How likely is Rally2 to take over the WRC?

Speculation is growing that Rally1 could be done at the end of this season. What are the options?

WRC – World Rally Championship 2023

Is Rally2 really coming? Is the end nigh for the fastest rally cars in the sport’s history? Two questions which are beginning to dominate debate in the World Rally Championship right now.

Last month DirtFish delivered its verdict on what was needed from the FIA’s then newly formed WRC working group – the end of Rally1 was right up there. Since then, the three manufacturers involved in the WRC had their say and made it clear they wanted Rally1 to remain until the end of the current homologation cycle, safeguarding the cars until December 2026.

To many, that appeared to be the discussion closed. It wasn’t.

The working group, headed by David Richards and Robert Reid, met again and again and dug deeper into the potential for technical regulation change. That’s vital. We’re at a tipping point for the WRC right now. Every option must be examined. Exhaustively.

Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir 31 March - 03 April 2016

David Richards is working through the options to find the right path for the WRC's future

DirtFish understands, the Rally2-for-2025 debate remains very much on the table.

First things, first, the new name for the 2025 car would be, wait for it, the World Rally Car. Back to the future. Bravo!

Much as I get the apparent simplicity of Rally1, Rally2 in the same style as Formula 1 and Formula 2, rallying’s not that simple. Don’t forget, we still have categories RC1 and RC2, we still have R5 cars kicking around (which are – and are not – Rally2 cars) and, of course, we’ve had the moment when re-entry regulations were also known as Rally 2.

World Rally Cars. Simple. Sensible. Thank you.

One of the key issues in expediting technical change is, of course, the legality of such a switch. There’s a stability clause which demands consistency for a homologation cycle – but don’t forget the initial commitment to Rally1 was until 2024. The 2025 and 2026 seasons were bolted on.

Yohan Rossel

Citroën's C3 Rally2 could be the basis for a C3 WRC from 2025 onwards

Could that offer the opportunity to affect change in the next 11 months? Potentially.

Certainly, such a change is unlikely to come with the blessing of teams. Having built the first-ever hybrid Rally1 cars, they, understandably, want the full five-year return on that investment.

But. And this is the big but: have you seen the entry for next week’s Monte Carlo Rally? Eight Rally1 cars at the sharp end. That number has to be the biggest driver of change right there.

And, let’s be honest, it can be fiddled with and tweaked, but in reality, that number of Rally1 cars is not going to change significantly in the next three years.

No new manufacturer will join in that timeframe and private teams have universally thumbed their noses at the chance to run Rally1 cars.

The FIA could force the manufacturers to run more cars: three cars plus one for a younger driver. Twelve is better than eight. But M-Sport is running Adrien Fourmaux and Grégoire Muster for a reason – it doesn’t have the wherewithal to run one big time superstar driver, let alone four top-class cars.

The working group has stipulated a minimum of 25 competitive cars in the WRC’s premier category from round one next season. The only way to make that happen is to move to Rally2, sorry, to World Rally Cars.

Sources have confirmed there would be provision made for paddle shifts, more aero and, crucially, a bigger restrictor to give the World Rally Car more power than current Rally2 machinery. WRCs would be limited to 300bhp and cost no more than €300,000.

And fear not, those 1,500 Rally2 car owners out there around the world, you will be able to upgrade your car to a World Rally Car with the purchase or potentially the hire of that kit of parts.

Makes sense to me.

FIA World Rally Championship 2023 Stop 08 - Tartu, Estonia

Kalle Rovanperä is keen to keep Rally1 cars. But can the championship afford them?

Like you Kalle Rovanperä, I want to see the fastest rally cars out there being pedalled by the fastest rally drivers. But right now, the WRC has to cut its cloth accordingly.

Is there another option? There might be. The last meeting of the World Motor Sport Council regulated for non-hybrid Rally1 cars. Is there something in that? Yes, it was aimed at bringing more private drivers to the series, but could an all-ICE Rally1 be the way forward?

There’s appeal on all sides. The spaceframe cars are undoubtedly safer, they would be cheaper, more reliable and, without the active active center differential, plenty spectatcular enough. And running the same engine from the previous generation of cars (around 380 bhp) in a lighter form, they would be quick enough.

It would come down to the cost of the cars. Pure and simple. If these things could be made available south of the half-million Euro mark then there’s potential. Maybe the answer is Rally1.5.

What if we do nothing? Is there a risk that we could lose the World Rally Championship as a physical competition? David Evans

DirtFish understands it could be another option on the table.

What if we do nothing? Is there a risk that we could lose the World Rally Championship as a physical competition? It’s possible. The FIA stipulates it takes two manufacturers to make a world championship. We’re at 2.5 right now, we don’t want to get much closer to testing the governing body’s own rule.

Granted, there’s no guarantee flipping to Rally2 (World Rally Cars) will automatically bring Škoda, Citroën and co. running back to the table to sign up as fully fledged manufacturers, but they could surely be relied upon to underwrite the FIA’s requirements for a title fight.

Helping that cause further is the potential for teams as well as manufacturers to run the homologation process on cars.

Network Q Rally of Great Britain Rac Cardiff (GBR) 23-26 11 2000

The British Rally Championship prospered from stepping down from the main class of cars

The time has come for change. I’ve always argued (and always will) that a world class driver will make anything look spectacular. There’s precedent here, and I’m not talking about the move from Group B to Group A in the world championship. I’m talking about the British Rally Championship’s move to Formula 2 regulations for 1995. Prior to that rule change, Britain had run to the same regulations as the WRC, with class A8 cars at the front of the field. Yes, we have great memories of Colin McRae, Richard Burns, Malcolm Wilson and Alister McRae winning the championship, but what was the competition like? In a word: dire.

Change had to come, but there was outcry from the top of Scotland to the bottom of Wales: how could two-wheel drive, naturally aspirated cars compete with a pukka Ford Escort RS Cosworth in terms of spectacle? Such a move would kill the series. That was the perception. For some.

Fast forward a couple of years and the British series was back to its best with drivers from around the world flocking to cars that were plenty noisy and spectacular enough. It saved the series.

On a grander scale, that’s what we’re looking at here. Yes, you can pick holes in that analogy, but fundamentally, it’s one that works. And works much better than what happened at the end of 1986. When Group B ended, rallying went from the best of the best to the doldrums. Only Lancia was ready and the Delta walked away with pretty much everything for the next two years.

Lombard Rac Rally Chester (GBR) 22-25 11 1987

Lancia's Delta dominated the early years of Group A in the World Rally Championship

The situation couldn’t be more different now. There are so many (1,500 and counting…) cars around the world ready to be tweaked in time to challenge for next year’s championship.

Those are the arguments. But when will we find out more?

Much of the consulation will be completed by the end of this month, with the working group proposals heading for World Motor Sport Council consideration at the group’s virtual meeting on February 28.

Rarely will have a WMSC decision have held so much weight in the sport of rallying.