The countdown to the first round of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship started today at the official launch of this year's series in Paris.
This morning drivers from this year's competition and a selection of their cars, gathered for a 'class of 2010' photograph in the Place de la Concorde.
From there the drivers moved to the nearby headquarters of the Automobile Club de France, where FIA President Jean Todt opened the official presentation.
According to the championship's new promoter, North One Sport, 2010 represents the start of a fresh chapter for the WRC. While the introduction of a new S-WRC series for Super2000 cars, as well as an expanded calendar of 13 events, a selection of the best drivers in the world and a host of new television deals, make this a vintage year in prospect.
North One Sport managing director Neil Duncanson said: “This is a genuine new era for the sport and every stakeholder involved in the WRC believes the future is extremely bright. This year is just the start. The WRC will become the one of the world's premier sporting brands in the next five years.”
The first round of 2010 season takes place in the ice and snow of Sweden on February 11th with new cars, teams and drivers joining the show. The sense of anticipation could not be higher, especially with the news that world former F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen and American extreme sports hero Ken Block will be joining the ranks of the WRC.
North One Sport unveiled television viewing statistics from last year's season which underlined the increasing popularity of the WRC. In 2009 the average number of television viewers per rally grew by 12 per cent, while the final round shoot-out between Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen attracted a massive 61 million viewers worldwide.
And for 2010 WRC fans around the world can expect more WRC coverage with the announcement of a range of new television agreements.
These include five-year deals with MTV3 in Finland and Network 10 and One HD in Australia. Multi-year agreements have also been reached in countries including Italy (RAI), Scandinavia (Viasat), Portugal (Sport TV), France (Orange and Motors TV), the USA (Discovery), China (national and regional broadcasters) and the Middle East (Abu Dhabi TV).
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Developing rally is a priority, says Todt
In his opening address at today's WRC launch, FIA president Jean Todt talked of his passion for the WRC, his optimism for the forthcoming 2010 season and his determination to ensure a bright future for the sport in general.
Todt, a former WRC co-driver and Peugeot Rally Team manager, said his vision for the future of the sport involved further reducing cost barriers whilst increasing competition and improving the spectacle.
"2010 definitely is an important year," said Todt. "It’s the start of a new decade, the start of my mandate as FIA president, and everybody knows rally has been very strongly implanted in my heart for many years. I started my career in rally and I have never lost that very strong overview. Now I have a strong mandate as president of the FIA to address the situation of motorsport, and rally will be amongst my priorities."
"I'm very optimistic we are going to have a great 2010 championship but I'm even more optimistic about the future of rallying. We know a lot of things have to be improved and it’s our whole commitment to make sure that happens - on the sporting side and on the technical side - and to make sure we create a much bigger interest for manufacturers, from private competitors and the media. I must say I am excited by the challenge," he added.
Todt welcomed the appointment of North One Sport as WRC promoters from the start of this year, and also outlined plans to support the worldwide grass roots development of the sport via a recently formed FIA working group.
“We have a new promoter now, with a strong input and the heart to make things happen. In addition we have created a Global Rally Working Group which is going to address the situation for rallying all over the world. WRC is the pinnacle but we have to address rallying around the globe," he said.
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more details about about the tv coverage
The general sense of momentum was reinforced by the news that, in 2009, the average number of television viewers per rally grew by a healthy twelve per cent, with Rally GB, the last event of the season which featured a 'winner takes all' shoot-out between Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen, attracting a massive 61 million viewers worldwide.
Each agreement reflect North One Sport's commitment to securing the best possible mix of quality international, regional and local media coverage, and plans for the coming year include the transmission of live footage from a number of events, starting with Rally Sweden, aerial coverage from a dedicated TV helicopter, new on-board camera technology and the development of state-of-the-art high definition TV coverage for introduction in 2011.
“We're really encouraged by this evidence of the enduring appeal of WRC and the confidence broadcast partners around the world are showing," North One's chief executive Simon Long commented, "With our exciting plans for the future and so many positive developments in the pipeline, just buckle up and enjoy the ride!”
A new WRC video game franchise, a revamped official website and digital offering later in the year will provide fans with further opportunities to interact than ever before, as the series attempts to build on the positive future highlighted by renewed interest from car manufacturers, teams and drivers, and a series of pioneering changes to the sport's regulations designed to reduce costs and improve the show.
“This is a genuine new era for the sport and every stakeholder involved in the WRC believes the future is extremely bright,"
North One Sport chairman Neil Duncanson concluded, "This year is just the start. The WRC will become the one of the world's premier sporting brands in the next five years.”
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