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Analysis

Analysis: What the FIA's radical changes could mean for WRC

The wheels are now in motion for a radical overhaul of the World Rally Championship following the release of the FIA's vision for the future of top-level rallying.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1, Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1, Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

The FIA’s unveiling of its concept for the future is extensive, featuring changes to the technical rules, sporting regulations and right down to the promotion of the WRC. The overhaul has been led by a working group created by the FIA last December and headed up by FIA deputy president Robert Reid and former WRC team boss David Richards. An FIA fan survey, that attracted more than 11,000 responses, has also contributed data to help the decision-making process.

The group’s aim was to address the future of the WRC that has seen its top Rally1 class entries drop below 10 cars this year. Ultimately Rally1 has failed in its objective to attract a new marque to the WRC, but it has kept the current players Toyota, Hyundai and Ford through M-Sport committed.

Some of these changes revealed at Wednesday’s World Motor Sport Council will take effect from next season, meaning the current Rally1 hybrid rules won’t complete the five-year homologation cycle Hyundai, Toyota and M-Sport Ford signed up for.

How the WRC cars may change

Plenty of the debate surrounded the future of the Rally1 class, with suggestions the successful Rally2 class could become the top tier, or the creation of a Rally2 Plus class would usurp Rally1.

The big news is that Rally1 will continue next year but without the hybrid power element that was a key staple of the original regulations and important in keeping the current manufacturers committed to the category. Next year the control 100kW hybrid units will be removed from the current cars that will also feature a reduction in the air restrictor and aerodynamics, but will still be powered by 100% sustainable fuel.

While the removal of the hybrid will decrease the weight of the cars by 87 kilograms, the overall performance will be less. The combination of the 1.6 litre turbo internal combustion engine and hybrid resulted in the cars producing 500 horsepower in short bursts, making them the fastest cars ever, and the safest thanks to a new tougher space frame chassis.

Grégoire Munster, Louis Louka, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Grégoire Munster, Louis Louka, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

While ditching hybrid power is a seismic rule change, the FIA has already allowed teams to run Rally1 cars without hybrid this year as part of a new regulation, although entries are not eligible to score championship points. This is yet to be exercised by competitors. 

The FIA has previously openly admitted that the cost of the Rally1 cars exceeded its original target, ballooning to almost €1m euros a car. Costs needed to be addressed and these proposed changes for 2025, which will be ratified in June, will achieve that to some degree.

The removal of the hybrid will drop costs per car by €150,000 and could entice more privateers to compete. It will benefit teams like M-Sport where selling cars is key to the company’s business model having only sold one Rally1 car to date.

But changes to aero will no doubt inflict more costs on the teams to develop new parts for 2025 with time very much ticking on that front. And for those that have invested funds in hybrid power for the five-year cycle, they will no doubt be aggrieved by this wasted expenditure.

“As a manufacturer, for sure we would be very sad seeing category in which we have massively invested in and continue to believe in disappearing before the end of its planned homologation cycle,” Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul previously told Autosport. The Korean brand is currently working on a development of its i20N Rally1 car for next year.

The changes will extend beyond 2025 with the FIA revealing plans for a whole new set of regulations based around the “current Rally1 concept” to be introduced in 2026. On paper, the aim is to use “a common safety cell to reduce costs” and allow “manufacturers and tuners to develop their own cars with their own bodywork based on production models, including B, C segment cars, SUVs or a concept car”.

The target is for these cars to produce around 330 horsepower, similar to previous World Rally Car era regulations, with the costs capped at €400,000. In many ways this is a Rally2 Plus or a Rally1 Minus category, depending on your viewpoint.

In principle, this idea ticks a lot of boxes and its versatility in car body types has the potential to attract manufacturers to the WRC. However, a key element for marques will be how they can align it to their current road car market strategy with electric and hybrid still very much at the forefront in the rapidly changing automotive industry.

Mikko Heikkkilä, Kristian Temonen, Toyota GR Yaris Rally2

Mikko Heikkkilä, Kristian Temonen, Toyota GR Yaris Rally2

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

From a cost point of view, that is almost half of the current Rally1 price and €100,000 more than a current Rally2 car, so it could prove attract to privateers. The challenge here will be for the current teams and new prospective marques to design and construct cars within this timeframe, with two years estimated as the ideal period to develop car from scratch. Ensuring the costs don’t exceed the €400,000 limit will also present its own complexities.

Intriguingly, the FIA announcement says these proposed regulations “will run alongside the current Rally1 regulations” but it is unclear exactly what that entails. From a fan point of view, the cars may be slower than the current Rally1, but should still be spectacular and not damage the appeal of the overall product.

In addition to these changes, there is a move to reduce the performance gap between Rally2 and Rally1 cars courtesy of a kit featuring a larger restrictor and exhaust and new rear wing. Exactly how this fits into the strategy is unclear as depending on the cost of the kit it could be worth opting for a Rally1 car instead. But as the FIA has stipulated, this is merely a concept with the full details to arrive in due course.

Finally, to outline its forward-thinking process the FIA wishes to introduce an electric powered class “at the earliest opportunity” that can achieve “equivalent performance” compared with Rally1 cars. This is interesting and keeps the door open on alternative power while the automotive industry is in a state of flux as to its future pathway.

Even among the current teams opinion was divided, so the FIA has been forced to find a compromise to solve the WRC’s tricky key issues. Whether this has achieved its intended target remains to be seen, but it represents a start in addressing the WRC’s future.

How WRC events could change

While the technical regulation changes have grabbed the headlines, the raft of proposals to improve the sporting side of the WRC are likely to also have a big impact on the championship.

The WRC has been pushing to reform its event format for a long time now, with moves to add flexibility to the length of rallies by reducing the maximum stage kilometres from the previous 300km target. This was submitted to the WMSC last year but was unsuccessful on that occasion. However, it appears that will change moving forward.

The FIA has stated event organisers will have more “freedom when developing the route of their rally” and that “the global calendar may include a small number of shorter sprint-style and longer endurance events in addition to the rallies that follow the existing format”.

Another key detail in the FIA’s vision is a move “to allow organisers to adopt less rigid formats, reduce liaison section distances and spread the reach of events, remote service opportunities will be encouraged with teams permitted to carry limited parts in a small support vehicle”.

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

It has also clarified that events will continue to conclude on Sundays and timed mileage completed over the season overall will remain unchanged. This means iconic endurance events such as Safari Rally Kenya could in theory offer a format a step closer to the gruelling challenge of the past, while other events adopt more of a sprint style.

This change will likely be met positively by all stakeholders as it allows events to have their own identity and provide a more varied narrative over the season. The championship has come in for criticism from drivers given the rigidity of the event formats and the length of liaison sections. It appears the FIA has attempted to address concerns raised by the drivers and co-drivers last year.

Fans won’t have to wait long for a glimpse of the new “sprint-style” format, as Sardinia has received a waiver from the FIA to trial its new 48-hour (266km) concept this year.

The expansion of remote services and the use of a support vehicle will also benefit teams in keeping cars competing in rallies and will reduce liaison distances incurred by returning to a central service park. Currently crews are limited in what they can repair on the car at remote services as they can only use materials carried inside the car.

The cost saving approach, central to the changes proposed for technical regulations moving forward, has been continued into the sporting regulations too. The current lavish service park structures, most notably adopted by Toyota and Hyundai, will be consigned to history in favour of locally sourced structures. This has been on the WRC’s agenda for a while and will no doubt save costs for teams in both acquiring structures and reduce transportation costs around the globe. It also provides a tick in the sustainability box.

Exactly when all of these sporting changes will be implemented is subject to the FIA, but on paper they appear to be positive moves for the championship.

Improving the promotion of the WRC

Interestingly there was a third arm to the FIA’s future vision for the WRC, this being the promotion of the championship. The series’ visibility in the global sporting sphere has been criticised by drivers, teams and fans alike, a factor that has gathered momentum given the boom in popularity Formula 1 is enjoying.

Fans

Fans

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

The FIA appears to have taken note of this announcing plans to create a WRC Promotion Team to work in close collaboration with the championship’s current promoter WRC Promoter, event organisers and manufacturer teams. Again, exactly how this will operate remains unclear, but if utilised correctly it could make a difference.

The FIA states its aim is “to leverage promotional opportunities around each event and maximise the WRC’s full potential”.

Key to achieving this is the creation of “a WRC Charter” that will define a set of commitments from all stakeholders to promote the WRC to a wider audience against an agreed set of objectives and KPIs: “This coordinated approach will leverage the expertise of each party in order to promote the WRC outside its current fan base as one of the foremost motorsport championships in the world.”

It is a bold vision but proof the FIA is thinking about growing the WRC’s fanbase which is a crucial element that can increase the championship’s value in the eyes of manufacturers.

The FIA’s vision for the WRC is extensive and if the targets can be achieved it could offer a bright future for the championship.

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