WRC | The drive to a sustainable future in Hybrid rally cars

WRC | The drive to a sustainable future in Hybrid rally cars

28/10/2021 Off By admin

Next year the FIA World Rally Championship will reset and move to a new generation of Hybrid Rally1 cars, in a new wider sustainable approach to its competition; beginning at the iconic Monte Carlo Rally in January.

This implementation of hybrid rally cars in the top tier Rally1 competition class and the usage of sustainable fuels is part of WRC’s and the FIA’s desire to cut down on carbon emissions from the World Rally Championship and throughout motorsport.

FIA World Rally Championships Sustainable Hybrid Future

Photo: M-Sport

The three main teams that currently participate at the sports highest level, Toyota Gazoo Racing, Hyundai Motorsport and M-Sport will all be present at the opening round in Monte Carlo in January next year but M-Sport will not be in the trusty old Ford Fiesta that has served them well over the past decade-plus. Instead, they have changed to the Ford Puma which came as little surprise when formally unveiled at the Goodwood Festival of Speed UK.

FIA World Rally Championships Sustainable Hybrid Future

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing / WRC.com

Toyota remains with the Yaris and a test car was seen whizzing around the Finnish forest fairly early on but Hyundai was very late in its commitment. However, the Korean giants’ motorsport outfit will stick with the i20 but worryingly one of their lead drivers Theirry Neuville recently made comments and raised concerns hinting that they still have a lot of work to do.

FIA World Rally Championships Sustainable Hybrid Future

Photo: Hyundai Motorsport WRT / WRC.com

In reality, these cars are just a shell sitting on a common space frame chassis which will improve safety for the crews inside of them. It is also hoped that this change from manufacture specific chassis, along with the new more sustainable hybrid future, could attract other manufacturers to the sport and championship.

Ford has already stated that it will be producing all-electric cars by 2030, so if all car manufacturers follow suit in the production of their road-going products, where does that leave our beloved sport of rallying?

FIA World Rally Championships Sustainable Hybrid Future

Photo: M-Sport

The new FIA World Rally – Rally1 car regulations will last for at least the next 5 years but will the succeeding regulations be fully electric in the WRC after this and if so how would they impact rallying?

Talking at a recent Motorsport summit for Sustainability In Motorsport, M-Sports Team Principle Richard Millener thinks that the difficult bit is in defining the direction of the sport:  “It will be tricky not to lose the DNA of rallying” he comments. “We should always adapt and maintain what rallying is about”. 

For sure the goal of all stakeholders involved, the FIA, the WRC and its promotor would be to attract manufacturers and teams to the top tier of rallying right? But no doubt that it will be very difficult, given the level of investment required by them to get into the WRC in the first place and then the commitment required to maintain it… and competitively at that too, more so since the global pandemic of COVID hit the world financially.

Millener continues “We have good stability moving forward into 2022 which is relevant” “We have to promote the sport the best we can over 2022/23 and hope”.

All of the current manufacturers involved in the top tier of global rallying have agreed on a common hybrid unit supplied by a German-based company, Compact Dynamics for the next generation of Rally1 competitions cars. 

Compact Dynamics already provide hybrid components to other top levels of racing series like Formula 1, Le Mans and Formula E. So here is a proven unit.. well in circuit racing it is, the only question is, can it withstand the harsh environment of World Rallying and all that the Worlds Best Drivers have to throw at it? I guess only time will tell throughout the teams testing and when it is finally put into competition conditions next season.

For the die-hard rally fans, they need not worry, there will still be the beautiful sound of a combustion engine out on the stages for at least the next few years. In fact, it will be the same 1.6l turbocharge engine as used in the current generation of World Rally Cars producing approx 380-400bhp; but now with the added boost from the new Hybrid unit (or MGU as being referred to).

Taken from the sales brochure:

Weighing in at approx 84kg, Compact Dynamics’ high-performance P3-topology hybrid system accommodates a motor-generator unit (MGU), control unit and battery in a compact housing, thereby delivering maximum power density. The battery for the hybrid system is supplied by Compact Dynamics’ partner, Kreisel Electric, based in Austria.

The unit consists of a 3.9kWh capacity battery pack which is coupled to the MGU, delivering 100kW (134hp) of power and 180Nm of torque during acceleration.

Source: FIA World Rally Championship

At a guestimate, it could give between say 3-5 boosts of power during each rally stage…. pending FIA Regulation sign off that is of course. This will of course add another strategic detail to be factored into the pace notes by each crew and their teams to determine when to use such a boost best to their advantage.

Back to the brochure for another detail:

The strategy for the use of the electric energy has to be implemented into the engine control unit (ECU). The driver will not have the opportunity to manually activate the extra power, for example by means of a push-to-pass system. Teams will be offered a number of strategies for using the extra power during each stage through software programmes.

Source: FIA World Rally Championship

How does it do work?

During braking and coasting, the system recuperates energy normally lost and stores it in the battery. If necessary, the battery can also be recharged by an external power supply (plug-in hybrid) during service breaks. To charge from 20 to 80 per cent will take around 20 minutes using the dedicated units.

The MGU, which operates at up to 12,000rpm, the battery, which operates at up to 750 volts, and the inverter control unit are sealed in a carbon fibre housing to resist possible forces and impacts in the event of an accident. The unit is designed to withstand a 70G impact.

Source: FIA World Rally Championship

The Driver and Co-Driver may have some extra technical info available to them in the car should they wish to but they will both need to be mechanics to some extent. They will have to be both practical and have an understanding of these new systems; because outside of the service park where there are no technical engineers or gurus of such systems, they may well need to be resourceful and use their mechanical ability to keep the car going; after all, this could be the difference between winning the championship and not.

Stage Start Mode

At the start of each special stage of a WRC event, the full power of the hybrid system will be available to release 1000 kilojoules of energy to support the petrol engine for approximately the first 10 seconds, or until the driver releases the throttle or presses the brake.

Stage Mode

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.

Source: FIA World Rally Championship

The WRC has also announced that for the Rally1 cars there will be designated “Electric Only Zones” close to service parks and ceremonial start areas which will utilize the technology.

Being able to run in full electric mode is a key component of the ground-breaking new Rally1 cars, which will be introduced into the WRC at the start of next year, and this capability will be showcased as frequently as possible.

Hybrid Electric Vehicle Zones will vary in distance, taking into consideration local conditions. The location and distance of each HEV zone will be agreed between the event organiser and WRC Promoter and ratified by the FIA.

Source: FIA World Rally Championship

What else has changed in the next generation of Rally1 World Rally Cars? 

Well, the other headline changes are there’s no paddel shift for the driver for starters but instead, a manual stick shift. This will take some brain re-training for the drivers but this change will also contribute to the cost savings in the attempt to make reductions on some of the more expensive and complicated systems.

Millener thinks that this generation of cars might be a little slower compared to the outgoing generation, what without their extravagant active centre diffs also. But for the fans outside lining the stages, they wouldn’t be able to notice.

Millener reports the feedback that M-Sport has received from the drivers who have tested the Hybrid Rally1 Puma is that “It is a benefit” and “It is impressive and you definitely know it’s there.” This corresponds with M-Sport recent signing Craig Breen who commented on social media that it was “Savage” following his first gravel test of the M-Sport built Ford Puma Hyrbid Rally 1 test car.

Photo: M-Sport

The FIA has already announced that it will move to a fully sustainable fuel in a three-year deal beginning next year. 

“As part of that agreement, P1 Racing Fuels and its partners will work together to create a fossil-fuel-free, hydrocarbon-based fuel, which will be made up of a mixture of synthetic and biofuels.”

Source: FIA World Rally Championship

“The move to sustainable fuels is an easy win and creates a positive effect” Millener says, but there are other more unexciting ways outside of the forefront of competition or the car itself within rallying which could also make sensible sustainable improvements moving forward.

“We could aim to change our reconnaissance cars to be hybrid and run them on sustainable fuel also. Maybe in the service park, the teams could share one common catering facility instead of each team deploying their own?” Millener suggests.

The FIA has a star system to score sustainability moving forward, starting with the events themselves, then the teams, “could the events lay on a shuttle bus service for the fans to the stages perhaps?” is another idea that Millener mentions.

One important step the FIA World Rally Championship will take in this direction is to make the energy supply for service parks sustainable. As the WRC visits countries with infrastructures developed to fundamentally different stages, a step-by-step approach will be implemented.

Already for 2022, the goal is to provide service parks with electric energy from renewable sources, at least on European events. Initially, green electric power will be available to charge the batteries of Rally1 cars.

Where the local grid capacity is insufficient and the WRC has to bring its own generators, they will run on fossil-free bio-diesel. In the future, those power plants will be fuel cell generators running on hydrogen.

Any surplus power will be fed back into the local grid, helping the local community and thus boosting the FIA World Rally Championship’s reputation and goodwill.

Source: FIA World Rally Championship

These are all good things that could potentially all add up to play their own part for the greater good of not just the environment but for the lifespan of the sport itself. But it is the technology in the car which is the important thing that everyone is really interested in. 

“Everyone should be assessing all elements of their business, not just the main competition elements” Millener says. Millener continued to talk specifically about how M-Sport is making its own efforts.

“At M-Sport during COVID, operationally it made us realise a lot of things. The way we work and operate, the need to further streamline the operations and business. It makes you value it more and look for further efficiencies.”

“For example, we made changes in our service park at events to pop up tents which reduced the loads being transported to each event. We are looking at outsourcing our own trucks and drivers to third parties which might also make a difference.”

Photo: M-Sport

Of course, the FIA World Rally Championship consist of more than the top tier Rally1 cars and the service park. It also has a structured tier providing a number of levels of competitions not just for manufactured back teams, but privateers to act as feeder series.

So what about the Rally2 and Rally3 categories of cars in the WRC and international rallying?

As far as we know there is no current goal set in stone as yet but these classes of rally cars will no doubt be more challenging to implement a hybrid approach to. Specifically, with private teams and customer-based teams in mind, these cars need to be more cost-effective compared to the Rally1 equivalents which are run by the teams with manufacturer backing. As you have to use a number of OEM production-based systems for this level of rallying to make it more affordable (if you can call anything in international rally at these levels affordable that is) it will surely prove a tricky one to deploy a measured hybrid model on.

When asked about these categories, Millener believes that the expected road map over the next 5 years is the desire for the hybrid technology to filter down in the future to these cars, but confirmed nothing was clear as yet.

So with all these new generation hybrid rally cars packed with all this new tech whizzing about the rally stages, should there be any concerns about the safety of the cars should they crash out in the stages?

“The FIA will also add new AI cameras to the cars which are hoped will aid in the control of spectators and their safety out on the stages”

“There also might have to be an education to the spectators on what to do when one of these new cars crashes, i.e. how to approach them but we are confident there shouldn’t be any increased risk from the previous generation” Millener said.

There’s no doubt that rallying is changing starting at its top level in the WRC, as the sport seeks to satisfy our moral responsibilities towards a more sustainable future, existing rally fans and pro-motorsport people, in general, will have to get used to the new landscape that we will find ourselves in. It will indeed be a more tricky one for rallying to achieve because of its uniqueness, but there is the desire not to let our beloved sport die or lose too much of its DNA that attracted us all in the first place. 

So long as the car manufacturers want to use rallying as a platform to showcase their products and build their brand awareness, the World Rallying stage is willing to service that desire and its fans need to get on board, embrace and welcome it.

The final question to ask is, will you?

Words By Andy Cook | Xlerate – Feature Photo: M-Sport WRT