This weekend, for the first time in many years, I was able to experience every single stage of a World Rally Championship event. I owe that to the relatively recent expansion of WRC: All Live.
I have been a follower of the sport since I was a small boy of 6. Back then, the coverage had just moved to Channel 4 and, even though I was too young to enjoy the intricacies of the commentary, I could enjoy up to three hours of rallying every event. My family recorded every event between 2002 and 2003 on VHS; I think I still have the videos somewhere in the loft.
However, the next few years became more barren in terms of rallying content. The nightly show became a single one hour programme (including ad breaks) and that meant far less action was shown. I was still too young to be able to access the sport in other ways. The annual trip that I made to watch Rally GB with my Dad ceased as my interest in the sport waned.
A few years after discovering the sport, I came across Rally Radio on the official WRC website. It instantly rekindled that feeling I had when I first watched it. Being able to see live split times and listen to the excellent presenting team made me feel like I was actually following the sport properly again and for a few years this was enough. By this time my sole experience on the sport was online; the TV rights had moved to a channel that didn’t seem to put the sport first, since there was maybe 20-30 minutes of rallying in a 60 minute show, the rest being pointless filler.
Rally Radio was a great tool to expand my interest in rallying and when it grew to cover events on the Intercontinental Rally Challenge and other championships, I followed. But the relative basic nature in rallying’s accessibility to fans meant that after a few years, I prefered the live coverage of other sports, such as the BTCC and *sigh* Formula 1.
Last year, my interest in WRC picked up when stage live tracker was introduced and now it is nearly back to the levels I had as a wide-eyed 6 year old. Being able to see a car crash into the trees on Rally Finland live and then see a hugely exciting battle between Mads Ostberg and Jari-Matti Latvala for second go right down to the final stage is something that would be unimaginable a few years ago.
It’s not just seeing the stages live that makes this package so worthwhile. The stage presenting team, brought across from the old Rally Radio, are hugely engaging, and new faces analysing after the stage in a studio built in the service park brings fans closer to the sport than before. I even got to relive past editions of Rally Finland in the breaks between groups of stages.
Rally Finland is the perfect event to experience this live package for the first time; over 20 stages that, for the most part, are under 10 minutes in time, means that it was a thrill a minute. I’m not sure whether it would work just as well on an event with longer stages, though there seems to be a recent trend to cut the lengths of rallies whilst upping the number of special stages. There’s also the cost to consider. It cost me £64 or so for 12 months, though I did take advantage of a 30% off saving promoted just for Rally Finland. You get so much more for it as there are only a handful of stages that are available with the basic (free) package. Even though I am a paying customer, I would like to see the casual viewers get a tiny bit more coverage than they are receiving.
In short, if you are willing to pay a relatively small amount per rally, WRC: All Live is completely worth it, creating an immersive experience that is second only to being at the rally yourself. It is a big step forward for the sport and I hope it continues to bring rallying closer to the fans than ever before.