Amidst all the waves made by the FIA-FOTA conflict this week, the changes for the World Rally Championship (WRC) regulations made at the same World Motor Sport Council meeting were largely missed. While FIA may be worried about losing more ...
Amidst all the waves made by the FIA-FOTA conflict this week, the changes for the World Rally Championship (WRC) regulations made at the same World Motor Sport Council meeting were largely missed.
While FIA may be worried about losing more manufacturers is F1 due to the high costs, the problem has been acute for some time in WRC: currently only Citroen and Ford are contesting the series, and only the latter has been committed to continuing beyond 2009.
The fields at the rallies have still been full, with no shortage of privateer and local entries, but few privateer teams -- with the possible exceptions of Petter Solberg's own team, and Marcus Gronholm in the Prodrive Subaru -- they are not able to even present a challenge to the two works teams.
The past three years have seen the disappearance of Peugeot, Suzuki, Skoda and Subaru from the scene, and the FIA has been pressing the adoption of the Super 2000 regulations -- based on a two-litre normally aspirated engine starting in 2013.
Both manufacturers and drivers had been unhappy with this change; the former felt that the engine spec was out of touch with the automotive marketplace, and the drivers felt that a two-litre non-turbo engine would be severely underpowered. Five-time champion Sebastien Loeb went as far as to claim that he would rather retire than drive a Super 2000 car.
In the end, the FIA decided to instead adopt a 1.6-litre turbocharged unit, and to adopt it starting from 2011 -- the same specification that will also be used by the World Touring Car Championship from that year on. The decision was supported by the two key manufacturers, Ford and Citroen.
"We agree with the decision to go 1600cc," said Olivier Quesnel, director of Citroen Racing. "Earlier it was a two litre atmospheric engine until 2013 but if this is new solution leads to other manufacturers joining the series then of course we agree it's a good idea. Generally manufacturers are downsizing engines and soon two litres won't be an option, so we need to use other units."
The power output of the new engines is as of yet unknown, and will depend largely on the size of intake restrictors and any possible boost limits. The current two-litre units produce on the order of 330 hp, but the figures could be much higher: the 1.5L turbocharged Formula One cars reached figures of 900 hp/L in qualifying trim, and even the old Group B WRC cars were estimated to produce between 250 and 300 hp/L.
"Of course it depends on the size of the restrictor, but you can make a good engine from 1600 cc as well," said Loeb. "I expect (to drive them), if I'm not too old by then!"
Most likely the engines will be restricted to something closer to 300 hp for a combination of cost and safety reasons.
On the rallies themselves, a series of daily bonus points will replace the current SuperRally system (which applies penalties for missed stages). While details were not announced, the system will hopefully provide more clarity to the fans while still encouraging drivers to return for another day.
In addition to the technical changes, there was more good news for rallying as the championship added four premier events to the nine that were already on the calendar for 2009: Rally Finland, Rallye Catalunya, Wales Rally GB and Rally Portugal are now part of the 2010 championship battle. While ISC, the promoter for the series, did not provide specifics, they did indicate that certain "core" events would receive multi-year contracts and stability in the future.
The rally organizers will also have the flexibility of staging the events in two-, three- or four-day formats, as long as the rally finishes on the weekend. And the events may mix multiple surface types, even on a single day, providing additional challenges to the teams. And night stages will once again be possible!