Toyota technical director Tom Fowler reckons the new breed of Rally1 cars could be just as quick, if not even quicker, than the outgoing World Rally Cars in the second half of the 2022 World Rally Championship season.
Hybrid technology is being incorporated into the WRC for the first time, giving this year’s Rally1 cars considerably more peak horsepower than recently retired World Rally Cars.
But weight has also increased because of the added batteries, and aerodynamic devices have been limited as a measure to save costs, so the Rally1 cars Toyota, Hyundai and M-Sport Ford are expected to be slower than their World Rally Car predecessors – the fastest rally cars ever to be produced.
“Compared to of course the regulation which came out in 2017, which we’ve enjoyed over the last five years, it was really an extreme regulation in terms of what’s allowed for the chassis, aerodynamics and differentials and transmission,” said Fowler.
“So we are looking at cars which are the fastest WRC cars that there’s been for the whole WRC period, and some might say they were a little bit too fast.
“And so coming to a new regulation now where the weight of the car has increased as a result of going hybrid and as well as a result as a drive to increase the safety function of the chassis, then of course as soon as you increase the weight it’s difficult to keep the pace the same and then reducing the aerodynamics for cost and development capping reasons also hurts the speed as well.
“But on the other hand, we are at the start of the regulation and we’re comparing to what we saw at the end of the regulation.
“In 2017, the feedback of the drivers was not loving the cars in the same way they were when they handed them back to us at the end of Monza and said ‘these were the best cars we ever drove’. I don’t remember that being the case in 2017 Monaco.
HOW HYBRID BOOST IS USED FEATURE
It's not a case of a power-boosting button, rather a technical process that makes Rally1 the most complex cars ever
“Of course it’s my job and the rest of the engineers in WRC to keep pushing the regulation for the next few years and I’m quite sure within the space of the first few rallies, half a year or one year we will be talking about how fast these new cars are as well.
“Because in terms of the engine performance combined with the hybrid motor the ability of the car to accelerate is incredible. So I think we’ll be there or thereabouts within a short period of time.”
M-Sport is similarly optimistic. Speaking to DirtFish last year, M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson said he was certain “we’ll have another great spectacle for the next three years at least with the new generation cars”.
Asked if the Rally1 cars were faster than he expected, Wilson replied: “Certainly that is the impression I have.
“OK, we haven’t done a back-to-back with the current car, but it’s certainly a question I have, especially once they start to run full hybrid, then there’s no question, I am absolutely convinced that the cars will be quicker than where we currently are.”
Fowler wouldn’t be drawn into such comparisons, cheekily remarking that “of course I can tell you the numbers” between the Yaris WRC and Rally1 “but I won’t do that”.
However he was willing to describe where he reckons the two different cars will have their respective strengths and weaknesses.
“If you have one kilometer which is completely straight then your 2022 car will be a long way ahead of your 2017 car. As it gets less straight your 2017 car will catch up and when it gets very twisty then your 2017 car will be quite a lot quicker in certain circumstances,” he said.
“On a fast Tarmac stage there isn’t going to be a great deal of difference in the stage time because the acceleration is more with the ’22 but the cornering speed is lower, and that equals out to be zero at the end.
“On gravel, I think a ’17 car is ahead of the ’22 car at the moment, just because it’s traction-limited so you can’t put that power on the ground.
“Somewhere in the middle there’s a stage which is incredibly fast, lots of straights, not many corners and the ’22 car is faster, so I can’t tell you which one’s quicker because it really depends on the road.”