WRC teams weigh in on Rally2 replacing Rally1 debate

A Rally2-based alternative top tier, that has been dubbed as Rally2 Plus, is understood to be among a number of options on the table being discussed by the FIA’s new working group.

Headed by FIA Deputy President Robert Reid, the 2001 World Rally Championship title-winning co-driver, and the 1981 WRC co-driver champion David Richards, the group was devised late last year to evaluate and recommend the future direction of rallying.

A meeting was held with the current WRC teams Toyota, Hyundai and M-Sport-Ford in London last month to discuss the future direction of the WRC’s premier class.

The current Rally1 hybrid regulations are in only the third year of a homologation cycle that usually covers a five-year period. The FIA highlighted last year that it expected an evolved form of Rally1 would continue until a more significant overhaul of regulations tipped for the 2027 season.

However, there appears to be momentum for a swift change in regulations. A report from Italy has even stated that Rally1 could be dropped by as early as 2025. Motorsport.com understands this is unlikely but cannot be completely ruled out.

How has the WRC reached this point?

The introduction of Rally1 hybrid rules marked a fresh start for the WRC in 2022. The ruleset signified a move towards a more sustainable future with all-new cars designed from the ground up running control 100kW hybrid units and powered by 100% sustainable fuel.

Rally1 cars have ticked several boxes. The vehicles are much safer than their 2017-spec predecessors, courtesy of a new tougher space frame chassis, and are a step faster thanks to the hybrid power that develops 500 horsepower in short bursts. The new chassis has proven to be versatile allowing manufacturers to use varying classes of road cars.

For example, M-Sport has opted to use an SUV crossover as its platform, utilising the Ford Puma, while Hyundai and Toyota have selected a traditional hatchback in the i20 N and GR Yaris. The Rally1 cars also look and sound spectacular, but ultimately the regulations – devised to attract a new manufacturer – have so far failed. It has, however, kept the current manufacturers at least interested.

But in the eyes of many its biggest flaw is the cost, which the FIA has admitted is far too expensive, with Rally1 cars priced not far shy of the €1m euro mark, when a Rally2 car can be purchased for approximately €200,000-300,000. The cost is among the key factors as to why there are only eight Rally1 cars on the entry list for the Monte Carlo season opener this week, and has prompted plenty of discussion among the working group and current WRC teams.

Toyota GR Yaris Rally2

Photo by: Toyota

Toyota GR Yaris Rally2

Several options are being discussed. These include carrying on with the Rally1 cars until 2026 before a major shake-up in 2027. The FIA has also now interestingly permitted Rally1 cars to be run in the WRC without hybrid kits this year, with the caveat that they are not eligible for manufacturer points. This could potentially keep the current technology teams that have invested millions already and eliminate the cost of hybrid technology. It also allows for Rally1 cars to be used in national competitions and therefore could make the cars more viable and accessible for young drivers and privateers.

Then there is a move to Rally2/Rally2 Plus which would address the cost factor significantly and in theory be a quick fix to bolster the entry list, given the category is already thriving. All current Rally1 teams have developed Rally2 cars for this customer rallying scene, with Toyota joining the party this year with the GR Yaris Rally2. Skoda and Citroen are also currently competing in this tier of rallying, and it could conceivably open the doors to more marques given the possibility of a better return on investment.

Autosprint in Italy is reporting that Lancia is interested in joining the Rally2 scene which would be a coup for the WRC. But like anything in life, there are positives and negatives. The current Rally2 cars are not as fast or as spectacular looking or sounding, which could make attracting a new audience, which the WRC is keen to explore, difficult. Of course, there are always solutions, for example, a Rally2 car modification kit to slightly increase speed and aesthetics could help resolve this issue.

But then there is the fact that the automotive industry is moving away from developing and selling the B-segment production cars that have historically provided the platform for Rally2. Last year Ford ended production of its Fiesta road car, which its Rally2 car is based around as the rise of crossovers and SUVs continues.

What is the verdict from WRC teams

It is a complex problem for the FIA and WRC to address, but one that is vital in ensuring a healthy future for top-level rallying. So, what are the thoughts of the current Rally1 manufacturers and teams regarding rallying’s future?

Toyota is open to both sticking with Rally1 until the end of 2026 and a switch to Rally2/Rally2 Plus.

“At the moment from a Toyota perspective we are basically fine with both options Rally1 or Rally2,” Toyota WRC team principal Jari-Matti Latvala told Motorsport.com.

“These [Rally1 cars] are great machines, I would say they are fast, safe and they look good and they sound good, but they are very, very expensive. We don’t have privateers as we used to have in the older days. Moving to Rally2 or let’s say Rally2 Plus would solve many of the issues especially cost-wise, which could allow privateers to come and run in the top class.

“I don’t necessarily think it [the changes] will be in 2025 but I think if all the teams are now confident to carry on with these [Rally1] cars for 2025 and 2026 then I would expect 2027 would be when there are changes.”

Elfyn Evans, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT, Jari-Matti Latvala, Team principal Toyota Gazoo Racing

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Elfyn Evans, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT, Jari-Matti Latvala, Team principal Toyota Gazoo Racing

Latvala also has a personal view as to how he feels the future of the WRC should look.

“This is not Toyota’s idea by my personal idea. We have the Rally3 class so why not make that the Rally2 class and then we make this current Rally2 [the top tier] and we do a modification kit [to the cars],” he added.

“What we need basically is a bit bigger rear wing and a bit more sound. The cars don’t need to be faster, speed-wise they need to have a bit more of an aggressive look and sound. They don’t need to be faster because the cars have been getting faster and faster over the years anyway. If we want more speed we can go one millimetre higher with the restrictor. If we want to have cars that are faster then they have to fit the safety requirements, so it comes to the point of could we run a normal production shell cars or do they need to be a tubular chassis? This is a difficulty, so this is why we should try to keep the speed a bit down in that sense.

“These Rally1 cars are great machinery, and in one way it would be nice to keep going with these cars, but if we don’t get more manufacturers, I don’t know how we can manage that. Then for me the quick and easy solution is to jump down to Rally2.”

Hyundai’s team principal Cyril Abiteboul believes understanding exactly what the WRC stands for with its future vision is critical before deciding if Rally2 is the answer to the championship’s future.

“There was open discussions and debate and what I invited the group [in the London meeting] to reflect over was to think what rally stands for in today’s world, where things move fast and the B-segment of the automotive industry is changing and electrification is coming and the appetite for safety and a sustainable environment is absolutely key and what we stand for,” Abiteboul told Mototsport.com.

“What do we want to say to the fans, to the sponsors and to the media. I think it is important to have this theoretical approach to the sport so that we have guidelines, because I think that is what has been missing.

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

“It [Rally2] was one of the aspects that was indeed discussed and put on the table and that is why I mentioned what I have mentioned. What do we stand for? If we say that we are a championship that is purely a customer racing championship, and it is 100% a driver championship, therefore the contribution of the manufacturers and the teams is more limited, then why not?

“I think that by only questioning what we stand for and what our mission and vision then we can decide on such an important question as Rally1 and Rally2. It may be that Rally2 can be a solution, but a solution to what problem?

“We need to be clear about the problem in order to get the right solution. I don’t want to say it [Rally2] is a good thing or a wrong thing. Rally2 could be a good solution to the right problem, but let’s make sure we all agree on the problem. As a manufacturer, for sure we would be very sad seeing category in which we have massively invested in and continue to believe in disappearing before the end of its planned homologation cycle.

“We are trying to address mainly the cost issue and we are trying to engage with the fanbase, it could be a solution but is it [Rally2] the right solution for the manufacturers to stay invested and market our best in automotive technology? Then Rally2 is not the solution.”

Interestingly, M-Sport’s team principal Richard Millener has a different take on the situation. He believes making the category more appealing to manufacturers should be the current focus rather than simply installing Rally2 as the top tier.

“We are discussing every option [for the future] but anything changing dramatically for 2025 would surprise me,” Millener told Motorsport.com.

“We have got to be realistic in how long it takes to develop a car and I think cost-wise we need to be careful when people comment saying that Rally2 is the future because if you have a big budget then you will still spend a big budget on Rally2 or Rally1 regardless.

M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1

“For me personally, we need a pinnacle. The funding is a very important part of the sport but if we have the following, the media interest and people around the sport, then the money comes with that element and that is maybe where we are missing at the moment. I think we need to think about how to make it more appealing and entertaining for people and how we can get more people to see the sport.

“Rally2 is fantastic category for what it was designed for which is for semi-professionals and privateers. Rally1 should be the goal at the top and if you take that away suddenly the privateers that are looking to get to the top realise they are at top. People that go to see these cars on the stages would not want to get rid of them in the long run.

“I think cost is relevant of course but any form of motorsport is not cheap. I think we have to understand why the OEMs don’t believe that spending the cost on the series is justifiable at this moment, which is a bigger thing, and what easy wins we can do to help. We have all developed and invested in these cars at the moment, and I think the introduction of a non-hybrid variety is interesting.”

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1, Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1, Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

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