FASTER, SAFER WRC FOR 2017
How new rules will help create the strongest car yet, say experts
Next year’s World Rally Cars will provide more protection for crews than any cars in the sport’s history, according to the FIA’S rally director Jarmo Mahonen.
A period of unparalleled alliance between the manufacturers and the sport’s governing body is expected to deliver cars which are safer to compete in and stages which are safer to watch from.
One of the primary concerns about next year’s all-new World Rally Cars is the safety of the crews. With more power and more downforce, the cars themselves will be faster than previous WRC machinery, forcing all the sport’s stakeholders to go further than ever to make it as safe as possible.
Volkswagen has taken the lead in generating side-impact data to share with all the teams – the German firm actually running a crash test of a Polo R WRC.
“What the manufacturers and Volkswagen has done is a great effort,” said Mahonen. “We fully support this work. If we can say this, I think the World Rally Cars for next year will be the safest ever from the point of view of the crew.
“Yes, they will be faster, but they will also be safer. When we realised the speed was going to go up and, of course, we all know that it will and we understand concerns about this, then we said: what can we do? We can do two things: work with the cars and work with the rallies to make the whole package in the World Rally Championship as safe as possible for next season.”
FIA president Jean Todt echoed those sentiments adding: “We always put a priority on safety, even if on rallying it is more difficult because contrary to circuit racing, where you work a lot on the design of the circuit, you cannot work on the design of the road in the same way.
“We have been working intensively on the car, and it’s not only linked to the safety of the teams, it’s also linked to the safety of the spectators. We are working very closely, hand in hand, with the organisers of every event and we are making some communication programme to educate the fans when they attend a rally, so we are engaged to make sure that rallying is as safe as we can make it.”
The FIA is working closer than ever with rally organisers via safety delegate Michele Mouton and this will go up another level next season when the nature of stages comes under closer inspection than ever.
Mahonen said: “Michele is talking to the organisers about the route they are using. We are looking at the fast sections in stages on the itinerary and we are working on a new approach to spectating on these rallies to see
what more we can do. We need to get into next year now. We need to see just how fast these cars are. Nobody can tell us definitively if they will be two seconds, three seconds per kilometre faster or how much quicker the corner speeds will be. We have looked at everything we can and worked with all the stakeholders and when January comes we will be keeping a very close eye on all of that.”
Volkswagen’s side-impact test involved sending a fully-prepared rally car sideways into a steel post at 25mph, 5mph more than the standard road car test. That extra speed more than doubled the energy loads inside the car and allowed engineers a greater understanding of what the crews will go through in such an accident and where the attention was needed.
Volkswagen technical director Francois-xavier Demaison said: “There was a real wish from the FIA to increase the size of the restrictor, for a faster and more spectacular car. So the only answer we came with was to push like hell – all the manufacturers together – to increase the safety. That’s what we have done. We have increased the foam next to the crew and reinforced the sills. Zero risk will never exist, but we have done as much testing and simulation as possible.
And all of that data has been shared with the manufacturers. It’s about using that extra width to make the cars safer again.”
Volkswagen’s Willy Rampf said: “This is not about performance, this is about safety and it’s in the interest of everybody – we are not giving away our secrets here.”
Side-impact is the main area of safety concern in rallying. Protection in this area has moved on considerably since Michael ‘Beef ’ Park died in such a crash on the 2005 Rally GB.
The areas the teams are working on now include a 30 per cent increase in the amount of impactabsorbing foam filling the space between the crews and the door bars in the roll cage and using the wider sills on the new cars to build in even more protection.
“The reinforcement in the sill is like an extra bar in the roll cage,” said Rampf, “and there’s now around 250mm of foam at the side. We have also worked on the seats to put more foam in there and moved the seats closer together, so the crew is further away from the door. Compared with 15 years ago, when there was no real head and neck or side protection, we’ve made a big step.
“We did a lot of preparation ahead of the crash test to help with the simulation work and the teams have all been very happy.”
While none of the drivers and co-drivers contacted by MN wanted to go on the record, several raised speed-related concerns about next season – particularly after Kris Meeke’s faster than ever WRC win in Finland last month.
One said: “We’ve all done the testing now and we all know how much faster we will be going in these roads than Meeke did. We have to make sure everything is working for the safety, it will be fast and, for sure, with the aero, the corner speed will be incredible too.”