The World Rally Championship (WRC) is a rallying series organised by the FIA, culminating with a champion driver and manufacturer. The driver's world championship and manufacturer's world championship are separate championships, but based on the same point system. The series currently consists of 13 three-day events driven on surfaces ranging from gravel and tarmac to snow and ice. Each rally is split into 15–25 special stages which are run against the clock on closed roads.
The 1980s saw the rear-wheel-driveGroup 2 and the more popular Group 4 cars be replaced by more powerful four-wheel-driveGroup B cars. FISA legalized all-wheel-drive in 1979, but most manufacturers believed it was too complex to be successful. However, after Audi started entering Mikkola and the new four-wheel-drive Quattro in rallies for testing purposes with immediate success, other manufacturers started their all-wheel-drive projects. Group B regulations were introduced in the 1982 season, and with only a few restrictions allowed almost unlimited power. Audi took the constructors' title in 1982 and 1984 and drivers' title in 1983 (Mikkola) and 1984 (Stig Blomqvist). Audi's French female driver Michèle Mouton came close to winning the title in 1982, but had to settle for second place after Opel rival Röhrl. 1985 title seemed set to go to Vatanen and his Peugeot 205 T16 but a bad accident at the Rally Argentina left him to watch compatriot and team-mate Timo Salonen take the title instead. Italian Attilio Bettega had even a more severe crash with his Lancia 037 at the Tour de Corse and died instantly.
The 1986 season started with impressive performances by Finns Henri Toivonen and Alén in Lancia's new turbo- and supercharged Delta S4, which could reportedly accelerate from 0–60 mph (96 km/h) in 2.3 seconds, on a gravel road. However, the season soon took a dramatic turn. At the Rally Portugal, three spectators were killed and over 30 injured after Joaquim Santos lost control of his Ford RS200. At the Tour de Corse, championship favourite Toivonen and his co-driver Sergio Cresto died in a fireball accident after plunging down a cliff. Only hours after the crash, Jean-Marie Balestre and the FISA decided to freeze the development of the Group B cars and ban them from competing in 1987. More controversy followed when Peugeot's Juha Kankkunen won the title after FIA annulled the results of the San Remo Rally, taking the title from fellow Finn Markku Alén.
As the planned Group S was also cancelled, Group A regulations became the standard in the WRC until 1997. A separate Group A championship had been organized as part of the WRC already in 1986, with Sweden's Kenneth Eriksson taking the title with a Volkswagen Golf GTI 16V. Lancia was quickest in adapting to the new regulations and controlled the world rally scene with Lancia Delta Integrale, winning the constructors' title six years in a row from 1987 to 1992. Kankkunen and Miki Biasion both took two drivers' titles with the Integrale.
For the 1997 season, the World Rally Car regulations were introduced as an intended replacement for Group A (only successive works Mitsubishis still conforming to the latter formula; until they, too, homologated a Lancer Evolution WRC from the 2001 San Remo Rally). After the success of Mäkinen and the Japanese manufacturers, France's Peugeot made a very successful return to the World Rally Championship. Finn Marcus Grönholm took the drivers' title in his first full year in the series and Peugeot won the manufacturers' crown. England's Richard Burns won the 2001 title with a Subaru Impreza WRC, but Grönholm and Peugeot took back both titles in the 2002 season. 2003 saw Norway's Petter Solberg become drivers' champion for Subaru and Citroën continue the success of the French manufacturers. Citroën's Sébastien Loeb went on to control the following seasons with his Citroën Xsara WRC. Citroën took the constructors' title three times in a row and Loeb surpassed Mäkinen's record of four consecutive drivers' titles, earning his ninth consecutive championship in 2012. After many titleless years at the top with their Ford Focus RS WRC, Ford took the 2006 and 2007 manufacturers' titles with drivers Marcus Grönholm and Mikko Hirvonen.
Škoda preparing their cars a day before the shakedown.
Each season normally consists of 13 rallies driven on surfaces ranging from gravel and tarmac to snow and ice. Points from these events are calculated towards the drivers' and manufacturers' world championships. The driver's championship and manufacturer's championship are separate championships, but based on the same point system. This means, for example, that Petter Solberg driving for Subaru can win the driver's championship but Citroën can win the manufacturer's championship, which is what happened in 2003, and again in 2006 and 2007 when Sébastien Loeb took his third and fourth WRC titles but Ford won the manufacturer's championship.
Despite how many drivers are in one team, constructors may only nominate two drivers to score points for the team as well as scoring for themselves. As only nominated drivers are counted while awarding points, competitors placed further down the final standings than tenth overall (if preceded by privateer drivers) can score them.
In the current era, each rally usually consists of between fifteen and thirty special stages of distances ranging from under 2 km (1.2 mi) (known as super special stages) to over 50 kilometres (31 mi). These competitive stages are driven on closed roads which are linked by non-competitive road sections—open roads on which all road laws of that country must be adhered to. On average a day consists of a total of 400 kilometres (250 mi) of driving. A WRC event begins with reconnaissance (recce) on Tuesday and Wednesday, allowing crews to drive through the stages and create or update their pace notes. On Thursday, teams can run through the shakedown stage to practice and test their set-ups. The competition typically begins on Friday and ends on Sunday, though some rallies—most notably the Monte Carlo Rally—may be run over four or five days. Cars start the stages at two-minute intervals in clear weather, or three-minute intervals if it is decided that visibility may be a problem for competitors. Each day, or leg, has a few designated service parks between the stages, where the teams can – within strict time limits – perform maintenance and repairs on their cars. The service park also allows spectators and the media to get close to the teams and their cars and drivers. Between the days, after a 45-minute end of day service, cars are locked away in parc fermé, a quarantine environment where teams are not permitted to access or work on their cars.
First introduced in 2011, the "power stage" is the final stage of the rally. Additional World Championship points are available to the three fastest drivers through the stage (regardless of where they actually finished in the rally), with the fastest team receiving three points, the second-fastest receiving two points, and the third-fastest receiving one point.
Originally known as "SuperRally," Rally 2 is a set of regulations that allow a driver who retires from an event to re-enter the next day at the cost of a five-minute time penalty. This allows drivers who retire from an event to continue on and compete for World Championship points; however, if they retire on the final leg of a rally, re-entering is not possible. Similarly, the use of Rally 2 regulations is at the discretion of event organisers. For instance, the Monte Carlo Rally does not employ Rally 2 regulations, meaning that any retirement is permanent.
The WRC was formerly held for Group A and Group B rallycars. However, due to the increasing power, lack of reliability and a series of fatal accidents on the 1986 season, Group B was permanently banned. Later, in 1997, the Group A cars evolved into the WRC car spec, to ease the development of new cars and bring new makes to the competition. In 2011, new rules were introduced to encourage more manufacturers (and privateers) to take part, because the recent economic downturn had prompted several manufacturers to leave the championship.
Starting in 2013,a new category of rally cars known as Group R were introduced as a replacement to the Group A and Group N rally categories, with cars classified under one of six categories based on their engine capacity and type, wheelbase, and drivetrain. As a result no cars will be homologated under Group A and Group N regulations and instead will be reclassified under Group R. Parallel to this, the Super 2000 and Production Car World Championships were restructured; Super 2000 and Group N cars were merged into a single championship known as World Rally Championship-2 alongside R4 and R5 cars, whilst the Production Car World Championship was completely reimagined as the World Rally Championship-3 for two-wheel drive cars complying with R1, R2 and R3 regulations.
20 different manufacturers have won a World Rally Championship event, and a further ten have finished on the podium.
Suzuki and Subaru pulled out of the WRC at the end of the 2008 championship, both citing the economic downturn then affecting the automotive industry for their withdrawal. Mini and Ford both pulled out of the WRC at the end of the 2012 championship, due to a similar economic downturn affecting the European market.
A typical WRC team will consist of about 40 people on the events, with a further 60–100 at the team base.
Manufacturers and manufacturer-backed teams usually have two or three drivers participating in each rally who are eligible to score points. The total number of crews (driver and his co-driver) in the rallies varied from 47 (Monte Carlo and Mexico) to 108 (Great Britain) during the 2007 season.
ISC TV produce daily updates of each event after the day's stages have finished and the TV coverage has been processed. These daily highlight programs are around 30 minutes in duration and cover in depth the day's stages, with in-car footage as well as driver interviews. Before the rally there is also a Rally Preview that normally incorporates special driver, technical and team features as well as providing an overview of the upcoming rally's route. There is also a review program, which lasts approximately an hour, that summarises the rally and the big events that took place during the duration; the stages are not in such detail as the daily updates as it is a review program.
This is then shown in 186 different countries in multiple languages, each day of the event. The make up and format for the telecast can change from country to country depending on the local broadcaster but it all uses ISC TV feeds. ISC TV also provides coverage of all of the events in the Junior World Rally Championship and the Production World Rally Championship in a 26-minute highlights package.
Also produced after each event is the lifestyle entertainment programme called WRC All Access, focused on a behind the scenes experience of WRC life, both on and off the road. These programmes focus on all elements of each country visited including culture, food, people, attractions as well as the WRC event itself. Rally World, a weekly rally programme reviews events from all around the planet, including the WRC, the PWRC, the JWRC as well as Asia Pacific Rally Championship, the Australian Rally Championship and the Middle East Rally Championship among others.
In the United Kingdom, coverage of the 2014 season is split between three broadcasters. BT Sport has rights to live stages and daily highlights, Motors TV has highlights rights and free to air channel ITV4 has rights to the weekend review programme.
During the 2007 season, the cumulative worldwide TV audience for ISC's WRC programming was 816 million. The programming was available in over 180 countries, and was broadcast on over 250 different TV channels. The total number of dedicated broadcasts was 12,445, and the total number of hours of coverage was 5,457.
Live radio coverage is provided in English by World Rally Radio via the Internet, featuring end of stage reports direct from the drivers and teams plus service park news. It also features contemporary music during breaks in rally coverage. This coverage can even simulcast on local radio or via a temporary licence, pending on the event and its organisers. They are also responsible for producing podcasts for each day of each event available for download.
Coverage is provided on the WRC website via video on demand, featuring races, interviews and exclusive behind-the-scene content.
It was announced that trials for live coverage would be available during the 2011 Rallye de France Alcase race.
The Production car World Rally Championship (P-WRC)began in 2002, replacing the FIA Group N Cup which had been contested from 1987. Cars in the championship are production-based and homologated under Group N rules.
The Junior World Rally Championship (J-WRC) was started in 2001, and can be contested with Super 1600, Group N and selected Group A cars. Drivers in the championship have to be 28 years or younger. There is no age limit for co-drivers.
The Super 2000 World Rally Championship (S-WRC) was started in 2010. Within the Super 2000 category are competitions for drivers (known as the S-WRC) and another for teams (the World Rally Championship Cup). The cars in the championship are under the Super 2000 rules.