There was perhaps more confusion than clarity on Friday when the FIA World Motor Sport Council signed off on a brand-new pyramid that restructured the various support classes in both the World and European Rally Championship.
The long and short of it is WRC2 and WRC3 will now be merged into one standalone category but will have two elements: Open and Junior.
It will be called WRC2, while WRC3 will be for the brand-new four-wheel-drive Rally3 category – which bursts into life today with the Ford Fiesta Rally3’s competitive debut in the hands of Ken Torn.
The biggest news of all however is that from 2022, a fully fledged two-wheel-drive category will be absent from the WRC for the first time since 1993 as Junior WRC moves to four-wheel-drive.
Rally4 and Rally5 machines can still enter WRC events, but not score in an official championship.
So what does all this mean? DirtFish’s team of writers have dissected the main talking points and assess what the changes solve, and potentially what questions they also create.
Has the Rally2 class finally been perfected?
This is one question several people have been crying out for for some time – lump all the Rally2 cars in one class and be done with it. Neatly all Rally2 cars will now be in WRC2 too, so the names align. There is however a great irony in that for arguably the first time since WRC2 was fragmented in 2019, the 2021 split between WRC2 and WRC3 actually looks well set.
Any such fears are of course combated with the split into Open and Junior categories; with Open open to anybody as the name suggests, and Junior tailored for drivers 30 years old or under in WRC2 and 29 or under in WRC3 – which is now for Rally3 vehicles.
On the face of it, this one is kind of a no-brainer. Every single time you hear a Rally2 driver talking about their performance on a rally, they will reference the leader of the entire class and not necessarily the leader of their particular championship, whether that be WRC2 or WRC3.
Grouping all Rally2 cars into one class makes sense from a competition perspective and also potentially a marketing standpoint too, with WRC2 for Rally2 cars a lot easier to explain to existing and potential new sponsors than WRC3 for Rally2 cars.
It could be argued that a less experienced, privateer driver is now at a disadvantage though compared to the likes of Andreas Mikkelsen, but that’s exactly what the Open and Junior segregation is for.
The Junior title is not to be sniffed at either, with last year’s ERC Junior title fight for example far more captivating than the scrap for overall honors.
WRC2 looks incredibly well refined in that case but I, personally at least, am yet to be fully convinced by WRC3 and Rally3. Maybe I’m a sceptic, but I’m just not totally sure of the validity of the current vehicle class pyramid because there appears to be too many.
Rally5 strikes me as largely unappealing to most competitors given its similarity to Rally4 – if you’re going to invest in a brand-new rally car, you’re going to want the quicker, more competitive one. And the same applies to Rally3 in comparison to Rally2, at least at a world level; I’m sure the car will prove popular in national markets.
Maybe all we really needed was a system where Rally1 was for top-line cars, Rally2 for four-wheel-drive cars and Rally3 for front-wheel-drive. But that’s an argument for another day. Or is it? – Luke Barry
Is the FIA right to take 2WD out of the WRC equation?
Firstly, to be crystal clear, two-wheel-drive cars aren’t banned. The FIA has explicitly said Rally4 and Rally5 cars are eligible to enter any FIA-sanctioned rally without limitation.
What it has done is dampened their importance; for now the lowest rung of the ladder at WRC level is going to be WRC3 Junior, which will be using Rally3 instead.
It will be the first time in 30 years that a two-wheel-drive title of some description isn’t on the menu. Have they made the right call?
For those of you who witnessed the heyday of F2 Kit Cars, the answer’s probably a resounding no. The screaming naturally-aspirated motors were as much a star attraction as their Group A and World Rally Car big brothers; and in the right hands on the right rally, even beat them to outright wins.
But the two-wheel-drive of today has little resemblance to the F2 heyday.
The dinky little hatchbacks have been given an extra kick with added turbo power in the latest generation Ford Fiestas and Peugeot 208s, but they’re nothing like close enough to a Rally1 car to act as a direct step to the top level like F2 did.
That added turbo power means the new cars are also chewing through driveshafts like a beaver doing dam work. Limiting mileage by putting them on rallies with itineraries shorter than those in WRC events is probably a good idea for the sake of competitors’ wallets.
Ultimately, Rally4 needs to stay affordable. And by effectively limiting their meaningful participation to continental and national level, young drivers lacking the budget to go to the world championship straight away should have a better chance of putting in a good showing against their less financially constrained rivals on the same playing field.
One issue had been top Junior WRC drivers struggling to find the budget for a full WRC2 or WRC3 campaign. The jump from Rally4 to Rally2 was a bit too much financially for most.
But this restructure may not have fixed the problem, merely relocated the same problem to a different category.
A similar cost chasm may now exist between Rally4 and Rally3 as it previously did between Junior WRC and WRC2/3 before it. ERC4 and national-level Rally4 competitors won’t only have to deal with increased car costs with their next step but also increased logistics costs.
Was demoting two-wheel-drive out of the world championship a good call? Possibly. Will it fix the problem it was designed to solve? That looks less certain. – Alasdair Lindsay
The branding problem (and the ERC)
Rebranding the old R5, R2, et al. system into Rally2, Rally4 et al. categorization model was supposed to make everything clearer for the casual fan. And maybe even the hardcore fans.
Instead, this latest restructuring announcement seems to have left even the most die-hard of rally fans completely lost. If the bobble hats can’t make sense of it, what hope do more casual fans have?
An immediate red flag for this new structure’s ineffectiveness in clearly communicating its hierarchy was raised by the FIA’s approach to recategorizing the ERC.
When it comes to haphazard category structures and seemingly arbitrary points systems, ERC is king. A senior FIA rally official once told me that ERC “had too many trophies”, an observation few would disagree with. And don’t get me started on the myriad points systems.
And yet, the ERC is not at fault for its bizarre structure of having an overall ERC title, ERC3 and ERC4, but no ERC2. It had asked the FIA to make ERC2 its entry-level four-wheel-drive category for Rally3 cars, and place Rally4 and Rally5 two-wheel-drive cars into ERC3. It was overruled by the FIA.
Are you lost in a deluge of acronyms at this point? Don’t worry, any normal person would be. It’s ridiculous.
The main problem? Differentiating technical regulations and championship names with different systems but trying to align them after the fact. So long as those two things are separate, no amount of rally pyramids, ladders, trapezoids or dodecahedrons will make sense.
It seems silly to worry about championship naming conventions, but the immediate reaction shows how getting it right makes a difference. Especially if a keen rally newbie suddenly decides it’s all too difficult to make sense of and loses enthusiasm. Our discipline has shrunk in popularity over the last 20 years; paying attention to the little details like these will be needed to help ramp it back up again.
My proposal? Time to ditch WRC2, WRC3, ERC3, ERC4, et al. And let’s go with this:
World Rally2 / World Rally2 Junior / Euro Rally2 etc
World Rally3 / World Rally3 Junior / Euro Rally3 etc
World Rally4 / World Rally4 Junior / Euro Rally4 etc
World Rally5 / World Rally5 Junior / Euro Rally5 etc
Maybe I’ve got a similar set of blinkers on to whoever was tasked with coming up with series nomenclature at the FIA. But to me, you can at least make sense of where all the various categories stand relative to one another. A casual fan can understand that World Rally3 and Euro Rally3 will be broadly similar, but cover different areas.
Yes, this involves renaming WRC to WR1. Utter heresy, I know. But the FIA has already started going that way with ralllycross, having changed European Super 1600 to RX3, bringing it in line with RX2e and RX1, the renamed Supercar category.
And what’s the most popular form of motorsport in the world? The World Formula Championship? Nah, it’s called Formula 1. And its feeder categories are named accordingly: F2, F3, F4. A lesson to be learned there, perhaps. – AL