The prospect of Rally1 cars being shorn of their 130 horses’ worth of hybrid power at the end of next season concerns me deeply.
The World Rally Championship was so late in embracing hybrid, and now we’re seemingly ready to turn our back on it. And for what? A return to internal combustion only. Admittedly, that’s internal combustion fired by sustainable fuel. But that’s the same sustainable fuel we, as a sport, appear almost reluctant to talk about.
Will it happen? Will we lose hybrid?
I very much doubt it.
Compact Dynamics, the FIA, WRC Promoter and the manufacturers are all pragmatic, sensible solution-driven folk who will find common ground. Will it cost a bit more? Probably. A tightening timeframe has driven demand for Compact Dynamics – economics will dictate a higher price.
And that’s a price worth paying, providing revised performance and reliability targets for hybrid are met.
Talking to Xavier Mestelan Pinon is always a pleasure. Like his engineering brethren, XMP has such an innovative and diverse way of looking at things, it’s usually a howling gale of fresh air.
Having worked at the Formula E coal face as performance director of DS, Mestelan Pinon knows more than most about what it takes to take battery power racing. That was in a city, in a relatively controlled environment, taking battery power rallying to the top of the world in México and the frozen fringes of the Arctic Circle… that’s a different story.
He understands the frustrations from both sides. He’s been the technical director demanding more performance and reliability from a supplier, but he’s now something of a gatekeeper trying to find compromise.
Hybrid and the reliability of the systems was, undoubtedly, one of the talking points of last year. Now? Less so. Yes, there’s still the odd glitch, but it’s a significant step forwards from where we were.
And next year will, doubtless, be another step forward.
Personally, I enjoy the strategic approach to driving a Rally1 car that hybrid brings. It demands more from the driver, it pushes the crews and the teams harder. And it provides cars with, in 10-second blasts, more than 500bhp. That’s never a bad thing.
But… the hybrid story has been told. From every angle.
As a sport, I still believe there’s a story to be told from the sustainable fuel side of things.
Much as the world apparently craves EVs, it’s worth remembering the millions of motors which sit outside of the world’s cities and charging infrastructure. What about the Australian Outback? Or the Zoji La pass at the top of the Himalayas… good luck plugging in there.
The European Union has accepted e-fuels as a workable solution and will keep internal combustion moving beyond its 2035 limit on ICE.
Like everything, e-fuels are developing rapidly. Commercially, it’s a tough sell right now, but here’s a point worth considering, I’m reliably informed the budget the teams spend on hybrid each season could buy 25,000 liters of e-fuel. That’s around 36,000 kilometers – each car runs around 5000km per season.
But what we have with e-fuel is an opportunity to genuinely change the world.
Fossil fuels have had their day, we know that. But what about those millions of people around the world who, for whatever reason, will forever rely on internal combustion? What we need is a drop-in e-fuel solution.
Isn’t this an opportunity for the WRC to make itself more relevant than another series running hybrid? Isn’t this an opportunity for the WRC to really make a difference? The key to driving down the cost of e-fuel is to innovate and work with it.
The WRC could be the key to keeping internal combustion running around the world and running in a way that actually benefits the world.
Will it happen?
Probably not in time for 2025, but with open-minded and forward-thinking engineering brains like Mestelan Pinon, the potential for the bigger picture always remains.
Some – not all – of the manufacturers involved in WRC have their participation underwritten by hybrid. I get that. But what we’re talking about here is something that paves the way for an impact on both the sport’s sustainability and the wider world outside.
Worth thinking about.