The days before Christmas brought little seasonal joy for the World Rally Championship when two works teams – Suzuki and Subaru – announced their withdrawal. It followed an FIA decision that, as from 2010, the new World Rally Car will be based on Super 2000 machinery and not a Group N car. These decisions do not seem to be interconnected since both manufacturers cited the downturn in global car sales as the cause of their withdrawal. Thus the 2009 WRC will involve just two manufacturers – Ford and Citroën.
The FIA decision stemmed from an instruction given to the WRC Commission in October 2007 to create rules for a cheaper World Rally car. This was to be based on Gp N and S2000 cars that would be fitted with a removable engine kit. The idea was that the kit should be “cheap, reversible and available for customers”. In December it was decided the kit should include simple aerodynamics to make the cars distinctive.
But when the Technical Commission’s response came a year later, it comprised a comprehensive kit that, in its attempts to equalise a turbocharged Gp N car with a normally aspirated S2000 car, had resulted in a specification that was virtually a current WR Car with all its electronics, hydraulics – and exorbitant expense. FIA president Max Mosley promptly called for a rethink.
There is within the FIA a split between those who want WRC costs cut and those who cling to the technologies that adorn the modern car. It is these that have pushed its cost beyond that of the most exotic road-going supercar. The cost-cutting suggestion for this December was to take the WRC down the plain S2000 route: no turbocharger, a minimum of electronics etc. A compromise was reached in that the kit be retained but only used on S2000 cars. This sounds like progress, but unless the original concept is followed, a new breed of WR Car will have been created. Already there are stirrings within the FIA to allow the kit to contain hydraulic systems and limited electronics.
Clearly the FIA has a lot to do to ensure its requirements are met. Otherwise the chances of the 2010 season featuring more than two manufacturers look slim. To see the way the wind is blowing, compare the entry lists of the opening round of the 2009 WRC, Rally Ireland, with the opening round of the IRC (S2000 based), the Monte Carlo Rally. The latter has 50 per cent more entries and 50 per cent more manufacturers.