The FIA is working to make the next generation of Rally1 cars more widely available around the world – while simultaneously making them more available to privateer drivers in the World Rally Championship.
The 2017 World Rally Car’s arrival was heralded with a mixture of fear and trepidation along some of the FIA’s corridors of power.
While the vast majority looked forward to the arrival of the sport’s fastest-ever cars, plenty more were concerned about the combination of power and downforce between the trees. Ultimately, the 2017 evolution proved itself to be as safe as any other World Rally Car.
With the next generation set to get even safer, the FIA’s happy to loosen the lead and see these cars in action more often.
FIA rally director Yves Matton told DirtFish: “For national events it’s the national federation that decides [if they can be used]. It’s not banned by the FIA to sell the current cars to the national championships. We are looking to see if it’s easier to try to widen this to allow this car to drive in more championships.
“But when I say ‘to drive’, it doesn’t mean to fight for the championship. I don’t think this car needs to be a car that’s allowed to fight in the national championships or some other championships.
“But some drivers are interested to drive this kind of car in some events without doing the championship.
“There are a lot of people who are interested to drive this kind of car only to have some fun and these kinds of a car are for sure more safe than some other cars that are driving at national level.”
Asked if he thought the FIA’s restrictions on which drivers could use World Rally Cars in the WRC was a mistake, Matton replied: “For the moment, at least when I was at the FIA level, we give the agreement to all the drivers who ask us. I think the system worked quite well until now, at least for the level we are managing.
“We are working on some other ideas. I cannot say more about it for the moment. I think honestly it still makes sense that we keep some kind of control.
“I don’t think it makes sense to have a youngster coming to a World Rally Car without any experience in driving this kind of car at a high level.
“That’s the reason we are working and looking to do something that makes sense for the future, to keep a kind of control. It’s not only because it’s a World Rally Car, it’s the same in all the championships we have.
“We have cars which are at the top level of the discipline which are really high performance, I think it’s logical that you need to have a kind of knowledge and experience before driving a car which is at the top of the discipline.
“But also it makes sense in the pyramid approach we have. I think you need at least to drive a few events and especially I would say in rallying, with a lower-category car before you are able to drive this kind of car.”
Matton added that gentlemen drivers were generally considered differently to up and coming stars.
“In the experience I have known from a few years working with gentlemen drivers,” said Matton, “they don’t want to take the same level of risk that some other drivers who want to show that they are able to beat the highest level of drivers quite quickly.
“Gentlemen drivers, from my previous experience, these kind of guys are not taking 100% of the risk.”
Two drivers started this January’s Monte-Carlo Rally in a Rally1 car for the first time.
British 23-year-old Gus Greensmith was one and 38-year-old Lithuanian Deividas Jocius was the other. Who represented the bigger risk for the FIA?
This year’s season opener cuts right to the heart of the debate about who should be allowed to drive these cars at the sport’s highest level.
Greensmith set about the Monte chasing experience, but also trying to demonstrate his ability, his pace and his potential to the watching world. Naturally, at times, Greensmith was pushing on.
For Jocius, taking the start in Casino Square in a factory Ford Fiesta WRC was the realization of a dream. Every stage which followed was a bonus and all eyes were firmly on the finish.
In all honesty, Jocius represented very little risk. The car’s anti-lag system was turned to tame and he spent three days in dreamland.
On his fourth start in a Fiesta WRC, Greensmith knew he had to turn it up a little bit. He’d shown great speed on his debut in the car in Portugal the previous year and now it was time to build on that.
In terms of rallying experience, Jocius probably had the edge in terms of competitive kilometers, but Greensmith had the edge in terms of fitness and focus. Neither are risk-free, and both had their place on the entry list for a WRC round.
But the wider point to make here is the positive one about seeing more of these cars on national rallies.
I remember the announcement that Ott Tänak would be driving a Ford Fiesta WRC at Rallyday in 2017. That would be the first time British fans had been able to see one of these latest generation superstar World Rally Cars. And we went mad for it.
Cars like these still hold the absolute appeal and there are plenty of drivers out there who want a shot in them on their local events. Ireland in the Noughties, anybody…
And, don’t forget, these cars are set to be considerably cheaper than the current metal – with €500,000 reckoned to be the going rate for a new motor post-2022.
OK, ‘cheaper’ is a relative term. Maybe we say less expensive. Whatever. The fact is, we’re going to be seeing more Rally1 cars on the stages and that can only be a good thing.