Tanak: New WRC hybrid regulations will “make no difference”

Ott Tanak believes new reduced time penalties for hybrid failures will “make no difference” and there should be more focus on improving the control World Rally Championship hybrid units.

Tanak: New WRC hybrid regulations will “make no difference”

The Hyundai driver was the first to suffer a hybrid unit failure at February’s Rally Sweden, which under the sporting regulations, forced the team to retire the car on safety grounds.

Tanak was fighting for the lead of the rally when a red warning light appeared on the Compact Dynamics control unit, while his i20 was still operational.

In addition to the retirement, a 10 minute time penalty was issued, effectively ending any hopes of top 10 finish upon rejoining the event under restart rules the following day.

Since Sweden the WRC and the FIA has tweaked the regulations, reducing the penalty for a similar hybrid issue to two minutes per every stage missed, following calls from Hyundai, Toyota and M-Sport Ford.

If this new penalty was applied in Sweden, Tanak would have been able to fight for sixth position - salvaging crucial points.

Speaking ahead of this weekend’s Rally Croatia, where the new rules will make their debut, the 2019 world champion feels the crux of the issue has still not been addressed.

“The penalties have changed but obviously the issue is somewhere else,” said Tanak, who sits 41 points adrift of championship leader Kalle Rovanpera.

“The hybrid [systems] are not meant for rallying at the moment and I guess this is the topic we should look into not the penalties.

“If you get a penalty, it is still something that the manufacturers or teams can’t do anything differently, so it is not in our control, somebody else is controlling. The penalties make no difference.

“Rallying is a tough sport. If you are running these hybrid boxes they need to be meant for rallying. At the moment for sure they are not. They need to focus on improving these boxes so we can do a rally with them.

“My view is that we are focussing in the very wrong place. The guys are focussing on when we get the red flag but the focus should be that we don’t get the red flag.

“It is a funny situation as I had to retire in Sweden and still now they [Compact Dynamics] can’t give us a reason why we had to retire.”

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Romain Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

Hyundai deputy team director Julien Moncet confirmed his team are yet to fully understand what went wrong with Tanak’s hybrid unit in Sweden, following investigations from Compact Dynamics in the eight-week break since the event.

"There has been a lot of investigations done by Compact Dynamics of course but it is still a bit unclear as we speak,” Moncet told Autosport.

“Compact Dynamics have done many investigations and we have worked on the car to improve everything and so on, but the root cause for the issues is still unknown as we speak, so we cannot exclude that it will happen again. It is a concern as we don’t want this to happen.”

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Toyota’s Elfyn Evans suffered a similar issue to that of Tanak in Sweden, although in his case the Welshman was unable to turn on the hybrid unit after an accident. The box displayed no lights meaning the team was unsure if the system was safe to use or not.

Last year’s runner-up believes it is difficult for a solution to be found, but did reveal a fix has been found if a hybrid system fails to show any lights during future events.

“We all knew this could be a potential issue come the start of the year with a part that is the same for everyone,” said Evans. “It is always going to seem a bit more harsh when it is something outside of the team’s control.

“I don’t know if there is a true solution to it with the regulations how they are. It is a very difficult.

Referring to his scenario in Sweden, he added: “We know the light was not showing which was the biggest issue. We were not able to turn it on and therefore there was no indication of whether it was safe or not.

“I believe that issue has been rectified for the future at least in that the system should now show that it is safe at all times regardless of if it is on or not.”

M-Sport has so far avoided a hybrid unit failure similar to those suffered by rivals Hyundai and Toyota. However, after consultation with fellow teams a fair penalty has been reached, according to team principal Richard Millener.

“I’m in agreement of it,” said Millener. “We looked at one minute or two minutes as a discussion point and we thought two minutes was fairer. Two minutes is effectively what you would get for a [stopping to fix a] puncture.

“We have had a very short development period for the car and the technology and there will be things we have to look at on the way through.”

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