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