Here's What to Make of the New WRC Categories
Rally Mexico has just wrapped up for another year, and it’s more than likely that if you enjoy intercontinental motorsport, you tuned in to check it out.
Close to nine million people across the globe watch the World Rally Championship. With viewer numbers for this motorsport event growing rapidly, there has never been a better time to watch.
But WRC is also seeing rapid changes, and it can be hard to keep up with the new categories bursting onto the scene. WRC comprises several rallying classes: WRC, WRC 2 Pro, WRC 2, and Junior WRC.
Sound confusing? Here’s what they all mean.
WRC is only getting faster
In this premier class, the world’s best drivers compete for the win across ice, snow, dirt, gravel, tarmac, and mud. In 2017, WRC overhauled the technical specifications for the cars, making room for manufacturers to develop cars with more downforce and more power. This also means more work for the drivers, and it requires them to think and act fast. After all, when you’re travelling faster than previous cars have allowed, you’ll need to maintain your focus in every second of the rally.
The newest generation of WRC cars was released in 2017, and produces up to 380bhp from their 1.6 litre direct injection turbo-charged engines. They weigh a slight 1190kg, are four-wheel drive, and have about 450nm of torque for serious acceleration. This has shaken up manufacturers’ advantages, which used to be predetermined and see some manufacturers able to dominate WRC over the course of several seasons. But now, every driver must compete with a new breed of car, which means it’s a level playing field.
It’s also much harder to predict the outcome of the rounds. Of all today’s WRC manufacturers, each has won a number of rallies with the new cars. It’s anybody’s game.
The new generation of rally cars remains the most aesthetically aggressive to date. With flared arches and oversized rear spoilers, these modern WRC cars have a distinct style, yet bring with them an air of the crazy ‘80s Group B rally cars.
The success of these new-generation WRC cars is breathing life into the sport that we haven’t witnessed for many years. You only have to see the onboard action of Rally Mexico this year, compared to five years ago, to understand how much faster these newly manufactured WRC cars really are.
WRC 2 Pro is a new category this year
As of 2019, WRC 2 has been split into two categories: WRC 2 Pro for drivers with manufacturer backing, and WRC 2 for privateers.
WRC 2 Pro introduces more manufacturers into the sport, with the aim of widening the number of drivers in this feeder category. The championship will use this category to source talent for its main WRC series, meaning more drivers have the chance to climb the ranks.
Drivers in WRC 2 Pro nominate eight rounds from the full championship calendar in which they’ll take part. Their results in these chosen rallies then count towards their chance of winning the WRC 2 Pro drivers’ championship.
WRC 2 will let you race against the big guns
WRC 2 is specifically focused on privateer entries in WRC rounds, with a lesser total of just six rallies counting towards a WRC 2 drivers’ championship. With the right funding, you could enter this category, too.
Both WRC 2 categories compete with the same R5 regulation cars, using a 1.6 litre, four cylinder turbo-charged engine with fuel injection. R5 cars output about 285bhp, weigh 1230kg, and are four-wheel drive.
WRC 2 was born out of two existing categories (SWRC and PWRC) in 2013, with hopes that it would provide a unified category for those aiming to make the jump into the full championship.
Successful drivers in WRC 2 are usually scouted by manufacturers, which gives a big opportunity to a talented privateer. In this month’s Rally Mexico, Mexican driver Benito Guerra claimed his first victory in WRC 2, which means all eyes are on him.
World-class rally drivers are born from Junior WRC
Designed as an entry-level category into the world of WRC, this series runs across five WRC events, with drivers’ best four results counting towards a drivers’ championship.
The Junior WRC car, known as R2, is designed, developed, and supplied by M-Sport Poland. The car’s 1-litre, three-cylinder engine produces about 200bhp. These cars are front-wheel drive only, and weigh about 1030kg. All this means the cars have less performance output, so entry-level drivers can’t race at too high a speed compared to their WRC 2 companions. Junior WRC drivers must first learn how to race their R2 on different surfaces as quickly as possible before they can jump up to the cars with more power.
After February’s Rally Sweden, these emerging competitors will battle for the Junior WRC title in Corsica Linea — Tour de Corse from 28 March.
The foundations for this entry-level category were laid in 2001 with the development of the Super-1600 class. Junior WRC has since been responsible for the rise of WRC champions — with previous winners the likes of Sebastien Loeb, Sebastien Ogier, Dani Sordo, and Elfyn Evans.
In 2019, the Junior WRC championship runs alongside a handful of WRC rallies in Europe but on no other continent — making entry to the category somewhat restrictive for overseas rally driver hopefuls.
So who’s the fastest?
Each WRC round will send the quickest cars through the stages first. Structured from fastest to slowest, the rallies kick off with WRC and work their way down to the slower WRC 2 or Junior WRC drivers.
So when you join as one of the 848 million viewers to tune into WRC’s upcoming Corsica race this 28 March, you’ll see from the ground up how WRC makes its mark on drivers and manufacturers at every stage of the game.
Christopher Leon Rushworth is a Tasmanian-based motorsport enthusiast and journalist. He has participated in motorsport since the age of 12, including Targa Wrest Point and circuit racing. Chris now writes as a freelance journalist while working in ICT at the University of Tasmania.