With Rally Monza ending the 2021 World Rally Championship in epic style, the focus now shifts to 2022, a season overflowing with both technical and commercial opportunity.
Following in the tyre tracks of Formula 1 and the World Endurance Championship, WRC will enter a new hybrid era next year. The exciting move is the first step on the WRC’s quest to reach carbon net-zero status by 2030, a necessary goal in a world striving for increased sustainability across all industries, including motorsport.
The new Rally1 regulations – which Hyundai, Toyota and M-Sport have all committed to through 2024 – will see the cars fitted with 100kW plug-in hybrid power units that will produce over 500 horsepower when combined with a 1.6 litre internal combustion engine.
Unlike the push-to-pass systems of other motorsport championships with hybrid engines, drivers in WRC will instead deploy the electrical energy through an automatic system dictated by pre-programmed engine maps. These maps (of which there are six – three for boost and three for generation) will be based solely on the use of the throttle and brake pedal, allowing the additional energy to be released in a bespoke manner dependant on driving style, road conditions and stage characteristics.
The crews will utilise the new hybrid system across all stages of all thirteen rallies on the 2022 calendar, as well as engaging a full electric mode during road sections between stages and when navigating the service park. Although the experience of a rally car moving in relative silence may be jarring for fans at first, it represents a massive leap forward for the sport on its journey towards an eco-friendlier future.
In addition to the hybrid powertrains, WRC will become the second FIA sanctioned series after WTCR to use 100% sustainable fuel next season, an important move for the championship.
As well as the environmentally-focused regulations, the WRC has introduced a number of other technical changes to be implemented on the new Rally1 cars. These changes include a less complex suspension, shorter wheel travel, simplified five-gear transmission system and the prohibition of liquid brake cooling. The chassis have also been re-designed to be stronger, and subsequently safer, for the 2022 season.
Thankfully, one aspect of the previous generation of machines that will remain the same is the aggressive aerodynamic styling of the cars, which has led to some of the closest fights in WRC history over the past five seasons.
Away from the cars themselves, WRC’s decision to implement more eco-conscious regulations brings new sponsorship opportunities for the series and its manufacturers. In the current climate, brands are understandably looking to put their names on something that is at the forefront of combatting the world’s social issues, not a product that is seemingly stuck in the past. By taking the plunge into the hybrid era, and setting long-term environmental goals, WRC has made itself a far more attractive proposition to potential partners with a desire to invest in motorsport.
In summary, it’s exciting to see the WRC accelerating towards a more sustainable future and taking a greater responsibility for its environmental impact. Although there is still much more that needs to be done across the motorsport landscape when it comes to sustainability and combatting climate change, the WRC’s shift to hybrid certainly indicates that we are moving in the right direction.