Did Sesks undermine the purpose of hybrid in WRC?

Carrying the same weight but with less power, Mārtiņš Sesks' performance in a hybrid-less Rally1 car turned heads

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When Mārtiņš Sesks’ hybrid-less Ford Puma Rally1 set the second fastest time through the 18 miles of Stańczyki on Friday morning in Poland, it raised plenty of eyebrows. It wasn’t just the Latvian driver with a look of bewilderment.

Matching the pace of the hybrid-equipped Rally1 machinery for the rest of the event, and finishing fifth overall on his top-class debut, was some achievement.

But if Sesks could do this while lugging around a lump of lead in place of the magic box we’re told gives drivers an extra 135bhp under their right boot, it begs the question: what is the point of hybrid power in the World Rally Championship?

Is the re-gen system really worth all the extra expense, not to mention the additional safety protocols and infrastructure required by teams and event organizers for these cars to run?

Maybe the idea of ditching it for 2025 wasn’t so bad after all.

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Millener can see the arguments for and against hybrid

“I can give you arguments for both sides easily,” said Sesks’ M-Sport team boss Richard Millener, who himself had said pre-event that the car’s pace should be somewhere between Rally2 and that of a hybrid-equipped Rally1 car.

To be fair, Millener also noted that the impact would be less on a fast rally and that Sesks’ biggest limiting factor would be his own lack of experience with the car. Few could have predicted how quickly Sesks would find his feet in the Puma.

“For me, yes,” said Millener when asked by DirtFish if it was worth the WRC teams’ effort to convince the FIA to keep hybrid systems on the cars next year. “Because I do think that the automotive industry is heavily focused on hybrid and that hybrid seems to be growing again rather than declining.

“Full electric has had its uptake and it’s slowed, and we all know the difficulties of full electric. You see more and more car manufacturers coming back now with cars and engines that have more hybrid.

“Formula 1 is going to more hybrid and less electric kind of stuff. So it’s kind of being reflected over the whole motorsport genre.

“But here [in Poland], honestly, the hybrid would have less effect here than it would in other areas. If Martins had debuted in Sardinia or Portugal, I think we’d be having a very different discussion.”

Millener’s opposite number at Toyota also noted how the nature of Poland’s stages negated the impact of having no hybrid power – while not detracting from Sesks’ performance.

“For sure, it’s been very positive and very interesting to see the performance of Martins,” Latvala told DirtFish. “First of all, he has been driving extremely well. And then the benefit, or let’s say the disadvantage, of not having a hybrid here, let’s say the car has had more performance than I thought.

“But OK, I must say that a fast rally, especially here when it’s quite loose and sandy, the benefit from the hybrid is less than it would be on a Tarmac event or a more technical gravel rally.

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Toyota would've been OK with dropping hybrid from 2025

“In the fast rallies like Finland, Latvia, Poland, Sweden, the benefit from the hybrid is not as huge because you don’t have, I like to say, hard long brakings. You have short brakings and you don’t regenerate the energy so much.”

DirtFish put it to Latvala that Sesks had shown the spectacle of Rally1 cars without hybrid power was undiminished.

“The performance of the car for sure is a little bit down, but if you watch it as a spectator or you watch it on the television, you don’t see the difference,” Latvala admitted.

“And so in that sense, yes, I think in the next two years, we would have been able to continue without a hybrid. But it’s overall… as Toyota, it would have been the same with or without, and we were even OK without, but the other teams, for their marketing purposes, they see more important use in the hybrid. Then Toyota is OK to continue with it.”

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Hybrid-less cars are important to M-Sport as they're cheaper for customers to purchase

M-Sport is one of those teams. Millener remains an advocate of hybrid power in the WRC, but also notes the benefit of having the hybrid-less option available to privateers, who are crucial to M-Sport’s business.

“As much as we can base it only on what we know right at this moment, I think the hybrid does make a difference,” he said. “I still think it’s good for the championship. I still think there’s a lot of positives and we’ve got to think about getting OEMs into the sport and having a hybrid element of the powertrain definitely helps there.

“But on the flip side, the non-hybrid version is a perfect car for these top juniors to transition between Rally2 and the top step.

“As much as the Rally2 category is fantastic and everybody says about how it could be the future, it could be, but I think we’d be disappointed because when you watch the Rally1 cars, hybrid or non-hybrid, on these stages they are unbelievable.

“I’ve said it before and I say it again, I for one would not want to lose it.”

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