The World Rally Championship is going to be significantly different next year and for the better and here's how FIA says the new cars could look like:
While I may not have been alive when the legendary Group B cars zipped past the stages in Europe and elsewhere, I vividly remember re-runs of rally cars like the Subaru Imprezas, Toyota Corollas and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions on Ten Sportsback when I was still in school. In 2011, the FIA introduced new regulations that were restrictive in nature and with that started the decline of this discipline of motorsports. Here's a couple of videos of Group B cars:
The Audi Quattro could quite possibly be the best rally car the world has ever seen.
Gone are the days when Tommi Makinen, Colin McRae, Sebastian Loeb, Peter Solberg and Marcus Gronholm battling out stage after stage.
In 2013, Volkswagen entered WRC by fielding the new VW Polo R WRC car with Frenchman Sebastian Ogier at the helm. This team has dominated WRC in the last four years with Ogier claiming the championship on the two for four years. Unfortunately, VW had to bow out of the WRC following the dieselgate scandal and that has left Ogier with no race seat for the next season. Or has it?
Back in July this year, the World Motorsport Council in Mexico City approved the new technical and homologation regulations that promises to make the sport more appealing to the fans and audiences around the globe by making the cars more powerful and by letting the manufacturers adopt a more individual and dramatic body shells. Rallying fans around the world will tell you that the sport started declining post-millennium and if you look at the brutal machines from the 1960s to the 90s, it’s not hard to see why. Current WRC cars seem to be having a tough time exciting long-time fans with their boring styling. These cars also demand to be driven with a smoother, less flamboyant driving style compared to the Group-B cars like the Audi Sport Quattro, Ford RS200 and the Lancia Stratos and the Group-A cars like the Lancia Integrale, the Subaru Impreza and the much-loved Mitsubishi Lancer Evo) rally cars that created legends. The current generation of rally cars did provide some incredible drivers like Sebastien Ogier, Mads Ostberg and Thierry Neuville to name a few but the lack of drama in the championship was taking its toll on the audiences. The new regulations are meant to change the visual aspect of these rallies at least. So what are the changes? For starters, the new cars will get more power thanks to a larger 36mm turbo restrictor to the current 1.6-litre engine that bumps up power to 380bhp from the earlier three hundred. FIA has promised that the new turbos should make the WRC cars as fast as WTCC cars. A new aerodynamics package will allow a larger rear wing, 55mm increase in width and greater overhangs at the front and the rear.
A free zone defined around the bodyshell of the production car could see a front bumper overhang by an additional 60mm, potentially also with additional aero devices ahead of the front wheels, while the rear overhang can be increased by an extra 30mm. Bigger door sills will also be permitted. The fixed rear wing can be dramatically increased in size and while the rear diffuser will have maximum permitted dimensions, the shape will be free and may protrude up to 50mm from the rear bumper. The WRC car will be issued from a production car from which the overall homologated length must be greater than or equal to 3.9 metres, potentially adding further opportunities for manufacturers. - Source: FIA
The 2017 cars will also be 25kg lighter than the current cars and will also use electronically-controlled centre differentials. This will be the closest the famed championship has got to the days of Group B since the legendary class was banned in 1987.
FIA technical director Bernard Niclot says that the changes are aimed at making the cars spectacular while being mindful of costs and maintaining the same level of safety. Current champion, Sebastian Ogier, seems to be happy with the decision. He was quoted as saying, “As a racing driver you are always looking for more performance…the extra power will definitely make the driving more spectacular for the fans.”
M-Sport has revealed a prototype of their 2017 Ford Fiesta WRC car and it looks bloody fast!
Image Source: Motorsport.com
“Defining the principles has been an extensive but very rewarding process,” said Jarmo Mahonen, FIA Rally Director. “All of the sport’s stakeholders have been involved to ensure we meet commercial, marketing and promotional objectives, while at the same time recognising what our fans want to see. The cars will look dramatic and have more character; such are the freedoms we hope to see defined in the final technical regulations. Seeing one of these cars in action will really set the heart racing and that’s exactly what was intended.” - Source: FIA
The sad news, however, is that unlike Group B cars that had road-going equivalents that have now become legends, these new cars won’t have road-going versions. Group A cars also gave the world the best performance cars of the 90s like the Ford Escort Cosworth, Lancia Integrale Evos, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions and the Toyota Celica GT-Fours. While the new cars might look dramatic on rally stages, there weill be very little to link with your road-going Ford Fiesta ST or Skoda Fabia and that, to me at least, is quite a loss.
A couple of hours after I started this thread, M-Sport announced that the reigning world champion will drive for the team for the 2017 season. While it is learnt that Ogier has signed a contract, there isn't any clarity on the duration of his contract. Ott Tanak will be the lead driver for M-Sport. The third driver for the team hasn't been announced yet. Previous team leader Mads Ostberg was left out of the announcement creating speculation about his future in the team. Ostberg racked up the most number of points for any Fiesta WRC driver in the 2016 season. There has been no word about the involvement of Red Bull with Ogier as well. With Malcolm Wilson, the director of M-Sport, stating unconditionally that the new Fiesta WRC is the best rally car they have ever built, it is almost certain that the team is going to dominate the next season with Ogier and Tanak.
NikilSJ I always loved the Quattros of the yore. The cars, the impeccable teamwork, and the terrain truly tested the limits of precision and speed. The ballsy crowd spoke volumes about the love for the sport (apart from the fact that it was extremely dangerous). I always held rallying in high esteem because I never failed to acknowledge the unpredictability of driving dynamics, the complexity of the physics involved in controlling a big car through gravel, road, snow and whatnot. Oh, and not to mention the mad, mad jumps and sideways action! Yes, the lack of linkage of road-going cars to these rally-spec ones is disappointing for me too. I grew up watching Esteems rallying in Indian circuits and I always had that feeling of coolness that the road-going Esteem could be a potent car! Same goes for the Evos and Imprezas.