04 Jan 10
This season will be the last in which the familiar two-litre World Rally Cars rule the special stages. After a reign which started in 1997, when they replaced the earlier Group A cars, the next generation of top level rally machinery is waiting in the wings, ready to take over in 2011.
The changes have been instigated by motorsport's governing, the FIA, which is ushering in a new era for the World Rally Championship, with new rules designed to cut costs and increase competition.
The new World Rally cars to be used from the 2011 season will remain four-wheel drive, but will be smaller, cheaper and will the first to run on the FIA's Global Engine concept. Designed to increase competition amongst drivers and teams, the new rules are set to revolutionise the sport.
The forthcoming World Rally Cars will be based on the current Super 2000 regulations, but the S2000's normally aspirated 2-litre engines will be supplanted by a 1.6-litre turbocharged unit with direct fuel injection. From 2011, all new homologations of Super 2000 cars must be fitted with a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine.
This is the global engine specification that is being developed by FIA and will be available for use across a number of championships, starting with WRC and World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) in 2011.
The car chassis itself will be smaller than existing World Rally Cars, which will likely lead to manufacturers using 'small family' car models, such as Ford's Fiesta for the new category. These are preferred by the FIA and the manufacturers as they are more environmentally friendly and are popular with the public.
The FIA has been working for some time to ensure these cars also meet the highest safety standards. Jacques Berger, President of the FIA Technical Commission, has made sure that the major safety elements of the cars, such as the reinforced steel chassis, are retained in their competition counterparts.
Berger explains: "The new generation of cars, like the Ford Fiesta and the new CitroŰn DS, have quite a big cockpit size, similar to the longer cars. Everybody will use the new specification cars from 2011 and we do not allow the removal of any steel parts from those bodyshells. So all the reinforcements of the B-pillar - all the steel - should remain."
The single exemption here is that NCAP-conforming production car side door bars must be removed to accommodate energy absorbing foam in the rally cars' sides. This is because the majority of accidents causing injury and fatality to the occupants of World Rally Cars have been when a car's side has impacted a solid object, such as a tree, at speed.