THE NEW BREED

THE WORLD RALLY CHAM­PI­ONSHIP HAS BROUGHT THE WILD BACK FOR 2017, DON’T YOU AGREE?

NZ Performance Car - - News - WORDS: AARON MAI PHO­TOS: MARTIN HANSSON, RED BULL

If you haven’t heard of Group B rally, get your­self straight to a com­puter and punch that shit into YouTube — then you’ll un­der­stand ex­actly why we’re so ex­cited about the re­cent changes to the World Rally Cham­pi­onship. Aaron Mai takes a look at how the ral­ly­ing world is wel­com­ing the new breed of World Rally cars — yep, they’ve re­verted to the good ol’ days of Group B.

The ral­ly­ing world wel­comed an ex­cit­ing new breed of World Rally car this Jan­uary in Monte Carlo, and it is clear that the sport has both taken a step back and made a huge leap for­ward in one fowl swoop. The World Rally Cham­pi­onship (WRC) will for­ever be de­fined and re­mem­bered by the mon­ster Group B days, which can only be summed up as a bal­let of bru­tal­ity. So, why is it that ral­ly­ing has seem­ingly re­verted back to the ‘good ol’ days’ of Group B?

It all started in 2014, when WRC or­ga­niz­ers sur­veyed fans about what di­rec­tion they wanted the sport to go in. Two as­pects of the feed­back re­ceived re­ver­ber­ated loud and clear with the WRC pro­mot­ers: the look and the feel of watch­ing the sport live. What rally needed was cars that were more pow­er­ful, dis­tinc­tive, and dra­matic — as, by 2016, the ve­hi­cles pro­duced much more grip than they did power, so a shake-up was well over­due.

When the new rules were an­nounced, en­gi­neers within the teams must have thought all their dreams had come true. Four key ar­eas would be ad­dressed — en­gine, aero, sus­pen­sion, and safety. In 2015, en­gi­neers from the four key man­u­fac­tur­ers — Ford, Citroën, Hyundai, and Toy­ota — got to work with a blank can­vas to re-ig­nite the wide-eyed wow fac­tor in the world of ral­ly­ing. Be­lieve it or not, tak­ing a step back to­wards the mon­ster Group B days has ac­tu­ally al­lowed the sport to be­come safer than it was in 2016.

En­gine-wise, the most no­tice­able im­prove­ment has been the turbo re­stric­tor plate, which has jumped from 33mm to 36mm, while be­ing run at 2.4 bar (36psi). This has meant a sig­nif­i­cant jump in power, from 224 to 283kW, and un­doubt­edly has changed the en­gine note to a much raspier bark — but also that the au­ral plea­sure brought by anti-lag back­fire has fi­nally been re­turned to for­est and moun­tain rally stages around the world.

Along with the power in­crease, the most no­tice­able change has been to the cars’ aero­dy­nam­ics. Teams were al­lowed a free zone around the pro­duc­tion shell to fit big­ger body­work, giv­ing the ve­hi­cles an ag­gres­sive new look, while chas­sis have gone on a diet, shed­ding 25kg. At the cars’ back end, there is now a rear dif­fuser that is al­lowed to pro­trude by 50mm, while the rear wing has gone from meek and mild to loud and proud.

Ex­pelling the heat around brakes has been dif­fi­cult to re­solve, with burn­ing brakes be­com­ing more and more com­mon­place at stage ends on tar­mac ral­lies. To rem­edy this, around the sides, the guards now in­clude open­ings to al­low brake cool­ing. The big safety im­prove­ment has been sand­wiched in be­tween th­ese guards, as the 55mm of ad­di­tional width has meant ad­di­tional side-in­tru­sion pro­tec­tion can be added, fur­ther pro­tect­ing the crew in the event of an ac­ci­dent. Ral­ly­ing has long been tor­mented by solid struc­tures and large trees lin­ger­ing mere cen­time­tres from the edge of the road. With the in­crease in speeds and cars hit­ting 220kph on gravel, safety is al­ways at the fore­front of ev­ery­one’s mind.

The last changes have oc­curred be­neath the cars, as en­gi­neers have been given to­tal kine­matic free­dom when de­sign­ing the front sus­pen­sion, which has largely af­fected damper length. The change won’t re­ally in­crease sus­pen­sion travel but will help to op­ti­mize sus­pen­sion for gravel.

The WRC also wel­comed back elec­tronic cen­tre dif­fer­en­tials. Last seen in 2010, they were scrapped thanks to rock­et­ing WRC costs. The front and rear dif­fer­en­tials re­main me­chan­i­cal in 2017,

With the cars hit­ting 220kph on gravel, safety is al­ways at the fore­front of ev­ery­one’s mind

but the ac­tive cen­tre diff al­lows less stress on drive­shafts and sees the cars cor­ner much more eas­ily on the tar­mac.

All the tech­ni­cal jar­gon and uncer­tainty was laid to rest on Jan­uary 19, when the icy, snow-clad moun­tains high above Monte Carlo re­ver­ber­ated to the sound of the new cars. It all added up to the mo­tor­sport equiv­a­lent of Bambi on ice. Four-time world cham­pion Sébastien Ogier was not the only one caught out on icy cor­ners, as all the driv­ers ad­justed to the new be­havioural traits ex­hib­ited by this year’s cars. Ogier took the round win be­fore mak­ing some hum­ble com­ments: “The feel­ing was pretty good. OK, it’s al­ways very hard to judge the per­for­mance, every­thing is new and it’s dif­fi­cult to know if we have enough per­for­mance in the tank, but I have a good feel­ing with the car.”

The driv­ers then went from a lack of grip to an abun­dance of it when they swapped the icy moun­tain roads of Monte Carlo for the frozen forests of Swe­den. Armed with 384 tung­sten-car­bide spikes in each Miche­lin tyre, the driv­ers pro­pelled their new WRC ma­chines down the icy roads at speeds over 190kph. This was a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence the new aero, as well as the thrill of 283kW. Rally Swe­den is well known for clock­ing the high­est av­er­age speed of the rally cal­en­dar, and this year proved it when Ott Tä­nak set an av­er­age speed of 140kph through SS12. To put that into per­spec­tive, he com­pleted the wind­ing 32-kilo­me­tre stage in 13 min­utes, and his av­er­age speed was 11kph faster than any car in the WRC since the Group B mon­sters of 1986. It seems that the proof of this new for­mat is in the pud­ding. We can only imag­ine that wit­ness­ing this in real life would leave the spec­ta­tor’s eyes hang­ing out on stalks, so pon­der, for a sec­ond, what it must be like inside the car, with the trees and scenery blast­ing past.

While the driv­ers came to grips with their new toys for 2017, how did us fans re­act to see­ing them slip and slide past us on the stages? Well, we love the new mega-ma­cho looks — whether you view them from the front or back, you can’t fail to be im­pressed by the cars’ ag­gres­sive ap­pear­ance. Ex­tra width has given them a gen­uinely mus­cu­lar look, while each man­u­fac­turer has taken a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to the re­laxed aero rules, and those rear wings are noth­ing short of im­pres­sive. The cars ap­pear to be very re­li­able and they sounded fan­tas­tic as well — the au­ral orches­tra many fans re­mem­ber is back.

So every­thing is shap­ing up for this new dawn of ral­ly­ing to bring a breath of fresh air to the sport, mixed with wafts of high­oc­tane fuel and show­ers of snow, gravel, and dust.

HYUNDAI 120 POWER: 280KW TORQUE: 450 NM WHEEL­BASE: 2,570 MM

FORD FI­ESTA POWER: 280KW TORQUE: 450 NM WHEEL­BASE: 2,493 MM

TOY­OTA YARIS POWER: 280KW TORQUE: 425 NM WHEEL­BASE: 2,511 MM

CITROEN C3 POWER: 280KW TORQUE: 400 NM WHEEL­BASE: 2,540 MM

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