at all.

In fact, the rally leader, who may have started 8th on the road on day one, will get the best of the conditions for day two as well, as cars then start in reverse order of classification.

It all seems a bit skewed to me, and while weather conditions sometimes mean that any advantages are slim, it still provides an uneven playing field.

I agree that running in championship order on day one is the way to go, but would argue strongly that cars should start the remaining days in order of classification, rather than what we have now.

Surely if you’ve got the best of the conditions and are leading after day one, then you’d expect to lead the field away the following day, as happens in national championship events?

You may have tougher conditions for day two, but that just means those down the order have more of a chance to make up time and, in theory, ensure closer rallies.

There’s no perfect running order solution that will suit everyone, but pandering to the front-runners by giving them better starting positions on days two and three seems to be a step too far, in my view.

We want close, hard-fought rallies with everyone in with a chance of victory, but I’m not sure the current system allows for that.

Peter Whitten

Peter has been the editor of RallySport Magazine since its inception in 1989, in both printed and online form. He is a long-time competitor, event organiser and official, as well as working in the media.

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