Ten-time US rally champion David Higgins fears the American Rally Association presented by DirtFish’s new technical regulations haven’t gone far enough to encourage more teams to run Rally2 cars next season.
The rules for ARA’s top class, Open 4WD, have been tweaked ahead of the 2023 campaign, with the intention of bringing them far closer in line with the global Rally2 specification of cars.
That means the WRX STI that powered Subaru Motorsports USA’s Brandon Semenuk to this year’s ARA National title, and the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC and Ford Fiesta WRCs Ken Block and Barry McKenna have used in recent seasons, are now ineligible to compete in the championship in their current state.
O4WD cars next year will have smaller turbo restrictors (and therefore less power) and far less sophisticated aerodynamics in order to close the performance gap to them and the ARA’s RC2 class.
Higgins, who hasn’t contested a full ARA season since 2019 with Subaru, commends the intention of the new regulations, but is worried that the changes haven’t gone far enough.
“It’s nowhere near enough to make an R5 car competitive,” he told DirtFish.
“The Subaru [from this year] would fit with just removing a few aero parts and a few little tweaks on the turbo etc Barry McKenna’s car would still go again but with a few tweaks on the aero, so you’re still looking at 500k cars against 150k R5 cars.
“A 2.5L engine or a 2.3, whatever they’re running is always going to beat a 1600 five-speed gearbox car on a fast stage. So the intention of the regulations are brilliant, it just hasn’t been done enough to encourage new cars or new teams to warrant investing in it unfortunately.
“As much as I believe a rule change is needed I do think we need to keep those who have invested heavily, I suggested either balance of performance with engine size turbo etc or even change the point system so a win in Rally2 gives the same points as a win in Open.
“This worked very well when the British Rally Championship did it in their transition from F2 to Group N. It’s a way of keeping everyone happy.
“ARA is probably one of the most underrated series going with some of the best stages I have ever driven. The pace is very high but what it’s always lacked is depth in the field.
“Rallies can start off with a big scrap and then suddenly one or two cars drop a little time and then the gaps are so big, and the race is over.
Having driven both the Subaru and McKenna WRC cars I know how far ahead they are of the Rally2David Higgins
“The way I see it, it’ll be the same as it’s been for the last few years. It’ll be Subaru hopefully there and Ken might be there with something again, but it’s still very much out of reach for [most].
“For sure there’s a couple of events where an R5 will be competitive but not enough over a whole year; not enough to get somebody excited to think they can go there and try and win.”
Higgins revealed that he was “pursuing” an ARA program next year and “it was looking really good”, but his realization that he felt he would need something more expensive than a Rally2 to compete for the championship meant it became a no go.
“There were two teams I was talking to who were willing to buy the car, set up a team, do what they needed to do to go and do it,” he said.
“If it was going to be an R5+ even that would be enough but just unfortunately it’s a tiny step of a regulation change rather than a [step change].
“What they’ve pretty much done is banned the active diffs and paddle shifts that shouldn’t really have been allowed in this year anyway.
“Having been in a fortunate position to drive both the Subaru and McKenna WRC cars I know how far ahead they are of the Rally2.”
Subaru is known to be developing a new car to comply with the regulations, while Hoonigan’s plans are less clear.
Team director Derek Dauncey told DirtFish last month: “What we don’t want to do is turn up and not be competitive. So, that’s why we’ll think about what we want to physically do.”
DirtFish has contacted ARA for a reponse to Higgins’ comments.