I know there are few memes more tired in this advanced age of the internet than that Xzibit one, but that’s really the only meme that comes to mind looking at the back of Hyundai’s 2022 World Rally Championship challenger, the i20 N Rally1. “Rally1" to reflect the WRC’s new regulations, taking effect this year, where the cars will employ hybrid power for the very first time.
They’ll also have bolder aerodynamics packages. In the case of this new Hyundai, that means a deeper front splitter, rear fender flares that wrap around the bumper and, of course, the mother of all rear wings.
This isn’t the first Rally1 car we’ve seen yet. M-Sport, the team that runs Ford’s WRC operation, debuted the Puma Rally1 way back in July at Goodwood. That car — which looked controversial because it was built in the shell of a crossover and almost all its predecessors were compact hatches — still had relatively normal scaffolding affixed to the back. Nothing as extreme as this Hyundai, which reminds me of the gigantic multi-segment wings common on Formula 1 cars in the mid-’80s.
Like in every other discipline of top-level motorsport, aero has always bore some importance to rally. But if you compare the WRC cars of today to the production-looking ones of the ’90s or even much of the 2000s, the transformation’s been profound. Today’s WRC bodywork shares more in common visually with that of Super GT machines, or even the competition in DTM about 15 years ago.
The vents immediately ahead of the B pillar give away that there’s something the needs cooling back there, and it’s not an internal combustion engine. That’s where the spec battery pack lives, supplied by Kreisel Electrics, right next to the rear axle. It’ll contribute 134 horsepower to the affair. In tandem with the 1.6-liter turbo fours carried over from last year’s cars, overall power output will be around 515 HP.
Unlike electric deployment in some forms of racing, electric power will be continuously supplied in Rally1 cars. However, teams are free to determine how much of it to use and for how long depending on race strategy and driver preference. Pure electric power is available when traveling between stages. From the WRC’s official explainer:
During a special stage, teams and drivers will be able to create up to three personalised ‘maps’ to decide how to deploy the 100kW hybrid power.
These maps will be based on driver input only (throttle pedal and brake). They will allow the release of energy in a way that is tailored to the driver’s style and the road conditions.
The amount of power released with each press of the throttle will be decided by the length of the stage and the state of charge (SOC) of the battery. For example, a short stage and a full battery means the electric power can be delivered longer with each throttle application. A long stage means there is less energy available at each throttle application.
The hybrid unit automatically recovers electrical power when the throttle pedal is released and under braking (regeneration phase or ‘regen’). The MGU additionally brakes the car and charges the battery.
One concern that’s been raised is what happens if a hybrid rally car is damaged and poses a potential shock risk to anyone rushing to aid. Like in circuit racing, Rally1 cars feature LEDs that confirm if the car is safe to touch, and marshals are of course taught to seek out those lights before acting. But in rallying, spectators often leap to help push cars out of sticky situations, or roll them onto all four wheels again — so it’s crucial that the WRC educate all fans in attendance.
Aside from powertrain and aero changes, Rally1 cars utilize tubular space frames compared to the weaker production-based underpinnings of prior-gen machines. In that sense, they’re silhouette races. They also feature simpler suspensions, sequential gearboxes with only five gears, no center differentials and no liquid brake cooling, among other changes. WRC’s new era kicks off the weekend of January 20 with the Rally Monte Carlo, and at this point the only top-class team yet to reveal its 2022 contender is Toyota.