Over the past decade, WRC records have tumbled more frequently than Australian wickets in an Ashes summer. Sebastien Loeb’s nine consecutive world championship crowns between 2004 and 2012 is a feat surely never to be matched. Another flying Frenchman, Sebastien Ogier, wasted no time in assuming the winning mantle and breezed to victory in the 2013 world championship by a record 114 point margin. The following year saw Ogier’s Volkswagen team rewrite the record books once again by posting a staggering total of twelve consecutive WRC victories over the course of two seasons before the incredible run eventually came to an end on home turf at Rally Germany 2014.
Historical achievements indeed, and ones that quite rightly deserve their places in the annals rallying folklore. However, seen through the eyes of a WRC fan, has the recent trend of one-man, one-team dominance become a tad too predictable – tedious even? Has the very lifeblood of the sport, its spectacular drama, been squeezed out by a more pragmatic consistency-based approach, both at the wheel and in the garage? Has WRC simply become too dull?
Those who hark back to the near-unrestricted days of mid 80s Group B rallying, when the word ’conservative’ was nowhere to be found in a driver’s vocabulary, may well agree.
Those of you who fall into that category will no doubt be delighted to discover that, from 2017, the WRC in its current guise will be taking a baby step back towards that most madcap era of off-road entertainment with faster, lighter, more striking cars on the agenda.
The thrilling new proposals were announced at the latest meeting of the FIA World Motorsport Council in Mexico City and represent the biggest change in technical rules since existing WRC regulations were introduced in 2011.
Although the field will likely remain hatchback-dominated, new, more lenient specifications on aerodynamics packages will allow for larger rear wings, a 55mm increase in width and greater overhangs at the front and rear of the cars, as glimpsed in the concept image above. This should see the arrival of some much meaner-looking machines lining up on the stages of the world’s premier rallying events in 2017, hopefully capturing the imagination of a whole new generation of fans.
The regulation overhaul is far from just cosmetic, however, with power rising from 300bhp to 380bhp courtesy of a larger 36mm turbo restrictor. Add to the concoction the return of electronically-controlled centre differentials and, significantly, a 25kg reduction in weight limit, and the class of WRC 2017 could be the most awe-inspiring rallying machines seen in a generation.
FIA technical director Bernard Niclot stressed that the new regulations place the onus very much on three specific areas; making the car spectacular, being mindful of costs, and maintaining, if not increasing safety.
By our estimation, the first of those boxes looks to have been ticked. The spotlight now shifts to the powers that be at WRC who must ensure that the other criteria are fulfilled and, crucially, that the events themselves can be adapted to fully showcase the exciting potential of the new generation of World Rally Cars.
Providing the whole process goes relatively smoothly between now and then, we should all be able to look forward to a very bright and thrilling new age of rallying in 2017.