WRC cars are renowned for being powerful models of engineering prowess. The WRC also has a history of changing the regulations its cars must follow to be allowed to compete. The most recent change you might be wondering about is the switch to making all WRC cars hybrid.
WRC cars are hybrid, with the Rally1 model introduced in 2022 being the first of its kind to be used at the top level of rally racing. These cars make use of a 100 kW (134 HP) electric motor and an internal combustion engine (which is also powered by 100% sustainable fuel).
There’s a lot to unpack about the most recent changes to the WRC regulations, and all of the cars switching to a hybrid-based system is one of the bigger changes. We’re going to be examining how this all works in detail down below.
Are WRC Cars Hybrid?
All WRC cars now operate using a hybrid system. The goal of this decision is to lower emissions while providing the same or greater levels of performance. This technology is based around a drivetrain that utilizes power from both electric and combustion technology.
The switch to hybrid-based propulsion is being heralded by the FIA as one of the biggest changes to the WRC since 1987 and the famous overhaul to Group A. This has radically changed how manufacturers design and build the newest competitive rally cars.
A German company by the name of Compact Dynamics has been crucial in the process of designing the hybrid technology for the WRC and the three major manufacturers (Toyota, Hyundai, and Ford M Sport).
Compact Dynamics is one of the biggest names in high-performance electrical-based power systems. They also provide support to Formula 1, various endurance racing competitions, and Formula E. Having this level of expertise available is what allowed the FIA to quickly adapt itself towards a hybrid future.
Compact Dynamics provide the electric motor, power electronics, and drive system. Despite the negative impact of COVID-19 in 2021, the hybrid systems passed various benchmarks and quickly went from designing to benchmarking to testing. These tests observed how well the hybrid system interacted with a turbocharged petrol engine.
The overall performance hasn’t negatively affected the WRC cars at all. In fact, the 100 kW battery provides an extra 134 bhp, which takes the overall output to 500 bhp. However, there are rules surrounding how this electrical power can be used and when it can be deployed.
KEY FACT: Technically speaking, these WRC cars are the most powerful since the Group B era
Hybrid For How Long?
All three major WRC manufacturers have signed three-year contracts to compete from 2022 to 2024. How long the hybrid era will last depends entirely upon how well it goes. Updating all WRC cars to be hybrid is a major undertaking, so there are bound to be issues that come to the surface.
How Does The WRC Hybrid System Work?
The WRC hybrid system retains the cars’ turbocharged engines, with additional power coming from a battery and inverter. Drivers have some ways of using the electrical energy generated, but there are limits in place to ensure no unfair performance advantages.
The combustion engine is one of the only components that has stayed largely the same from previous designs. It’s a 1.6 liter turbocharged engine. The latest editions are the hybrid unit, which is a battery, motor, and inverter that are combined into one (hence the term “hybrid unit”).
This new hybrid system is technically in use all of the time, and it provides the cars with faster acceleration and a boost in overall power output. The FIA has been keen to limit how power generated from the hybrid unit can be used by drivers.
Hybrid Power Usage
The hybrid system is constantly active, which means the vehicle is powered by a combination of electricity from the battery and the engine. All of the cars will have a battery between 80 and 100 percent full at the start of an event.
Batteries are also charged when braking, a standard feature of hybrid vehicles. But there is no button interface that drivers can press which allows them to “boost” their power output. The power gained from the battery will be used intermittently throughout the rally, depending upon what the car is doing.
Windows for boosting are determined by the FIA depending upon what course the teams are racing on. In order to be able to access the power boost, drivers must also meet various conditions while racing, such as regenerating enough power in between boosts through braking or time spent off the throttle.
KEY FACT: The usage of the electrical boost is dictated by preselected ‘maps’ chosen before the stage begins
The Electronic Control Unit (or ECU) determines how electric power is used, and there is some wiggle room for how teams can program this component. The ECU works by taking in information from various sensors on the car, and using that data to provide optimal performance.
How power is utilized also depends on driving patterns. Power can’t be stored up and then manually unleashed for a long-duration power boost. The ECU will release the power in short boosts, which means from an outsider’s point of view, it could be difficult to see when a car is being boosted.
There have been some frustrations from competing WRC manufacturers because of hybrid unit failures. Each car has lights that indicate if the hybrid system is functioning properly or not. If a hybrid unit fails, then a two-minute penalty is invoked. Previously, it was a 10-minute penalty.
Manufacturers are also frustrated that Compact Dynamics provides all of the components for the hybrid unit. Ford M Sport, Toyota, and Hyundai have very little input or control over these components. While this is considered a teething issue for the new generation of Rally1 cars, the FIA needs to get to the bottom of these faults.
This is a complicated issue for the FIA, as competing teams are fairly unanimous in calling for much lighter restrictions, but the rules are in place to protect the drivers.
KEY POINTS• WRC cars are hybrid, and have been since the start of the 2022 season
• The hybrid engines produce a total peak power of 500 HP
• The hybrid power can only be used at certain points on the track
Is WRC Going Electric In The Future?
WRC could go electric in the future, but it’s not certain. Unknown faults with hybrid systems have caused early disqualifications and frustrating penalties for drivers. It’s likely that we will see the hybrid engines in use in WRC for many years to come, although they will probably evolve over time.
The FIA itself has pushed the WRC to start thinking about its next set of regulations. There could be an increasing emphasis on competing more of a stage using only electric-based systems.
There are huge long-term implications to making the WRC exclusively electric. Doing so requires a completely different infrastructure to service electric-only vehicles. Many nations simply don’t have this infrastructure available, and they may not have it for decades.
With that said, there is a huge demand for electric-only rallying vehicles, and environmentally-friendly cars are becoming a bigger and bigger political issue. A large number of manufacturers are increasingly focusing on electric vehicles. Ford, for example, wants nearly 50 percent of its sales to come from electric-only cars by 2030.
The other problem is money. It’s going to take a huge amount of cash and development to convert the highest level of WRC cars to be completely electric. There has already been an exodus of manufacturers from top-level WRC competitions, and the FIA can’t afford, both literally and figuratively, to make drastic changes yet.
Time and innovation will no doubt bring about advances that will make electric cars for the WRC viable, but it’s impossible to say right now when that will be. While the WRC is under pressure to think far ahead into the future, they’re walking a tightrope balance of keeping manufacturers happy, while at the same time catering to the increasingly popular green movements.
It’s going to take a lot of planning and thinking years into the future to convert the WRC to an electric-only motorsport. There’s not a lot of interest from manufacturers to put money into developing these cars, but time will tell if that changes in the coming years.
WRC cars are hybrid, and the engines used in the sport make use of about 100 horsepower from an electrical motor, taking their total power output to about 500 HP. These Rally1 cars were introduced in 2022 and they will probably stay in the sport for the foreseeable future.