World Rally Championship

Rally Report

Toyota ends the first year of hybrids in the WRC on top

After 24 years, the WR car has gone through some big changes for the first time

The 2022 WRC completed 13 rounds with the final round, Rally Japan, last month. This season offered a lot to talk about, but the biggest change was the introduction of the Rally1 car with a hybrid system. The WR car, which had been a mainstay of the WRC for 24 years since 1997, came to an end, and the newly introduced Rally1 was named as such in order to develop public awareness of rally cars. Like F1, F2 and F3 in formula cars, from this year the categories have been organised into Rally2, Rally3 and Rally1 at the top.

The Rally1 car is a complete reversal of the traditional rally car concept. Conventional rally cars, including WR cars, are based on production models, and this will not change in Rally2 to Rally5 cars from this year onwards. However, although the Rally1 car has a body design and name reminiscent of its production version, it is in fact more like a racing car running on public roads, with a tubular frame, which was often used in racing cars before carbon monocoques, as well as a special engine and hybrid system.

The performance of Rally1 was expected to be lower than that of WR cars. This is because of the increased weight due to the complex hybrid system as well as the limited use of aerodynamic devices and control of the drivetrain. However, the Rally1 car was faster than the conventional WR car in sections where a hybrid boost, which uses the hybrid motor in addition to engine power, could be utilised. Also, with the car’s large movements due to various restrictions, the Rally1 car gave the impression of spectacular driving.

Rovanperä’s and Toyota’s championship crowns are the result of such reliability

With a completely new chassis configuration and hybrid system, all eyes were on which manufacturer/team would be ahead in terms of development and maturity of the cars early in the season. And it was the M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 that won the season opener in Monte Carlo.  Even though their car was driven by Sébastien Loeb, who has always been great in Monte Carlo, this win for M-Sport was priceless as they were said to be financially challenged. Toyota, on the other hand, also showed that the performance of their car was good.

Then, from Round 2 Sweden to Round 4 Portugal, Kalle Rovanperä in a Yaris Rally1, achieved an unstoppable three consecutive wins. Rovanperä went on to win Round 6 Safari and Round 7 Estonia, which determined the landscape of the drivers’ championship already in the first half of the season. With last year’s ace driver Sébastien Ogier’s limited participation in the championship, Toyota needed a new star, and the Finn met their expectations with his six wins throughout the season.

However, his season would have been difficult without the savings from the first half, as he had day retirements in three rallies in the second half. Our focus next season will be not only about how fast he can drive, but also how consistent he can be after winning the title.

The reliability of the Yaris Rally1 was the key to Rovanperä’s success in the first half of the season. In addition to the performance of the car, its reliability continued to underpin Rovanperä’s results. Hyundai was their biggest rival in the early to mid-season, but they suffered from minor problems and did not perform as well as they would have liked. By comparison, Toyota’s reliability in the early part of the season with a completely new car seemed almost too good to be true. Having said that, it seemed to show the efforts of their technical team, which concentrated on the development and maturation of their car in the short time before the season.

Toyota and Hyundai

In contrast to Toyota, which was dominant from the start, it was Hyundai that was slow to get off the ground. An analysis shows that if the season had only consisted of the seven rallies from Round 7 Estonia to Round 13 Japan, the championship would have belonged to Ott Tänak and Hyundai.  It is only a calculation, but in fact Hyundai’s performance in the middle and second half of the season overwhelmed Toyota. With their 1-2 finish in the final round, Rally Japan, still fresh in the memory, Hyundai picked up four of their five season wins in the second half of the season.

The reason for Hyundai’s poor results early in the season was that they were swamped by problems rather than the speed of the i20 Rally1, and there were only a few major time losses which could demotivate the drivers in the second half of the season. Without a team principal since the beginning of the year, their strategies wavered, and as such, Hyundai was unable to celebrate the first year of hybrid successfully. Championships are not just about speed per event, but about strategy and performance throughout the year. Their solid performance in the second half of the season was undoubtedly the light at the end of the tunnel for Hyundai.

With M-Sport seemingly intending to strengthen their line-up, what will happen in the 2023 season?

Among the three teams, there appears to be no significant difference in the performance of their cars which they developed and matured throughout the year 2022. Thus, driver line-ups will be key in 2023, and Toyota will basically be the same as in 2022. Hyundai has seen the departure of one of their leading duos, Ott Tänak and Thierry Neuville as their sole ace. Esapekka Lappi, who used to occasionally drive for Toyota, will take over one of the regular driver’s seats. Craig Breen, who was a M-Sport regular driver and Dani Sordo will also drive for the stable. As such, the two teams which fought for the title have their driver line-ups confirmed.

2019 driver champion Tänak, who announced his departure from Hyundai after the end of the season, is set to take part in the full season under M-Sport Ford. M-Sport now has one of the few drivers alongside Nouville who can compete with Rovanperä. This means each one of the three teams competing in 2023 will have a driver who can win the rallies. Interest in the championship fight is likely to be undeniably boosted.

Meanwhile, the 2023 WRC calendar has been settled with 13 rounds, although there was news that the calendar would be extended to 14 rounds. Of the 2022 events, Ypres, New Zealand and Catalunya have been removed and replaced by Mexico, Chile and Central Europe (held in Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria). Mexico and Chile have a track record of hosting the WRC, and the new rally is the Central Europe round. However, the organisers, ADAC, have a wealth of experience in holding rallies, including Rally Deutschland. It will be interesting to see how the cross-border event, with the start and finish in Germany and SSs also in the Czech Republic and Austria, will turn out.

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