The World Rally Championship’s biggest names of today have waved farewell and paid tribute to the World Rally Cars, particularly to the latest breed they have competed with over the last few years that “started to scare” Sébastien Ogier “a little bit.”
Starting in 1997 and ending in 2021, the World Rally Car has evolved greatly over that 25-year period with major regulations shake-ups in 2011 with the reduction in engine size from two to 1.6-liters and then again in 2017 when power was hiked and bigger aerodynamic packages added.
The era will be remembered primarily for being dominated by two Sébastiens: Loeb and Ogier. But inside the cars it wasn’t just the feeling of winning that made the era special, as reigning World Rally Champion Ogier explains.
“I feel privileged to have such a long time in this sport that I love and with so many different cars, and most of these WRC cars have been firstly exciting to drive but also spectacular and nice for the fans to watch,” said Ogier.
“It’s been a really good time and now like always in life every good thing has an end and some new era is starting, but at the end it might not be called WRC but it’s still an evolution of a WRC. It’s not like a complete revolution I would say.”
That was what he said before getting into his Toyota Yaris WRC for Monza Rally, and after getting out of it for the final time at the end of the event – with a 54th win and eighth WRC title in a World Rally Car now on his CV – he divulged further.
These ones had this extra little bit of craziness in it, like remembering the Group B timesSébastien Ogier on the 2017-21 WRC cars
“That’s four titles with this [2017-21] generation,” he said. “They were simply amazing cars, I think everybody enjoyed it. The drivers of course, but the fans because I’m sure the next one will be spectacular, [but] the previous ones were spectacular.
“When you give the best rally drivers some competitive cars the most important is they are not too different from each other and then there will always be a show. But these ones had this extra little bit of craziness in it, like remembering the Group B times with all these fans.
“The speed we reach now was sometimes started to scare me a little bit I have to be honest, and getting older you see more and more the risk and I was never really prepared to take full risk of my life but maybe getting older it’s always a tendency to go slightly lower and then try to compensate with your experience.
“But it’s been a very good time with these cars. Also before, we were mentioning the three teams I had a chance – I had more than three teams but the three teams I won championships [with] – it was kind of a big chance for me as well to meet them along the way because it’s a team sport, you win and you lose together.”
Elfyn Evans also gushed about the cars which have now retired.
“Pretty sad to see them go,” he remarked. “I’ve had just such fantastic moments behind the wheel, they’ve been very, very enjoyable to drive.
“After a lot of scepticism, when this set of regulations was being brought in there was a lot of worries about how safe they would be, but I think it’s proved to be better than ever from that side. And from a driving point of view it’s just been a massive thrill to drive them.
“So of course Rally1 has a lot to live up to, and maybe it’s not going to be quite as raw of an experience as we had with these cars, but let’s see how it goes. It’s still very early days for Rally1, so it’s hard to judge fully where we are. But definitely going to miss this era, and glad to have driven most of the rallies in these cars.”
Kalle Rovanperä, the youngest and least experienced of Toyota’s line-up, only got to do 21 rallies in World Rally Cars and two of them weren’t even in the WRC.
He did however win on his Yaris debut, then claimed his first two WRC triumphs in 2021 so was “happy for sure” to get his chance at driving in this era. Of course his father Harri also spent many years in World Rally Cars and was a winner too.
Hyundai has been one of the most successful teams of the latest World Rally Car era, winning the manufacturers’ title twice but has been runner-up with Thierry Neuville an agonizing four times in the drivers’ championship.
Despite this, Neuville only has good memories from driving World Rally Cars.
“We have to mention that we pass five years of those [current] cars, and they have been developed a lot in those five years,” he said. “So the one from 2017 is completely different to the one we’re driving today. And the pleasure you have when you’re driving such cars, it’s huge.
“The amount of pleasure you have is huge and I think they’re gonna stay for a long time in the minds of the people, but the new cars are going to be interesting as well.”
Neuville’s new team-mate for Monza, Teemu Suninen, moved up the WRC pecking order with M-Sport Ford before a sour split and a recent salvation at Hyundai.
“It’s been really special to drive these cars, especially when these have been the fastest ever rally cars,” Suninen said. “It’s really nice to take part in the last rally here with this because that’s the highest ever we are getting with these cars.”
DirtFish is giving fans the chance to have their say too, opening up a poll to vote for their favorite World Rally Car from 1997-2021.
Voting closes later on Tuesday, so if you haven’t taken part yet make sure you do here.