First contested in 1973, the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) features the best rally drivers and co-drivers in the world, fighting it out against the clock in powerful versions of production cars. They race in extremely varied conditions, ranging from the icy tarmac of Monte-Carlo to the ultra-fast forest tracks in Finland.
How a rally works
Generally held from Thursday evening to Sunday lunchtime, each rally features between 15 and 25 timed sections, known as “special stages” (or just stages), contested on closed roads.
To get from one stage to another, crews drive on normal roads, which are open to the public, and must therefore observe the rules of the highway code. They also typically stop three times per day (morning, midday and evening) at what is known as the service park. Here, mechanics have a given period of time in which they can make repairs and alter settings.
Outside of service, only the crews can work on the cars, using solely the tools and equipment they have in the car. Drivers take it in turns to tackle the stages, the idea being to complete them as quickly as possible.
The co-drivers read out detailed pace notes, describing the road characteristics and conditions. These notes are taken before the race begins by the crew, during what is known as reconnaissance (or ‘recce’). This involves driving through the stages at a reduced speed, noting down the features of the road.
At the end of the rally, the crew that has managed to complete all of the stages in the fastest time is declared the winner. Points are awarded to the top ten (25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1) for the drivers’, co-drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships, whilst the final stage, known as the Power Stage, also awards bonus points to the top five crews (5-4-3-2-1).
The sport’s elite category is currently contested by the works teams of Toyota Gazoo Racing, Hyundai Motorsport and M-Sport Ford. Compliant with the Rally1 technical regulations, so-called World Rally Cars are powered by four-cylinder, 1.6-litre turbo engines, developing around 380 horsepower. These four-wheel drive cars – which come with a sequential gearbox, paddle shift controls and highly sophisticated aerodynamics – weigh in at a measly 1,190kg (unladen).
WRC2 and WRC3
Although both these series use R5 category cars, compliant with the Rally2 technical regulations, the former is restricted to manufacturer-backed teams whilst the latter is intended for privateers. Powered by four-cylinder, 1.6-litre turbo engines, the cars used develop some 285 horsepower. Although they also feature four-wheel drive and a sequential gearbox with paddle shift controls, they weigh in at 1,230kg (unladen) and have less sophisticated aerodynamics.
Available to drivers born on 1 January 1991 or later, this is the entry-level class of the world rally championship. Contested at five rounds of the WRC, this championship is contested by crews all driving a Ford Fiesta R2T, compliant with the Rally4 technical regulations. Featuring a three-cylinder, 999cc turbo engine combined with a sequential gearbox, this front-wheel drive car develops 200 horsepower and weighs in at just 1030 kg. The winner of the Junior WRC title is rewarded with a drive the following season in the WRC3, behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta R5.