The ‘Swap Seat Special Stage’ will make it compulsory for all drivers and co-drivers to change seats for one stage at every future round.
It brings the enticing prospect of world champion driver Ott Tänak reading the pace notes as Martin Järveoja steers their Hyundai i20, while Julien Ingrassia must take the wheel of a Toyota Yaris as Sébastien Ogier focuses on the prompt and accurate delivery of notes.
It will be up to the driver and co-driver to decide on which stage they wish to switch. If they choose to wait until the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage, any bonus points gained will automatically be doubled.
A WRC Promoter spokesperson said of the change: “We are working in the entertainment industry and as such, we must show innovation and continue to find new ways to excite our fans and attract new viewers. This exciting new idea will really test the level of teamwork between driver and co-driver.”
M-Sport Ford team principal Rich Millener was full of praise for the new idea.
“This is a concept we trialled back in 2012 when Francois Delecour’s co-driver drove the final stage of Rallye Monte-Carlo in a Fiesta WRC,” explained Millener. “We have been working on some strategies in the background to ensure we are most prepared for this change in regulation.
“If I am totally honest, we are finding it more difficult in training the drivers to be able to read the co-drivers’ pace notes. We have had a couple of incidents in testing where the drivers have complained that when reading the notes they were wrong, but we had to remind them that they had made them in the first place.
“We are looking forward to seeing who comes out on top and it will add another layer of excitement to this already great sport,” concluded Millener.
There was a mixed reception among WRC crews. Some suggested Jari-Matti Latvala may have been given advance notice, having recently used former WRC driver Juho Hänninen as his co-driver at Rally Sweden.
“They [Latvala and Hänninen] have a good relationship with WRC Promoter, as they already knew about this in Sweden,” mused Esapekka Lappi’s co-driver, Janne Ferm.
Lappi has already given some thought to his approach, admitting that he and Ferm will be targeting ‘the shortest stage’.
Toyota Gazoo Racing youngster Kalle Rovanperä expressed serious reservations about handing over the driving to his man on the notes, Jonne Halttunen. “For sure, I will not be co-driving you, so you can drive on your own,” the youngster was caught telling Halttunen.
The new innovation will come into effect when the WRC season resumes.