The World Rally Championship kicked off in January of this year with a plan to run thirteen rounds. After Monte Carlo and Sweden had completed, the Coronavirus took over the world and shut everything down. Rally Mexico managed to squeak in under the wire in mid-March before all of the travel restrictions and quarantines were enforced. Ten further rounds were scrubbed from the calendar in 2020. The series managed to scrape together three rounds in September and October to get six.
After Europe had largely managed to get back to relative normalcy through much of the late summer and early fall, cases have started to surge again as the weather cools off. Rally Ypres, planned for later this month, was cancelled last week in deference to the safety of spectators and teams alike. Belgium just wouldn’t let the rally go on as planned, for fear of uncontrolled spread of the viral load.
It is possible that December’s Rally Monza will be able to go on as planned, as much of the event takes place behind the closed doors of Italy’s iconic race track. Autodromo Nazionale di Monza will play host to the seventh and final round of the WRC in 2020. After a fairly steady six races for Toyota’s Elfyn Evans, he goes into that round with a 14 point lead over second placed Sebastien Ogier. 2019 champion Ott Tanak is already mathematically ineligible with the cancelling of Rally Ypres.
Tanak, in speaking with Motorsport.com, expressed fear that 2021 could also be scrubbed in the same way that 2020 has been. “The first part of next year is currently not looking much different and if we continue the same then also next year we won’t have any championship,” said the Estonian WRC champ. Also commenting, “The current circumstances in the world are extreme but still it is a shame to see how other disciplines are able to work out a plan to live together with COVID and the WRC’s still kind of hoping to run events.”
Unlike other motorsport events, WRC rallies can often traverse several hundred miles of public roadways. This makes it difficult to police whether spectators are allowed entry, are wearing proper personal protection, and are properly distanced. As such, many countries could shut down their rally hosting as part of a bid to protect its citizens.
Here’s what FIA Rally Director Yves Matton had to say about it, also in discussion with Motorsport.com:
“In the current circumstances, hosting international rally events is a major challenge and requires a close collaboration between all parties. The nature of rallying is that it touches the communities that we visit – we cannot isolate ourselves from the environment that is around us.
“The COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving and every country, every region, has different rules and restrictions to manage the pandemic. In this context, it is difficult, and in some cases not possible, to set a deadline on whether an event can take place or not.
“The situation is constantly changing and in conjunction with all the stakeholders, we will continue to have a pragmatic, flexible response to enable the sport to continue as much as it is safe to do so.”
Come what may, the 2021 WRC season is currently scheduled to begin with Rally Monte Carlo on the 21st of January. If a coronavirus mitigation strategy has to be developed in order to run more than six rallies in 2021, the series had better get a move on. There are only a couple of months left to prepare.
Maybe it will mean running more tarmac events at places like Monza. Maybe it will mean finding a few hundred acres of private property to run the whole shooting match on a ranch in Montana. That second scenario is highly unlikely, but how cool would that be?
The larger point here, however, is that while much of the international motorsport community thought it had found a way to work around the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of high profile drivers and team members have caught the shit anyway. Is it really worth going through all of that again and potentially losing a legendary rally driver because the series wanted to move forward?
Man, a vaccine would be pretty helpful. I wonder if a reliable one is ever coming.