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WRC: future prospects after FIA decisions

neuville swe 23

The primary objective of this review was to address the challenge of declining entries in the Rally1 class, which fell below 10 cars last season. Despite Rally1 maintaining the presence of current brands like Toyota, Hyundai, and Ford through M-Sport, it failed to attract new manufacturers to the WRC.

The International Automobile Federation (FIA) has recently unveiled its ambitious plan for the future of the World Rally Championship (WRC). This detailed presentation resulted from an extensive review of technical rules and sporting regulations, extending to the promotion of the WRC itself, led by a task force composed of industry experts.

The task force, established last December and led by FIA Vice President Robert Reid and former WRC team principal David Richards, played a crucial role in analyzing the present and future of the WRC. Additionally, a survey conducted among FIA fans garnered over 11,000 responses, providing valuable data to guide the decision-making process.

The primary objective of this review was to address the challenge of declining entries in the Rally1 class, which fell below 10 cars last season. Despite Rally1 maintaining the presence of current brands like Toyota, Hyundai, and Ford through M-Sport, it failed to attract new manufacturers to the WRC.

The presentation to the World Motor Sport Council outlined a series of significant changes that will take effect as soon as next season. Among the most notable innovations is the decision to remove the hybrid power element from the Rally1 class. This move, although surprising, was considered crucial to maintaining the current manufacturers’ interest in the category.

As a result, the 100 kW hybrid control units will be removed from current cars, which will also undergo a reduction in air restrictor and aerodynamics. However, the cars will continue to be powered by 100% sustainable fuel, maintaining a positive ecological footprint.

The removal of hybrid technology will result in a significant reduction in car weight, equivalent to 87 kilograms. However, overall performance will decrease, as the combination of the 1.6-liter turbo internal combustion engine and hybrid system allowed cars to achieve 500 horsepower in short bursts, making them the fastest and safest ever thanks to the new, more robust Space Frame chassis.

While there were debates surrounding the future of the Rally1 class, with suggestions that the Rally2 class could take on a predominant role or that a new Rally2 Plus class could replace it, the FIA’s decision to keep Rally1 with significant changes reflects the willingness to adapt to current needs without completely overhauling the landscape of the world rally.

The future of the WRC is full of challenges and opportunities. The decisions made by the FIA reflect a willingness to adapt and a search for balance between technological innovation, environmental sustainability, and maintaining the interest of fans and manufacturers in the WRC. It remains to be seen how these changes will affect the landscape of world rallying and what new challenges and successes they will bring in the seasons to come.

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Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Epochal changes and new horizons

One of the most significant changes is the abandonment of hybrid power in Rally1 cars, a move that represents a real turning point in the championship’s rules. However, this decision was not taken lightly: the FIA has already allowed teams to run Rally1 cars without hybrid, although such entries are not eligible to score points in this year’s championship.

The high cost of Rally1 cars has been a fundamental point of discussion. With a cost exceeding one million euros per car, the FIA found itself needing to intervene to make the competition more accessible and sustainable. The proposed changes for 2025, to be ratified in June, aim to reduce overall costs. The removal of hybrid, for example, will result in a cost reduction of around 150,000 euros per car, potentially making the competition more attractive to privateers.

However, while the elimination of hybrid may reduce costs, changes in aerodynamics may instead increase them. Teams will need to develop new parts for 2025, which could entail additional expenses and logistical challenges, especially considering the limited time available.

Reactions from current teams have been varied. While for some, like M-Sport, cost reduction could represent an opportunity to increase Rally1 car sales, for others like Hyundai, which has heavily invested in hybrid, the changes could lead to significant financial losses.

The FIA has also announced plans for a completely new series of regulations based on the current Rally1 concept, to be introduced in 2026. This new series aims to use a common safety cell to further reduce costs and allow manufacturers to develop their own cars based on existing production models. However, the challenges of designing and building cars within the cost limit, set at 400,000 euros, remain significant.

Another bold move by the FIA is the proposal to introduce an electric-powered class that can compete on par with Rally1 cars. This reflects the FIA’s commitment to keeping the competition in line with the automotive industry’s evolution towards more sustainable propulsion systems.

The FIA is addressing the challenges of the future of the WRC with determination and foresight. The proposed changes represent an attempt to find a balance between financial sustainability, technological innovation, and competitiveness. It remains to be seen how these decisions will influence the world rallying landscape and whether they will keep the exciting tradition of the WRC alive in the coming years.

thierry neuville, rally sweden 2023
Hyundai i20 Rally1

How will WRC rallies change?

The World Rally Championship (WRC) is on the brink of an epochal transformation, not only on the technical front but also in terms of sportsmanship. One of the most significant proposals is the flexibility in the duration of rallies, with a reduction in the maximum kilometers of the stage compared to the previous target of 300 km. Although this request was unsuccessfully presented to the WMSC last year, it seems that the tide is turning in favor of greater adaptability in the rally calendar.

The FIA has stated that event organizers will have greater freedom in developing the routes for their rallies. This could lead to the introduction of a limited number of shorter sprint events and longer endurance events, complementing the existing format. This variety could give events a greater identity and offer a more diverse narrative throughout the season, responding to the demands of drivers and fans for greater diversity and challenge.

Another significant innovation is the introduction of a more flexible format for events, with the possibility of reducing the distances of liaison sections and expanding remote service opportunities. This will be made possible by the use of a support vehicle to transport limited parts, allowing teams to keep their cars in competition during rallies and reducing the distances to the central service park.

Cost-saving is central to these proposals, with a transition from luxurious service park structures to locally sourced facilities. This will not only reduce costs for teams but also the environmental impact of the championship, marking an important step towards sustainability.

The new “sprint-style” format will soon be tested in Sardinia, where the FIA has granted a waiver to experiment with the new 48-hour concept. This will give fans the opportunity to preview the potential of this innovative approach.

While the exact timing of the implementation of these changes depends on the FIA, on paper, they seem like positive moves for the WRC. Adapting to the needs of drivers, reducing costs, and introducing greater variety in event formats promise to reinvigorate the competition and keep the excitement of rallying alive. It remains to be seen how these changes will translate on the ground, but enthusiasm is palpable as the WRC prepares for a new and captivating chapter in its history.

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Ford Puma Rally1

But will the promotional front be as successful?

One of the main points of criticism that sparked discussions was the visibility of the WRC compared to other motorsport competitions, such as Formula 1, which enjoyed an unprecedented boom in popularity. Drivers, teams, and fans raised the issue, prompting the FIA to formulate a strategy to revitalize the championship’s image and appeal.

The FIA recognized the need to elevate the visibility of the WRC on the global sports scene, and the FIA’s response was decisive: the intention to create a WRC promotion team that works closely with the current championship promoter, event organizers, and manufacturer teams. While the exact details of how this team will operate have yet to emerge, the goal is clear: to maximize the potential of the WRC by leveraging promotional opportunities at every event.

At the heart of this initiative is the creation of a “WRC Charter,” a document that will establish a series of commitments by all parties involved to promote the championship to a broader audience. This coordinated approach, based on goals and key performance indicators (KPIs), aims to grow the WRC fan base beyond its current size.

It is a bold vision, but also necessary to grow the value of the championship in the eyes of manufacturers and investors. The FIA aims to make the WRC one of the most important motorsport championships in the world, and to do so, it is necessary to engage all stakeholders in a common commitment to promote the championship globally.

The FIA’s broad and ambitious vision for the WRC offers a bright future for the championship. If the set goals are achieved, the WRC could enjoy greater visibility, attract new fans, and become one of the most beloved and followed motorsport competitions in the world.

The rally world is preparing for an era of growth and success, guided by the determination and vision of the FIA to promote the WRC to new heights. It remains to be seen how this strategy will translate into practice, but the excitement is palpable as the WRC prepares for a radiant and promising future. And let’s hope that they are kept at the time of drafting the regulations.