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Apr 13, 2011

Rallying: What is the IRC?

I am sure that everybody has some time listened something about the World Rally Championship. Of course, it is the most important rallying championship worldwide, but it isn't the only championship sanctioned by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile). Apart from regional and national championship, there is the IRC, or Intercontinental Rally Championship.

Born in 2006 and organized by Eurosport Events, it has made the most of WRC's decline in the mid-noughties to get the support from fans, organizers, manufacturers and drivers. To those less informed about the WRC, they can get an idea of how things evolved during this decade by seeing how there were seven official teams in 2003, and only two in 2006.

So, Eurosport, which also organizes other events, decided to create its own rally championship based on S2000 cars, which at that time were supposed to be the future of rallying. The first championship was only composed by four rallyes, but three of them were historical and iconic European rallyes, such as Ypres, Madeira or the ex-WRC Sanremo rally.

In 2007 came the expansion, with further European rallyes entering the brand new championship, like the Barum, in Czech Republic, or Valais, as well as one of the old jewels from the WRC, the Safari Rally. Since that year, other WRC iconic rallyes have made part of the IRC, some just for one year, as WRC entered a rotative system of events (Portugal, Argentina), but others did it to stay, as the Rallye Montecarlo.

The oldest and most famous rally in the world was taken out of the WRC in 2009, and since then the organizations have rejected the possibility of returning, as they feel that the IRC offers much more freedom: they can do huge liaisons in order to select the best stages, and not the closest, but Eurosport also gives them a huge TV-coverage by broadcasting live most of the stages, including the famous Nuit du Turini, which had been banned from the WRC since 1996:

Now, OK. IRC is still a “second division championship”, but the fact that its calendar has great events from both the past WRC (Montecarlo, Tour de Corse, Sanremo, RAC in Scotland) and the European Rally Championship makes it really interesting, opposite to some WRC rounds in the middle of nowhere. Moreover, it is a cheaper competition as WRC cars are banned, and official teams don't have so much advantage over privateers.

For example, we have seen in the last years how national drivers could beat those who followed all the championship, something impossible to think in the ultra-professional WRC. Moreover, the variety of cars (Peugeot, Skoda, Abarth, Proton) helps in contrast to the bi-manufacturer system that exists in the WRC for now four seasons already.

The drivers are important too. They aren' all Sébastien Loeb's, but they allow a close competition entertaining to all kind of spectators, and we will se how is the IRC real niveau when 2009 champion Kris Meeke begins to compete in WRC with MINI... as well as Juho Hänninen, 2010 champion, will be racing in SWRC (World Championship reserved to S2000 cars, a class aimed at rivaling the IRC...).

Those who think that IRC can beat the WRC can't be more mistaken, but the reality is that sometimes real petrolheads prefer it, thanks to the perfect work achieved by Eurosport, opposite to the hardships we are given by North One, WRC's producer. Because, to be honest, it is hard not to give IRC a try after having a look to those videos, isn't it?

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