WRC promoter, the commercial rights owner of the FIA World Rally Championship, has strengthened its team with the appointment of Peter Thul as senior director sport. The appointment is the latest step in WRC promoter’s strategic growth as the WRC prepares for one of the biggest innovations in its history. It celebrates its 50th anniversary season in 2022 with the exciting introduction of environmentally-friendly hybrid rally cars. In an exclusive conversation with Automobilist...
Automobilist: Peter, what’s your role at WRC Promoter, your background and how did you get involved in the WRC?
Peter Thul: As Senior Director Sport, I’m responsible for managing the liaison with the WRC’s key stakeholders, including teams and crews, and with the FIA’s sporting and technical departments.
I was active in rally sports from 1986 to 1994, competing as a co-driver in the German national championship, international rallies and some rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship. Alongside Dieter Depping, I became German Rally Champion in 1993 and 1994 and finished as runner-up in the 1994 European Rally Championship. I worked at Volkswagen and was head of product communications from 2008 to 2016 and involved in the WRC rally activities of the brand. I know rallying from the perspective of a journalist, the co-driver’s seat and of a car manufacturer.
Automobilist: You’re taking charge at WRC Promoter during one of the most difficult times the sport has ever faced. How daunting is the task ahead?
Peter Thul: Due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, we are facing huge challenges affecting the worldwide economy, daily life and sport. WRC rounds around the world have sadly been postponed or cancelled but we have a restart calendar in place, beginning with Rally Estonia on 4 – 6 September, and we are all working enthusiastically to return to “a new normal” – like FIA President Jean Todt said. I love our sport and I try to contribute my very best so that we can overcome the most difficult situation in the history of rallying.
Automobilist: We’re all set for the re-start of the 2020 season. How difficult was it to stitch this calendar together?
Peter Thul: The entire WRC Promoter team is doing a tremendous job in a period of uncertainty caused by the spread of Covid-19. Different regulations in countries about the permission to run sport events brings complex challenges and this all led to a flexible approach which respects the different requests from the stakeholders like the FIA, the manufacturers and the event organisers. From my point of view, I can only congratulate everyone involved in stitching this calendar together with the target to finish the 2020 season in the best possible way.
Automobilist: The season will get going again with Estonia’s first WRC event. It was a candidate event in 2019. How did it find its place this year?
Peter Thul: I have never visited Estonia and I am really looking forward to going there. Last year, they organised the very successful WRC Promotional Event. The gravel stages were very challenging, the whole organisation was highly professional and the enthusiasm of the fans was simply great. When WRC Promoter signed the contract in Tallinn, the Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas spoke about a historical moment for his country. The director of Rally Estonia, Urmo Aava, competed in the past at the top level in the World Rally Championship as a driver and he and his competent team have a great insight into what it takes to run a WRC event successfully.
Automobilist: It’s obviously defending champion Ott Tänak’s home event and he has prepared for it by grabbing a win for Hyundai at the Viru Rally in Estonia in July. What are you expecting from him and from Estonia for this first round?
Peter Thul: Having a national hero competing as the reigning WRC champion in front of his fans – what can be better? For sure we can expect him to fight for the victory. I am looking forward to a great rallying weekend – respecting all the health and security protocols against the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
Automobilist: Obviously, July’s revived Safari Rally was cancelled. Was there no chance of rescheduling it as part of this new calendar? How many events is the right number and how would a greater number of events affect the format of rallies?
Peter Thul: Safari Rally Kenya was cancelled due to the fight against the spread of Covid-19 and its WRC return was delayed until 2021. Unfortunately it was not possible to reschedule the rally into the 2020 calendar.
The calendar of the World Rally Championship, which is proposed by the WRC Promotor in close co-operation with the FIA and the manufacturers, respects the demands of the different stakeholders. Countries with important markets for the manufacturers are playing a significant role, as well as legendary events such as Safari Rally Kenya.
In the near future, the number of events remains to be decided taking into consideration the needs of all the stakeholders involved. But it is, and will remain, of strategical importance for us to work towards WRC rounds in the USA and China as well.
Automobilist: Looking further ahead to the 2022 regulations, which provide for hybrid cars. These regulations perhaps represent the biggest changes to the WRC in its history. How important is this rule set for the future of the championship, in containing costs, attracting new manufacturers, and most importantly in providing fans with thrilling competition?
Peter Thul: The step to use plug in hybrid technology in the WRC’s headline category is a milestone in the history of world rallying. The hybrid powertrain is the bridge technology in the future of the automotive industry. By 2030 (following a study by the renowned Oliver Wyman strategic consulting company) more than 37 per cent of passenger cars will be equipped with hybrid technology. The new rally cars will be more sustainable, even more spectacular with extra electric power and the new regulations will bring down the costs significantly.. The WRC will be more than ever the most efficient way for presenting innovative automotive products in motorsport serving as a R&D platform for series production cars, or in a nutshell: Rallying for a purpose. With this unique package, we are confident of providing a championship that appeals to new manufacturers.
Images courtesy FIA World Rally Championship / Red Bull Content Pool