Yet as the year reaches its halfway point, the task of finding replacement rallies is becoming a trying task, as he tells World in Motorsport.
“It’s not like in racing. We are not able to make rallying without any public,” says Yves Matton firmly.
At one time the Team Principal of Citroën’s post-Sébastien Loeb era, the 52-year-old became the FIA’s Rally director at the beginning of 2018 and although rallying has endured its fair share of difficulties over the past two decades, it is unlikely that Matton has experienced anything quite like this.
With event after event falling due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Matton and his team at the FIA, in conjunction with WRC Promoter are desperately attempting to scramble a revised calendar.
As it stands, the WRC has completed three events before the pandemic took hold – Monte Carlo, Sweden and Mexico – but nothing since March. However, unlike circuit racing events, which take place in enclosed spaces, the very nature of rallying means that it is more susceptible to disruption due to the virus.
On the other hand, the precarious nature of this arm of motorsport means public support is necessary if it is to continue at pre-COVID-19 levels, as Matton reveals. “For sure, we are highly linked to governments. The constraints are different. It is impossible to say that we could have some events without any public – this is not in the DNA of rallying, because you are going close to the people.
“We are going into their villages, you are going on their roads, so you cannot say to the people that they are not allowed to be there and it [the access] is more difficult to control also.”
Matton reveals that a report detailing the restart of international rallying will be released this month; however, he is in no way downplaying the hugely significant task ahead. “There is a lot of things that we are able to do, and I saw some processes that some organisers issued – I can give you one example; there is Rally Roma [ERC], which runs in July. They have issued a quite precise process to run an event that is controlled to public social distancing and all those things to be able to restart competition at rally level.
“What I can say based on the huge work that the FIA has done for the restart of competition in racing, the huge work they have done for Formula One starting in July, we are working also on a guidance to restart competition at the rally level.”
So far this season, WRC events in Portugal, Kenya, Finland, New Zealand and Great Britain have already been abandoned, with Germany and Japan expected to announce further cancellations shortly. All this in addition to the already cancelled Rally Chile, which was binned late last year, with organisers citing civil unrest in the South American country as a reason for not running the rally.
With so many events having fallen by the wayside, there are now to plans to co-opt some European Rally Championship events – such as Rally Ypres and Rally Liepaja – into the WRC, in order to bolster the 2020 calendar and provide a suitable number of events to validate the season. “We consider that we could have a level number of events to make a title with the right level of value, in a quite specific year,” he says.
Matton concludes, “With the information we have today, we are confident to have four and five events between now and the end of the year and we consider that if we are able to run five events with the three events we ran at the start of the year, we would have had a [representative] level of competition.”
With three rounds of the 2020 World Rally Championship, Sebastien Ogier leads with 62 points, ahead of Toyota teammate, Elfyn Evans (54 points), with Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville next up with 42 points.
For the full version of this interview, as well as conversations with WRC’s Richard Millener, Yves Matton & Colin Clark, and a long talk with Rubens Barrichello, come back for the next issue of World in Motorsport, to be published in July.