Saturday, March 2, 2024

FIA to allow stage point retention, earlier T1 stage starts in 2024

Nasser Al-Attiyah won the 2023 World Rally-Raid Championship in dominant fashion, but probably could have clinched it even sooner with the 2024 rulebook. The new policies approved by the FIA World Motor Sport Council last Thursday for the 2024 season include permitting drivers who retired from rallies to keep any points they earned earlier in the race and confirming plans to let the top-level Ultimate (formerly known as T1) class start at the front regardless of how they did in the previous day, provided they proved they are faster than other classes.

Under the current rules, the top five for each FIA class receives bonus points at the end of a stage, with the winner getting five, second gets four, and so on. However, if a driver fails to finish the rally (not to be confused with retiring from a stage and then rejoining the next day), they lose every point earned in the event up to that moment.

Al-Attiyah, who mathematically clinched his second straight title during Stage #2 of the season-ending Rallye du Maroc, might have done so during the penultimate round at the Desafío Ruta 40 if the new rule existed in 2023. He won the first three stages of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which netted him fifteen stage points, before he was forced to bow out entirely due to severe damage in a roll. He would have still lost the championship lead to Sébastien Loeb after the ADDC, though his deficit would have only been by one point instead of sixteen.

Loeb’s own retirement from the Sonora Rally dropped him from first to third in points. Had Had his eight stage points prior to his crash remained (third in Stage #1 and a win in Stage #2), he would have remained second in the standings even if it mattered little since his team skipped Argentina.

The FIM does not award points per stage.

Besides the points allocation, the FIA has also tweaked Article 32 of the Cross-Country Regulations discussing the start order to “allow all the top T1 competitors, showing faster speed than vehicles of the lower categories, to start ahead each morning, hence helping to improve safety.”

For 2023, the start order for stages after Stage #2 is set based on the overall finishing order of the previous day. While T1 is the top category, a driver in that class could start after those in the lower T3 or T4 categories if they had a worse finish than them, as stipulated by Article 32.2. However, Article 32.3.1 also adds that the “Clerk of the Course may, for safety reasons and with the knowledge of the Stewards, reposition drivers or change the time interval between vehicles. The starting order for the first 15 vehicles should not be changed.”

With the new rule, all T1 drivers will get priority starting positions ahead of other classes regardless of yesterday’s performance so long as they have proven they are faster.

Such a change has been discussed by the FIA since the summer.

“If you had a bad day, on the next day you can be repositioned, but we changed the rules to make them more universal on based on the mathematical calculation,” explained FIA cross-country rally manager Jerome Roussel in July. “It’s a bit complicated to explain, so the best would be to look at the regulations, but for example, if you had a very bad day, you would be able to be repositioned but not before the driver who had a good day. It will not be based on the position but on the gap with the winner.”

The changes are among a series of sweeping updates for the new year, which also includes breaking all five categories from their ladder-style naming convention. For example, T1 is now known as “Ultimate” while T3 and T4 are respectively called “Challenger” and “SSV”.

The 2024 W2RC season begins with the Dakar Rally in January.