Few things are universally agreed upon in rallying. Everyone has their own agenda. But one opinion is widely held: Rally2 has been a roaring success.
A half dozen manufacturers – not counting the independent efforts that gave birth to R5 versions of the Proton Iriz, Mitsubishi Mirage and Toyota Etios – have built customer programs in the bustling category that is now the backbone of continental and national championships worldwide. There are over 1000 of these cars scattered across the globe.
But those halcyon days of anyone-can-win competition in the second tier are beginning to look like they’re fading away in the rearview mirror.
Take a look at recent WRC2 and European Rally Championship entry lists. What do you see? A sea of green. Škoda Fabia Rally2 evos are everywhere.
It’s not head and shoulders above the rest in Rally2 in terms of pure performance. But the fastest privateer drivers in the world are voting with their wallets and swapping their green banknotes for a green car.
Thanks to the incredibly hard-working folks over at eWRC, we have more than just empirical evidence for this. We have data. And that data will have the folks at Mladá Boleslav smiling from ear to ear.
Škoda’s Fabia Rally2 evo has more rally starts, the highest win rate and the lowest rate of retirement of any Rally2 car in 2022.
It’s all starting to look a bit glum for the chasing pack. And what’s worse for them is Škoda is on the verge of replacing its all-conquering Fabia with a third-generation version.
Resting on laurels has been quickly dismissed as a valid approach. Kris Meeke and Andreas Mikkelsen are the lead test drivers for the new car. And Škoda has put the thing in a wind tunnel to corroborate its findings from computational fluid dynamics testing.
“We gave aerodynamics even more attention than we already did with the current rally car,” says Lukáš Vojík, one of the aerodynamicists in the Škoda technical department. “The main development target was higher downforce, at the same time enhancing the overall aerodynamic efficiency of the car.“
The outcome? Škoda claim this Fabia has twice as much downforce as the old car. Given it’s been put in a wind tunnel to make sure the numbers weren’t poorly calibrated nonsense – and there was a recently completed test on the high-speed asphalt of Spain – that’s unlikely to be an embellishment on its part.
Škoda’s timing is also impeccable. There’s a rather specific group of people potentially on the lookout for a new car in 2023 – Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 drivers.
The Polo remains homologated for use in FIA competitions until 2025 – it’s still got some shelf life in that respect. But what hasn’t helped its longevity is Volkswagen folding its motorsport division at the end of 2020. In an ultra-competitive class like Rally2, the Volkswagen is aging a little faster than its rivals.
It's easier to set up and it's a complete tank; it takes a lot of punishment with no problems.Georg Linnamäe on the Fabia's strengths
It’s still a competitive car, for now. Egon Kaur, who’s currently the sole Polo frontrunner in a sea of Fabias competing for the Finnish national title, believes it’s “on the same level” as the current Fabia. But the question is for how much longer that will continue to be the case.
Georg Linnamäe is among the most prolific of the current Polo pedalers. He’s tied for the lead of the WRC2 Junior class and was on the podium at Rally Serras de Fafe, the European Rally Championship season opener, last month.
Though a Polo is his regular vehicle of choice, Linnamäe has also dipped his toe into the Fabia waters to see the difference – something Kaur, Oliver Solberg, Nil Solans and Nikolay Gryazin, among others, have mirrored.
“What I found was that the Fabia maybe isn’t as nice to drive completely on the limit,” Linnamäe told DirtFish.
“But on the other hand it’s easier to set up and it’s a complete tank; it takes a lot of punishment with no problems. Whereas the Polo hasn’t had as much development time, which means that it might not be as strong as the Fabia as a car. It’s not as robust.”
That’s a silver bullet for a customer car: a wider setup window and tough as nails. No wonder it’s flooding entry lists all over the place.
Volkswagen Motorsport’s demise didn’t leave Polo drivers scrambling for spares at the end of 2020 – a parts distributor was lined up ahead of time. But as each year passes, it’s going to get a little tougher to get OEM parts.
Linnamäe ponders which of the current Rally2 options might replace his Polo. You can guess which car gets mentioned first.
“There’s a new Fabia coming out; there’s rumors of Toyota bringing out its Rally2 car soon. Those cars will probably be the next step forward. We’ll have to see after this season.”
Rally2 isn’t going to be a multi-brand utopia much longer if the development war ends with a clear winner. Škoda has set out its stall and has a plan in motion to cement its place as the biggest player in Rally2 – how will its rivals respond?