The idea was that the new top class would provide greater equality of opportunity, and secondly make it possible for many more car manufacturers to enter.
But how could this be achieved?
The head designer at Ford, John Wheeler, and the head of technology at Prodrive, David Lapworth, locked themselves in a room with the FIA engineers Gabriele Cadringher and Jacques Berger. This resulted in the following decisive proposals:
The new class would be based on mass-production cars that would have to be made in series of at least 25,000. Only four-seaters with an overall length of at least four metres and a front-mounted engine would be allowed. This sounds like a sedate supermarket trolley, but beneath the bodywork the cars could be turned out as high-tech machines.
If the series-built vehicle had no supercharging, the addition of a turbo was permitted. The bodywork could be cut open to accommodate four-wheel drive designed and installed in any way desired plus the use of sequential gearboxes.
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Eighteen-inch tyres were allowed for rallying, regardless of the size of the series production wheels. The wheel housings could be enlarged so that the limited suspension range on the road version of the car would no longer be an obstacle.
For other crucial components, the four creators took their cue from the best data from the last Group A generation: the width of the Toyota Celica (1.77 metres), the size of the turbocharger of the Ford Escort RS Cosworth, the dimensions of the air-to-air intercooler, and the rear spoiler of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo Ill. An inlet air restrictor would be employed to limit the power to about 300 bhp.
And so, for the 1997 season, the first World Rally Cars were born - kicking off a new era which would last until the end of 2021.
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Sections of this story are excerpts from 'WRC 50, The Story of the World Rally Championship 1973-2022', written by Markus Stier. Purchase your copy here.
Cover Photo: © McKlein