Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery says the recent Monte Carlo Rally has highlighted the gap between the best drivers in the World Rally Championship and Intercontinental Rally Challenge.
Hembery, who was in France to see his company win the event courtesy of Mikko Hirvonen and the all-new Fiesta S2000, said it was the Finn and former Junior World Rally Champion Sebastien Ogier who really caught his eye.
"Those two [Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Ogier] were competing in a class of their own on the event," said Hembery. "They were a class apart from everybody. I think this provided food for thought about where the IRC and WRC are in terms of drivers.
"I was out there pretty much as a fan and I was interested to see how the drivers compared. I'm not knocking the IRC drivers, on the night they are still very good drivers but we had to recognize on the Monte that Mikko and Sebastien were a cut above. That's what you expect: the WRC is the pinnacle of the sport."
Hembery added that he hoped the two series could work together in the future. "I really think there's a good future in the two championships working together and the IRC feeding into the WRC," he said. "Yes, the WRC needs to raise its level, but we've only had a promoter for a few weeks – and people forget that North One Sport only took over as the WRC's official promoter at the start of this year – and there are steps to make. What the IRC does extremely well is get its message out there, the promotion of events is very good.
"IRC and WRC working together is the way forward. Why have two separate factions dispersing the energy? The two series don't need to get in each others' way. There's an opportunity to help the sport in general by finding a solution for the IRC to feed into the WRC, that's going to make everybody happy."