Sunday, July 14, 2024

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The future WRC regulations can be determined after months of debate

The WRC was working towards Tuesday's meeting of the World Motor Sport Council, where answers to several questions are expected.

The highlight of the agenda is the technical regulations for next yr and 2026, which have sparked much heated debate because the FIA ​​presented its proposals for the longer term of the WRC in February.

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It is widely expected that the present Rally1 regulations will remain in force until the tip of 2026.

It would mark a retreat from an FIA proposal made in February by a working group of motorsport's governing body, arrange in December to “assess and recommend the future direction of rallying”.

February's proposal was to phase out hybrid powertrains from Rally1 cars from next yr as a part of a plan to narrow the performance gap with Rally2 cars through reduced aerodynamics, a modified rear wing and a smaller air restrictor.

This coincided with a proposal addressed to manufacturers to supply an optional modernization kit for Rally2 cars to extend their performance and enable some competitors to fight within the sharp end of rallies.

The idea was met with strong opposition from the present Rally1 teams and WRC2 manufacturers, which resulted in a letter being sent to the FIA ​​in April asking to take care of the present regulations.

The teams' most important concerns concerned the short time to revamp, test and approve changes to next season's cars and the incontrovertible fact that investment had already been made in the present cars to compete within the five-year homologation cycle [2022-2026].

The FIA ​​was enthusiastic about increasing the variety of entries and ensuring a smooth transition until 2027, when it plans to introduce latest regulations based on the present Rally1 concept.

These 330-horsepower vehicles will use a standard safety bay to scale back costs and permit manufacturers and tuners to develop custom-bodied cars based on production models.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo: Vincent Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

Various meetings have been held since February with stakeholders and the WRC Commission to seek out an extra solution, with the outcomes expected on Tuesday. Documentation has been prepared and can be submitted to the WMSC, where a call can be made.

While the FIA ​​stays coy on what can be announced, speaking on the Rally of Sardinia, the governing body's director of road sport, Andrew Wheatley, says a “smooth transition” to 2027 might be expected.

“I think an incredible amount of work has been done over the last three months and I think we're probably 50% of it done,” Wheatley told Motorsport.com when asked in regards to the upcoming World Motor Sport Council meeting.

“We have strayed thus far from the discussion we had, but that’s partly because these were quite extensive discussions that took place over a protracted time frame.

“I think you will see that we will be able to make a smooth transition to 2027, and the concepts they have generated, the positive energy and the hard work put in are proof that everyone believes the World Rally Championship has delivered a successful, strong future.”

Time will tell what exactly this “smooth transition” means on paper, but WRC teams have already given hints that Rally1 as we all know it’ll proceed next yr.

In Croatia, Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala suggested he wasn't expecting too many changes while in Sardinia earlier this month and said: “There have been rumors within the media that the present cars will stay for what I assume is the following two years.

“I imagine that is the suitable path since the investment has already been accomplished and there is no such thing as a point in making a big investment in a short while.

“We should deal with the 2027 regulations and all of the teams agree on that, so I hope so. For me, a automobile with or with out a hybrid doesn't make much of a difference overall. No additional investment in these current cars, I feel it might be best to avoid wasting the budget for everybody.”

Hyundai has made its position clear, with boss Cyril Abiteboul revealing that uncertainty has forced the team to leave a major update of the present i20 N scheduled for 2025.

The former Renault Formula 1 boss believes the changes proposed to the Rally1 cars would create a product “not up to the standards” of the WRC.

As a result, the Frenchman told his team to take their probabilities with the present rules, and his design team continued working on improvements to the team's current i20 N for next yr.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

“It's high time that we have clarity about the future, especially for the team and our design office, because it is very difficult to determine what cars and what regulations to work on,” Abiteboul told Motorsport.com.

“We anticipated this and made some assumptions in regards to the conclusions of the World Motor Sport Council and hopefully our assumptions can be confirmed. This is essential in order that we will report back to headquarters on what 20205 and 2026 appear to be.”

M-Sport-Ford is committed to regulatory stability for next yr as well, with a powerful deal with securing one of the best possible championship position with a purpose to attract latest brands for 2027.

“We don't have any solid results [yet] but from all the pieces I hear, I feel stability is the important thing and we’re specializing in 2027, which is what we would like,” Millener told Motorsport.com in Sardinia.

“All manufacturers are very aligned and really positive about trying to seek out a way forward for 2027. We are considering different powertrains and options, so there is no such thing as a excuse for any manufacturer to enter the race, whether that happens or not, that's one other story.

“We need a final signature and then we can move on. I think we had a difficult few months of instability, which wasn't really necessary.”

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