The high-tech, high-performance cars that compete in the FIA World Rally Championship are the all-rounders of the motorsport world.
Although they are based on standard road cars and are identifiable with the type of car that you buy in your local dealership, that is where the similarities stop.
They are capable of astonishing achievements on surfaces ranging from rocky and pot-holed dirt tracks to twisty and narrow asphalt lanes or rutted roads covered in snow and ice.
Cars must maintain peak performance in conditions where temperatures can plunge to near -30C at one round and soar to almost 30C above freezing on the next.
There are several categories within the WRC, the fastest and most spectacular being for World Rally Cars. These cars are stripped from a basic road vehicle to a bare metal shell before being completely rebuilt.
All unnecessary brackets and mounting plates are removed to save weight and after around 700 hours of work, the shell emerges vastly stronger and stiffer than before.
The support categories are increasingly less modified than the headline-grabbing WRC cars but one thing that all rally cars have in common is that they are fitted with a steel tubular roll cage to provide maximum protection in the event of a crash.
What – the major support series in WRC and the final stepping stone to the headline WRC category. Launched in 2013 through the merger of SWRC and PWRC, it contains powerful four-wheel drive cars built under various technical rules. Power and performance are balanced through air restrictors and minimum weight stipulations.
The FIA Production Car Cup (now in its 27th season) forms part of WRC 2 and is awarded to the top WRC 2 crew driving a Group N car.
Look out for – Ford Fiesta R5, Citroen DS3 RRC, Ford Fiesta RRC, Peugeot 208 T16 R5 (due for homologation on 1 March 2014), Citroen DS3 R5 (due for homologation on 1 March 2014), Mini John Cooper Works RRC, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, Subaru Impreza WRX, Ford Fiesta S2000, Skoda Fabia S2000.
Getting technical –
Open to four-wheel drive cars in the new RC2 class which are built to one of the following five technical regulations.
- R5: Powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine with a 32mm restrictor and using a five-speed gearbox. The price is capped at 180,000 Euros to ensure cheaper, more standard parts are used.
- S2000: Powered by either a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine with a 30mm restrictor or a 2.0-litre normally aspirated unit.
- Regional Rally Cars: Powered by the same engines and transmissions as the World Rally Cars, but power is restricted by a smaller 31mm restrictor.
- R4: Powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, closely related to the road cars on which they are based. They use an uprated transmission and lighter body panels.
- N4: also known as production rally cars, these are very popular and less modified, ‘showroom specification’ vehicles. Cheaper to run, but lower on performance, these cars also compete for their own Production Car Cup.
What – the leading two-wheel drive category was launched in 2013 as the intermediate step on the WRC ladder and became instantly popular among younger drivers. The R3 cars that lead this championship are reminiscent of the Super 1600 cars that propelled the careers of Sébastien Ogier, Sébastien Loeb, Kris Meeke and Dani Sordo.
Look out for – Citroen DS3 R3T, Renault Clio R3 (a new version is expected in mid-2014), Honda Civic R3 and Toyota GT86 R3 (likely homologation in late 2014).
Getting technical –
- R3 cars are the primary category
- Two-wheel drive cars only, normally front-wheel drive.
- 1.6-litre turbocharged engines or up to 2.0-litre normally aspirated units.
- Six-speed sequential transmission.
- Also eligible are the smaller R2 cars, as well as the much older Super 1600 and two-wheel drive Group A rally cars.