Friday | 30 Apr 2021

The changing face of World Rally Cars

The word quattro changed the WRC for good. We all know that.

But once Group B had come and gone, manufacturers fancying the fight at the front line knew they would have to produce 5,000 examples of the car they wanted to use, with 500 of those evolved into what would be the base for the rally car.

For many, the economics of the production line simply didn’t equate to four-wheel drive and turbocharging.

In 1991, the FIA cut the figure of 5,000 in half, but still, the manufacturers wanted and needed more.

Colin McRae steered the Ford Focus World Rally Car to its first win in Kenya in 1999

After a decade of Group A, the answer was unearthed in the shape of the World Rally Car. This new-for-1997 category opened the doors to manufacturers and heralded a period of unparalleled success in rallying with, at times, as many as seven different carmakers involved.

The winning recipe called for steel-bodied, front-engined, four-seater road cars made in an annual volume of at least 25,000. The manufacturer had to build at least 2,500 of the base, two-litre engine. And the car couldn’t be longer than four metres. And, that was about it.

Every high-volume car manufacturer now had an in. Seat, for example, took its Cordoba, bolted a turbo to the side of the engine, fitted a propshaft, a pair of driveshafts at the rear and a couple more differentials and the Cordoba WRC was born.

It was a work of genius that spawned some of the sport’s finest and fastest cars. And, 25 years on, World Rally Cars are still going strong in their final season ahead of the exciting new hybrid era that’s coming in 2022.

1997: The tides of change

1997: The tides of change

In 1997 an all-new generation of car was introduced to the WRC - the World Rally Car. But what happened prior to that season to ...

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That’s not to say the World Rally Car hasn’t evolved. It has. By 2006, with a growing space race in the sport, the FIA restricted transmission technology and cut out much of the active transmission and suspension which had been developed and was coming for the future.

The next change came for the 2011 season which involved the use of B segment cars which were already active in the sport with Super 2000 regulations. Engine size was down with a 1600cc direct injection motor. A smaller air restrictor on the turbo (from 34mm to 33mm) also made the cars slightly less powerful.

There was also a restriction placed on the use of exotic materials and technology in the cars was restricted with a return to a sequential gear shift rather than a semi-automatic paddle. The paddle would be back, however, for the 2015 season.

Video: Rallye Monte-Carlo 2017 best of action

The biggest change in World Rally Car regulations came for 2017 – a season that grabbed fans’ attention around the globe.

With a significant step up in power (courtesy of a 36mm rather than 33mm restrictor on the turbo) allied to a decrease in weight by 25kg (from 1200 to 1175kg), a wider track and the most effective aerodynamics ever deployed in rallying, these cars were immediately faster than anything – Group B – included that had gone before them.

The modern-day WRC is a spectacular and fitting way to bring to a close a glorious 25 years in the sport.

• Headline images courtesy of Automobilist

Sébastien Ogier won the first round of the final World Rally Car evolution at Rallye Monte-Carlo in 2017