Channel 4 is set to revolutionise TV coverage of the World Rally Championship when it takes over the UK television rights for the start of the 2002 season in January.

With Richard Burns, the first English winner of the championship in 2001, and Scot Colin McRae, the runner-up, set to continue their bitter rivalry, the sport is poised to enter the top rank of TV sport.

Channel 4 will devote more coverage to the sport than ever before with same-day primetime coverage of all three days of the 14 rallies in the Championship from around the world. There will be 30 minutes on Friday evenings, plus hour-long programmes on Saturday and Sunday. There is also a Saturday preview a week before, meaning 3 hours of coverage for each rally and more than 60 programmes over the year.

And new technology means that the channel can bring viewers closer to the action than was possible before. 'Virtual Spectator' uses advanced in-car 'black boxes' and computer game graphics to show cars racing head to head, while more in-car cameras and mikes give the driver's point of view on the action.

For Channel 4 Head of Sport, David Kerr, the sport is ripe to be re-invented. He said: "The World Rally Championship is the greatest global adventure on four wheels. It is a truly worldwide challenge, ranging from the African bush of Kenya to the snowy forests of Sweden, and the mountains of Argentina to the mists of Wales. There is no tougher test of a driver's skills than WRC."

"It is the first major sport we have taken on since we acquired cricket in 1999. We want to apply that same fresh brand of presentation to the sport to bring it to a wider audience."

The programming will be produced by award winning Independent Chrysalis Television, who are also responsible for ITV's Formula 1 coverage, Channel 4's Football Italia and the global WRC TV output.

Presenting will be Jon Desborough in the rally-side studio, roving reporters Penny Mallory (Channel 4's Driven) and Jeremy Hart at the stages and in the service area and Robbie Head (former test driver for Richard Burns) offering expert analysis.

"We can go much further with World Rally to recreate this massively popular sport as a television experience - in large part thanks to the lead taken by the ISC who control worldwide TV rights," says Kerr. "Until now the coverage has, by necessity, been largely reportage with generic shots of the cars and a voice over. Broadcasters just haven't been able to do the sport justice."

"With the same-day, peak time scheduling and the presenters in the thick of the action from around the world, fans will be able to follow the action as it unfolds and in more depth."

"The new technology can actually add to the television experience - getting viewers into the cars and showing the drivers going head to head on a virtual track. It means that the millions of fans of the computer rally games will feel much more at home watching Channel 4's coverage."

David Richard, Chairman of ISC is looking forward to a new broadcasting partnership with Channel 4. He noted: "Compelling TV content is critical to transform the World Rally Championship and broaden its appeal to a mass market audience."

"At ISC we are committed to ensuring we are working with the right broadcasters and partners to enable the sport to make this jump on a global scale. One of the reasons we are so delighted to be working with Channel 4 is that they share our passion and belief in delivering the excitement, drama and diversity of the World Rally Championship to a well-established and brand new fan base. On top of that, they have both the belief in the quality of the TV product to commit to prime-time TV slots, while use of creative marketing techniques, as they do with cricket, will bring awareness levels of World Rally in the UK to new highs."

"With the launch of the official WRC PlayStation 2 game we have a whole new opportunity to communicate to an entirely new audience who've been brought up on Play Station, while the gift of the first-ever English World Rally Champion means this is a sport about to capture the hearts and minds of millions of Brits."

Neil Duncanson, Executive Producer of WRC coverage for Chrysalis Television believes that the channel's timing could not be better. He added: "This really is a unique opportunity, a happy convergence of a sport that has been completely reborn, married to a committed broadcaster and new TV technologies - and now a British World Champion too."

Channel 4's World Rally coverage begins with the Monte Carlo Rally in January 2002.