Rally chief Richards predicts five year plan will see WRC rivalling F1

DAVID RICHARDS, the Prodrive founder and commercial rights holder for the World Rally Championship, has stated his belief that top class international rallying will rival F1 racing for slick, cohesive global TV entertainment within about five years.

Richards, who reputedly paid Bernie Ecclestone around $38m to purchase the commercial rights for the WRC, was speaking at the Network Q Rally Great Britain this weekend where his Prodrive Subaru Impreza ace Richard Burns is poised to become the first Englishman to win the world rally championship crown.

"It is my estimation that within five years the WRC will be perceived as an equal to F1 not only as entertainment, but as a communication platform for manufacturers and sponsors," he said. "Yet I predict that both sponsors and car makers will come from a segment of the market sharply differentiated from those who currently compete in F1."

Richards admits that, despite his Prodrive rally involvement, he would probably not have developed his business in this direction had it not been for the failure of his partnership with the Benetton F1 team in 1998. Richards had been taken on to run the team a year earlier after the departure of Flavio Briatore, but left at the end of the year after disagreements with Luciano Benetton and his family.

When discussing a possible alternative F1 program with Bernie Ecclestone, the question of taking over the commercial rights to the WRC was raised. Ecclestone said he felt Richards might be interested and a deal was eventually struck for the purchase of International Sportsworld Communications which now promotes and markets the WRC's global TV rights.

"In TV motorsport terms, the WRC is second only to F1," says Richards, "but, that said, it amounts to only around one-fifth of the F1 exposure. Therefore the growth potential is fantastic."

He is particularly keen that every aspect of WRC commercial rights promotion will have the same texture and feel. To that ends the graphic content of TV advertising, internet material and rally computer games deriving from the series will be absolutely consistent as the program really gets into top gear in 2002.

Twenty years ago this weekend Richards won the World Rally Championship as co-driver to Ari Vatanen. "In all the decades of my business life I have known exactly how I would map things out ahead," he said. "And I hope I have a clear idea of how we can develop rallying over the next decade."

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