The first round of the World Rally Championship began with the Monte Carlo Rally on Thursday (21 January). However, the sport’s polluting nature, criticised by environmental associations, is raising questions about its raison d’être. EURACTIV France reports.
“The Monte Carlo Rally is an anachronistic event which must be stopped,” several associations in south-eastern France wrote in a joint press release published on 12 January. The environmental cost of the event is “excessive and unbearable”, the press release added.
In a subsequent press release published on Thursday (21 January), the group once again stressed the “ecological nonsense” of the Monte Carlo Rally.
For environmentalists, such an event has no place in the so-called “post-crisis world”, from both the environmental and health perspective.
The rally, which traditionally inaugurates the World Rally Championship (WRC) every year in January, is organised by the Club Automobile de Monaco, but takes place largely in France, around the Gap Commune in the Hautes-Alpes.
This event, now in its 110th year, is considered “mythical” by its supporters and appeals to its detractors.
“The conditions in which this rally was created in the 20th century are no longer the same today,” Hervé Gasdon, president of the Alpine Society for the Protection of Nature – France Nature Environnement Hautes Alpes (SAPN-FNE 05), told EURACTIV France.
“In view of climate change, holding this event sends an image that’s completely out of place,” he added.
More generally, the entire motorsport scene raises questions. The negative environmental impact of motor racing, whether in Formula 1 or rallying, has been the subject of strong criticism for many years.
While the very high fuel consumption of F1 racing cars is estimated at 45 litres per 100 kilometres, the fuel consumption of rally cars is more than 50 litres per 100 kilometres, according to SAPN-FNE 05. By way of comparison, private cars in France consume an average of 6.3 litres per 100 kilometres in 2018.
Motorsport on its way to becoming more green?
Aware of the bad image it sends out, the world of motorsport took up the challenge of becoming greener a few years ago.
In 2019, F1 announced its ambition to become carbon neutral by 2030, while the International Automobile Federation (FIA) inaugurated in 2013 its sustainable development programme, which accredits event organisers who commit to taking measures to reduce their impact on the environment.
The Monte Carlo Rally was certified by the FIA last March as being ecologically committed with the highest-level, three-star certification, Richard Micoud, head of communications of the Monaco Automobile Club told EURACTIV France.
Motorsport, in search of ever higher-performance cars, also leads manufacturers to innovate, including in the field of sustainable technologies, as explained in an article published in Racecar Engineering magazine. Advances in this area then often serve to improve the technologies used in everyone’s cars.
The sector is currently undergoing another revolution as it is moving towards the use of cleaner fuels and electricity.
For instance, not only will the main manufacturers of rally cars at WRC level be obliged to introduce hybrid engines from 2022, but Formula E, launched in 2014, is relying exclusively on electric racing cars.
And since 1995, the organisers of the Monte Carlo Rally have been offering a more ecological alternative to the traditional event – the Monte Carlo E-Rally, due to be held in May this year.
Spectators and modes of transport – a non-negligible carbon impact
However, the fuel consumption of racing vehicles, although impressively high, is responsible for only a tiny part of the impact that these sporting events have on the environment.
According to the American Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN), only 0.7% of the carbon impact of F1 in 2018 was generated by race cars – compared with 45% for the transport of material around the world.
A Swiss report published in 2013 also demonstrated the significant proportion of CO2 emissions generated by spectators travelling by car to attend rally events.
This should not play a role during the 2021 Monte Carlo Rally, which will take place without an audience, because of the pandemic, critics are also concerned about the mobilisation of security forces to ensure the smooth running of the event who “could be useful on other fronts” in the current health context.