WRC, the world’s most challenging international motorsport series
(Visit www.wrc.com for more about the WRC)
Snow, ice, high altitudes, rocks, gravel, dangerous drop-offs and even rainforest – not for nothing is the FIA World Rally Championship described as the planet’s most challenging motorsport series.
Each of the 13 countries hosting the WRC, including Australia, presents a different scenic and cultural backdrop to an intense competition between makes and drivers.
Rally racing vs circuit racing
Rally cars run one at a time against the clock on closed stages of usually-public roads. Around 20 stages run over several days make up a complete WRC rally. The fastest total time takes the win.
Circuit racers complete against each other in large fields over multiple laps of an enclosed circuit. First past the flag wins.
Rally crews earn points for their finishing positions. The champion is the biggest points-earner at the end of the season.
Rally crews comprise a driver and co-driver (navigator), who calls out “pace notes” that guide speed and direction.
Technical regulations specify that rally cars are based on mass-production enclosed passenger vehicles such as hatchbacks, sedans or coupes. Circuit racers can be of many different types, also including open sports cars and traditional single-seaters.
Circuit racers drive single-handed, but may take turns in a race with a teammate.
Rally top speeds usually are lower than circuit racers. Rally courses have fewer straight stretches and the ability of cars to brake, turn and accelerate better is more important than outright speed.
Instead of racing pit stops. rally cars take scheduled Service Breaks several times a day. In just 20 minutes, rally mechanics can perform major repairs or component replacements.
Finally, rally cars must be road-legal and registered, so they can be driven on “liaison stages” that link the different competition Special Stages.
So, WRC pits drivers in (modified) production-based cars on normal roads in the vastly varying terrain and weather conditions of 13 countries on four continents. What could be more challenging than that?
It’s an old debate, whether rally drivers are better than circuit racers.
While circuit racers try to string together laps of equal perfection of a course that stays virtually unchanged, rally drivers face constantly varying conditions. This demands intense concentration.
On gravel roads, the surface grip and profile can be different for each car, affecting speed. Different cars may have very similar performance, but their characteristics all will be different due to factors such as tyre treads and composition, weight and individual driver technique.
Prepare to be amazed at Coates Hire Rally Australia that different drivers in different cars, on different tyres at different times of the day can complete a Special Stage within seconds of each other.
The most successful driver in the history of four-wheel world championships is Frenchman Sebastien Loeb. The former international gymnast won nine straight Drivers World Championships for his Citroen team. Germany’s Michael Schumacher won a mere seven titles over more years in Formula 1.
Underneath their colourful sponsor livery, World Rally Cars look just like their donor production models seen every day on the road.
They’re Ford Fiestas, Volkswagen Polos, Mini Coopers, Citroen DS3s, Skoda Fabias and more. The consumer relevance of the WRC ensures it’s a major marketing battleground for the world’s big car makers.
Roadgoing versions are for sale all over Australia, but you would need hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy the specially-constructed, highly-sophisticated rally equivalents.
The fastest category of WR cars must conform to a set of technical specifications designed to produce performance that is as equal as possible. Key requirements include a 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol engine, six-speed transmission with motorcycle-type sequential shifting, all-wheel drive and a minimum weight including crew.
Though small, they explode off the start line like a V8 Supercar.
The WRC is regulated and controlled by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the governing body for worldwide motorsport.
Most WRC rallies follow the same basic itinerary: two days’ reconnaissance on Tuesday and Wednesday to enable the driver and co-driver to check the route, “shakedown” – in effect, practice – on Thursday, followed by the competition itself on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Some events a include “Super Special Stages”, short and compact sprint tests which often feature two cars racing head-to-head, designed for spectator appeal.
Started in 1973, the WRC over the years has been a battleground for makes including Toyota, Subaru, Ford, Citroen, Fiat, Audi, Mitsubishi, Mini and Peugeot. The series attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators in some countries and a huge global television audience for every round.
In Australia, the 2013 WRC is shown on Foxtel’s Speed TV.