The move arrives following Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville’s comments prior to last weekend’s Rally Portugal where he called for the WRC to “react” after stating that rallying’s top tier is at a critical point and requires change to appeal to fans and attract new manufacturers.
The WRC’s senior sporting director Peter Thul says he has carefully read Neuville’s comments and is willing to hear more from the drivers, prompting a push to set up a meeting in Sardinia next month.
“First of all, I must say I really appreciate his [Neuville’s] attitude because he is a guy who is not only blindingly fast but he is also pushing and asks the right questions,” Thul told Motorsport.com.
“We are more than willing to hear. My first reaction was that I spoke to [FIA rally director] Andrew Wheatley, to ask him that you should get an active contact with the drivers who want to contribute.
“That means I will try to set up a meeting in Sardinia and every opinion is welcome because I fundamentally think that talking with each other is better than talking about each other.
“This is what I think and again, I will take him by his word. I like him really as a person and the way he performs the sport because he is making the sport richer.”
Thul moved to allay the frustration surrounding the WRC’s unknown future pathway as work continues to form the regulations that will guide rallying’s top tier through 2025 and 2026, before a potentially more significant change from 2027 onwards.
It is widely expected that a tweaked version of the current Rally1 regulations will form the basis of 2025-2026. But this hinges on renewing a contract with current hybrid supplier Compact Dynamics, which expires at the end of 2024, or sourcing a new supplier.
Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
As for the long-term pathway, the FIA has been talking with manufacturers throughout last year regarding its next steps with full electric and hydrogen power under discussion. A meeting between the WRC Promoter, the FIA and teams was held at Rally Portugal to discuss the future of the category.
“Everybody is asking us when is the next manufacturer to come,” Thul added.
“Again, we are working very closely with the FIA. We started last year [when] it was allowed to travel everywhere to see each and every manufacturer. In Europe, even in Asia on the occasion of Rally Japan.
“The picture we have at the moment is that the majority of them are full focused on pure electric. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against electric.
“We are running the World Rallycross Championship on full-electric and if this would be the way, we will find a way. But with the current technology it would change the rally that we know and we love dramatically.
“Now can you imagine, getting a new manufacturer onboard, it’s also very important to have a clear regulation. The regulation is absolutely done by FIA but we have a chance to talk, put our opinion on the table as we are also very much focused to keep the current manufacturers on-board. We have to find the right way.
“The talks did not just start yesterday. It’s an ongoing process and we had a very good meeting here [in Portugal] but I will not tell you anything about that because it’s confidential.
“But we are also on an absolutely good way and I’m absolutely optimistic that with the current car we can go for a certain time and then we can switch.
Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
“But we have to keep this electric sustainable component because we have a very good concept with the sustainable fuel [from P1 Motorsport], we are the first championship to introduce it. And it works very well.
“We need an electric component and now the challenge and the task is to put this together in a good way, but I’m totally optimistic on that. I can feel that the people are impatient but we need time.
“I’m not worried, we have a lot of things to do. We also have a lot of things to do to work on the format. Format means marketing, PR, social media. We know that.
“On this we are already working on, and on this you will see changes. We cannot change everything from one day to the other, but we are working on it.”