Driver ColumnsInterviewsRallySam Tickell (Editor)WRC

The 2020s for the WRC: Part 1 the challenges of the car

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The World Rally Championship is at a crossroads. As is pretty much every major motorsport category in the world.

The current generation cars have been a hit but times are changing quickly and the FIA and WRC have an effort to keep up. By Sam Tickell for RacerViews.com

There are three major issues to get to grips with 1) the cars (i.e. decreasing the ecological footprint of the sport; matching the marketing and tech demands of manufacturers; and fending off environmental activists); 2) reaching the markets that manufacturers demand (given the addiction to manufacturer dollars that global motorsport currently has); and 3) how to reach fans in an increasingly fragmented and challenging media landscape.

The WRC Promoter does number three very well. A global stream that is not geoblocked. A free product available on Red Bull TV. Increasing amounts of pay and free tv deals around the world. This quite excellent interview from Blackbook Motorsports highlights the approach from WRC Promoter – and this will also be the focus of future articles here on RacerViews.

The events too are a concern. F1 is looking at going towards more rounds which draws concerns from their teams. WRC too lies in with this problem. The rounds and where they are held as they balance their decade. This will be the focus of part 2 of our feature.

The cars

But what of the rest? First thing is first. The cars. We lost Citroen for the 2020 season and we are due for new cars in 2022. With the final ruleset now available at the moment, the timeline to design these new cars is short.

We spoke to the three team bosses at Rallye Monte-Carlo with Tommi Mäkinen, Rich Milliner and Andrea Adamo all commenting, all assuring that there is movement and their relative manufacturers all are putting pressure on the matter.

There have been a few cars rumoured – a full on WRC hybrid, with a ticket price of around a million euros. Then the fall-back, the R5 with a hybrid. It is a challenging prospect. And it has been documented that keeping an internal combustion engine is not an option for manufacturer support.

But where does it go from here?

Citroen originally showcased a hybrid car in the C4 days. Courtesy of Citroen

As M-Sport’s Rich Millener says the base plan is fairly simple. “If you’re thinking you want to introduce a car in 2022, then you have to have a full set of regs finished. You have to have a full set of regs finished pretty quickly you because you have the rest of this year to design next year to build and test and then you start.”

But there are challenges. This is where things get tough for rallying. We see in F1 where they have had a few years of hybrids, they have been able to develop systems and procedures for cars with hybrid systems if they crash. That is a sport where things are much more controlled than in rally.

There is also a point to make that the battery technology caused fire in the MotoE paddock and KERS had its fair share of fires in F1 – notably after Pastor Maldonado’s win for Williams in Spain. But suffice to say, the technology has come a long way from there.

But to go to rallying presents a new set of challenges.

“These high voltage electric systems, from a safety point of view they can give big challenges. You have to control the people in the stages where they can touch the cars. We have to consider the logistic matters of transporting the high voltage items. It is very difficult and expensive compared to the current system,” Tommi Mäkinen from Toyota Gazoo Rally Team said.

Opel have developed an eRally car for debut later this year. It should fit in round the Rally4 pace. Courtsy of Opel

But the times are changing and road going cars are changing. Just recently we heard that the UK Government is banning petrol and diesel engined cars from sale from 2035.

It places pressure on the FIA as Makinen continues.

“The regulation itself is good at the moment. Of course, there are some green items which are bringing some big pressure to the FIA at the moment. I hope this discussion with the manufacturers and everybody provides the way to agree the way to go forward and where to be in the future.”

“The question is how to keep the costs down enough to keep manufacturers interested and to get some new members.”

Millener has pointed to the exit of Citroen and how that has been felt in the paddock as a reason to take it seriously. M-Sport were the ones, with their French competitors that kept the Championship going for years. They do have that experience to question whether it is a Championship if you were to lose one or two more manufacturers.

He also gives some context to the future conditions that rallying will be operating in.

First with the non-WRC cars.

“You have to remember R5, R2 and Rally 3, when that comes along, will be based on road production cars. By then 90% of your road production cars will have some form hybrid in them. So, again, we can’t ignore that. It will become easier to just utilise that system already and modify it for rallying but we need to get the top step done first.”

An R5 variant is possible but not desired by those at the top of the WRC. Shot by Sam Tickell for RacerViews.com

With the issue laid out by FIA Rally Director Yves Matton, the first wish is to have a bespoke WRC machine, like we have now – not a R5 variant.

Millener explains why a bespoke WRC machine is important.

“I think the key is to try to find a way to keep a top flight series different to the R5 cars. R5 cars make a great Championship and that is what the European Rally Championship is now. But you always want the World Championship to be the top level drivers in the best cars. You don’t want to run the risk of losing another manufacturer.”

It was noted that in the past the WRC cars were based on an S2000 machine and the R5 car could do this with extra power and different aerodynamics but there did not seem to be much enthusiasm from the team management for this solution.

As for the time frame, all the teams would like more time but the general feeling was outlined by Adamo.

“At the moment, this is not the matter for a journalist. It would be nice to see the rules”

“We are working very well with the FIA, the matters are being phased. Let me say, we are working well with them and we are not worried.”

Lessons will have to be learnt from other series. The FIA WEC had up to 5 cars (Audi, Porsche, Toyota, Nissan, Peugeot) but due to costs and corporate pressures, many of these teams fell away and they now have just Toyota

In any way, it is a tough time for the FIA technical team and the WRC Promoter to establish these new rules and encourage current and future manufacturers to enter the series. From there, they will have a task to sell these cars to the fans.

But in the end, what we can see from this angle, is an appetite for a bespoke WRC car and the need – at least from a manufacturer view – for hybridisation.

The WRC has enjoyed a golden period over the current rule set. Yes the cars have been expensive but they captured the imagination. Originally there were five manufacturers. Now we have three. To keep the momentum, to continue the golden period will depend heavily on this rule set.

 

Next up. Next week we will look at the calendar and why that is important for the WRC future success.

The RacerViews info

By Sam Tickell

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