This autumn came with impressive news for the Baltic motorsports region — first of all it was announced that Lithuania was included in the World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar and the second news was that the organizers of the European Rally Championship (ERC) have decided to conclude a three-year co-operation agreement with Latvia.
In connections with the Baltic motorsports season 2014 the director of Rally Liepāja says that this is huge”, and with even greater endeavor works on preparation of the ERC Latvian round, as the high quality standards established this year, when the Latvian round received appreciatory references from the observers of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), does not allow to loosen grip. In relation to this official news portal of the Rally Liepāja - Delfi, sat down with Raimonds Strokšs for a conversation.
For the next three years Latvia will host the ERC — is this official and final?
It is absolutely official — there are agreements and a government decision.
For us as organizers this agreement is major relief. After Rally Liepāja–Ventspils for half a year we lived in abeyance, and then in August they said “yes, the Latvian round will be”, and we have to organize rally within four months. This is not normal. Now I am ready to repeat this only because we have an agreement for the next three years, and we will be able to start organizing the respective ERC round of 2015 the next day after the rally awarding ceremony. This is enormous difference as lack of time greatly complicates situation.
We are winners in all aspects — in work related with sponsors, the track and drivers; we will be able to attend other rallies and advertise our event as we are in the calendar for three years now. This gives us possibility to accomplish completely another amount of work.
There is a possibility that the ERC could decrease the number of rounds in order to increase significance of each particular round, and also from this point of view this three-year agreement is beneficial for us.
Why does the Eurosport care so much about the government support?
Because it means stability and guarantee that payments will be made, besides government would not support weakly organized event. This gives a special “taste” to all events.
- Raimonds Strokšs (foto. Aigars Tīdmanis, www.go4speed.lv)
Lithuania has got into the WRC - is this good for us?
The next year will be huge for the Baltic motorsports in general. If couple of years ago somebody would have told me that the Baltic Region will host all the major rally events, I would not believe! Rally Liepāja-Ventspils was the farthest rally northwards, in the direction of Scandinavia, except the WRC Finnish and Swedish rally, and this means that Europe cares about this region, as this does not mean only the minor Baltic market, but also the major Scandinavia and Russia. If all events would be hosted only in the Southern Europe — who would be interested? The Baltic will draw attention next year!
What was the new format of the European Rally Championship on the first year from your point of view?
The Championship was as good as it could be on the first year of organization as everything was started from zero. It is good that two experienced parties — FIA and Eurosport — joined their forces, but all new things are new, and the first time is the first.
An important aspect is that the new format of the European Rally Championship has been like a spur for automakers aiming for the R5 class, which has the main role so to say in the ERC. In the WRC this class will always be secondary. Honda is about to elaborate R5 class rally car, even Opel does consider it. Automakers slowly return in motorsports. Most believably, we will not see this next year, but in 2015 and 2016 it will be fun! By then the new cars will have to be fast to keep business going. The automakers will attract drivers, and we will see considerable growth.
On January 1 Citroen and Peugeot is about to homologue new R5 class cars. They will not manage to announce them till the first ERC round in Austria, but they will be able to do that till the second round, which is ours! Without doubt, a new car has to be advertised, and in this context automakers will have to make double effort as Malcolm Wilson with his approach of a businessman and Ford Fiesta R5 has gone very far, and others can only dream about such sale performance. All this time both French companies enhanced, tested and verified their cars, but they will enter taken market, thus they have to prove themselves, and I hope that it will start here in Latvia.
During the first ERC season Latvian round was not in a good situation as it was the only real winter rally and as such had several drawbacks — the participants had to purchase the stud tires and to adjust cars; also the valuation aspect — only the four best of the first six ERC rounds go to offset…
Yes and no. Our rally was a new one, no one knew it, but we managed to achieve that all this year good rumors about our event spread all over Europe. This must bring some benefit!
By the way, we have a possibility to switch to summer. Will we be able to use it - let us talk about this in spring; one cannot say for sure that the summer rally is better. It is more customary, warmer and greater, but it cannot be said, that it is better.
- Raimonds Kisiels, Rally Liepāja-Ventspils 2013 (photo. Aigars Tīdmanis, www.go4speed.lv)
There are talks also about the ERC Winter Cup? What it will be like?
It is a planned activity of Eurosport with an aim to draw greater attention to the winter rounds, and again we are winners! This Cup will include three rounds, and we are in the middle in a very advantageous position. For example, if somebody fails to start in the first round in Austria, there still is possibility to fight in the remaining two; if the result of the first round is very good, the second is to be covered as well as it is risky to postpone everything to the last.
The Latvian rally has changed its title after the first year already, however in Europe there are events bearing the same title for tens of years. Why didn't you choose Rally Latvija from the very beginning?
Everything is simple — one has to understand that the costs of organizing our rally are the same as in Poland. The event costs are equal, but the number of advertisers and their possibilities are very different. Sponsors in Poland ask: what are the costs of live broadcast in Eurosport? A million? Ok, we want it, here is money! We have to think carefully about how to plan budget for this major event. When we are as big and remarkable as Poland, we will be able to title the event as we wish, but currently we are very thankful to Liepāja, which is willing to participate, help and organize. I hope that we will be in Liepāja for very long time!
Why did Ventspils refused from honor to host the European Rally Championship?
They were concerned about weather conditions.
You don’t care for weather anymore?
Last year around this time I sat and thought about weather conditions, but this year I don’t bother about this issue at all. We had the worst possible scenario, and if we managed to cope with it, I am not afraid of anything anymore! Last winter it was raining possibly for 4-5 days, and two of them happened to be in the rally week! This was the worst thing ever! However we observed that we had prepared roads so well that we could continue competition even in the case it continued raining. There was glacier on the surface, but ground was frozen in the depth of 60 cm — the surface would be swept away and sportsmen could continue driving. Therefore, this does not cause me headache anymore. Last year I knew addresses of al meteorological web pages by heart, but not any more.
- Guntis Lielkajis, Rally Liepāja-Ventspils 2013 (photo. Aigars Tīdmanis, www.go4speed.lv)
What can you reveal about Rally Liepāja stages?
The rally will preserve the three-day format — the first day will be devoted to the qualification stage, draw of the start positions for the priority drivers, the Opening Ceremony and the Press Conference; the first special stage will start in the morning of the second day. There will be 12 stages in total — six stages for each day; it seems that the longest stage will be 31 km. This is a very convenient format for spectators.
You have changed the slogan as well — you do not promise any more that this winter will be “hot”; you declare that this will be “fast”… This winter is fast?
We will change our slogan each year so that each rally is associated with a particular slogan, like “this or that happened in the fast or hot winter”.
Did the FIA report was objective? Did we have any serious problems to be prevented in organization?
None of the reproaches was about any major and serious problem. All reproaches were objective and easy to correct. The Head Doctor of the World Rally Championship visited us, and he could not understand, why he has been sent to the ERC to Latvia, as many security aspects we had in higher level than in some WRC rounds. He never attends other events than the WRC and he was really surprised.
- Liga Stirna