If there is one thing that rallying has consistently managed to do, it’s create an utterly bewildering class structure that leaves all but the most dedicated anorak-wearing car spotters aghast.
A Formula One car is a Formula One car. A NASCAR is a NASCAR. A rally car is subject to different homologation requirements for the multitudinous sub-species of the genus. Let’s get this straight: it is geeky beyond words.
We are very fortunate, therefore, that the current FIA president is engaged to a Bond girl. You see, it pays not to get too geeky about the types of car that are taking part in a motor sport event. That’s something which Jean Todt understands only too well, with the result that a new and clearer-than-ever class structure now exists for rallying around the world so that Michelle Yeoh and other Bond girls worldwide can now breathe easy. Rallying is sexy again… and here’s our little guide:
1) Production-based ‘R cars’
The vast majority of rallies around the world will be contested by the various categories of Group R – namely production-based kit based on models of which no fewer than 2500 examples have been built in the previous 12 months. Group R will consist of six classes, designated R1, R2, R3, R4, R5 and RGT; some of these groups will contain their own sub-groups, with cars allocated to each group based on their weight, engine size and powertrain.
NGT is the random factor in all this, being for production-based sports cars competing in asphalt events in Europe. While there have been a number of teams over the years who have run Porsche GT3 Cup cars and Ferrari 360 Challenge cars on asphalt rallies, the class is pretty well dead at present. You never know, however, and maybe an enterprising team could produce a Porsche to rival those of Almeras, Prodrive and others that enlivened the sport in the 1970s-1980s!
To be honest, however, you really don’t need to worry too much about the difference between an R1A or an R1B, whether an R3T could be developed into an R5 or what the future holds for R4. Basically the two-wheel-drive cars of the foundation classes R1-R3 are where aspiring talent is to be found at a national level and form the WRC3. We then get to 4WD turbos with R4-R5 which will contest the WRC2 – these cars also being among the front-runners in regional series like the new-look FIA European Rally Championship.
So far so good? OK then…
2) S2000 cars
Super 2000 rally cars have been with us for seven years now, producing a heap of cars either direct from the in-house workshops of big maunfacturers such as Škoda Motorsport and Abarth, or by enterprising privateers who have got manufacturer blessing, such as the Chris Mellors-produced Protons. They have 2.0-litre normally aspirated engines, low-tech suspension and 4WD transmission systems are more bespoke in construction than, say, a 1.6-litre turbo R5 car.
The current generation of WRC cars are based on Super 2000 rules, with additional freedom on their aero kit, suspension and transmission as well as, of course, their 1.6-litre turbo engines. This means that the cars have an element of top-flight elite motor sport design in them, but that the fundamental architecture is that of affordable competition cars developed within the S2000 framework.
3) Regional Rally Cars
RRC cars don’t actually exist. Yes, we’ve seen them. Yes, they’ve won events – but they are NOT an official class. RRC is a phrase coined by M-Sport in order to sell what are effectively de-tuned Fiesta WRC cars, with less exotic suspension parts, a Super 2000 aero package and a bigger restrictor on their 1.6-turbo motors. They were allowed to market these cars for use alongside S2000 cars in regional series provided that parity could be achieved with the S2000 crowd. Citroën has now created a car to the same specification, which made its debut in the Rallye du Valais last week.
That’s where we stand in the big scheme of things.
Pure S2000 machinery is likely to disappear within a season or two, with either detuned 1.6 turbo engines making them ‘RRC’ specification or investment in R5 cars taking over. Similarly R4 is already all-but extinct, with the production-specification Mitsubishi Lancer Evos and Subaru Impreza WRXs now increasingly uncompetitive in all but club rallying.
The competing cars and teams will therefore evolve down clear routes: R1-R3 for low-cost front-wheel-drive cars, R5 for regional competitions and WRC2 and full WRC at the top of the tree.