- Published in Features.
From the dust of Spain to the snow of Finland, the World Rally Championship (WRC) races cars across the globe, forcing them to endure some of the most inhospitable conditions imaginable. In the past, teams would have spent tens of millions of euros to develop, test and race vehicles in the series, using technologies specifically designed for the task.
But that model wasn’t sustainable. The high costs limited the number of teams participating, so world motorsport’s governing body, the FIA, changed the regulations.
Today’s World Rally cars have more in common with the passenger vehicles seen on public roads, but they’ve lost none of their performance.
Downsized, turbocharged, direct-injection engines are used to power the vehicles over the rugged terrain everyone associates with the sport.
Each vehicle now costs no more than €180,000, and this has brought more manufacturers to the arena. As well as Ford and Citroën, Mini will begin racing a variant of its Countryman SUV next year, and from 2013 Volkswagen will enter a rally-spec version of its B-segment Polo.
The more competitive series should challenge even the teams that have long been associated with the sport to remain at the top of the leaderboard. Ford runs its WRC programme with M-Sport, whose chief engineer, Tim Jackson, has worked with the previous Ford Focus rally car and the current Fiesta-based vehicles. He says the new regulations have had a huge impact: “The technical regulations underwent a complete overhaul, and they are much more restrictive in almost all areas of the car. Whereas in the past we could make many evolutive steps of the design for many of the main components – such as suspension linkages – now we are only allowed two options. And many of these options had to be nominated before the car could achieve its initial homologation and be allowed to compete.”
It’s likely that the new regulations concerning the powertrain will have the biggest effect on the series. Downsized 1.6-litre turbocharged gasoline engines with direct injection are being used for the first time, so teams are having to learn quickly how to get the most from the technology.
Jackson says: “While the engine used in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC is based on the technology used in Ford’s EcoBoost production car engine, it has been extensively modified to increase its performance over the road-going version – it produces 223kW of power and 450Nm of torque. Among the changes are a new head design and lightweight machining to the engine block as well as changes to many of the internal components.