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New generation rally cars could spice up the local scene

R5s have continued to give R4 Mitsubishi Evolution 10 drivers like Baldev Chager and Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo a run for their money in the KNRC.

In Summary

•Experts reveal that FIA is working to make the next generation of Rally1 cars more available around the world besides the privateer drivers in the World Rally Championship.

•What this means is that new generation cars could, by and large, offer local spectators unique thrills should KCB Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) teams invest in them.

Rally guru Ian Duncan and his navigator Tej Sehmi speed in their crowd pulling Pick Up
Rally guru Ian Duncan and his navigator Tej Sehmi speed in their crowd pulling Pick Up
Image: COURTESY

With R5 super cars dictating the pace across the African motorsport scene, rally enthusiasts locally could have a rare chance to savour fresh adrenaline rush of the future world rally cars which will be available for national rallies.

Experts reveal that FIA is working to make the next generation of Rally1 cars more available around the world besides the privateer drivers in the World Rally Championship.

What this means is that new generation cars could, by and large, offer local spectators unique thrills should KCB Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) teams invest in them.

The 2000 Kenya Formula 2 champion in a Hyundai FX Coupe and currently KNRC scrutineer, Musa Locho, said: “In the developed world, it is a welcome idea because of the purchasing power of many privateers. However, in our case, there’s a very big disparity and very few who can afford the WRC class.”

Two Wheel driver Sam Karangatha is among local stakeholders who have lauded the move. “I think it’s a good idea to allow top level cars to compete locally for those who may afford them. But since the cars are very expensive to run and they are intended for manufacturer and professional teams, they may be restricted from winning the overall national championship to keep the competition fair." 

"Locally, I think as time goes on, we will continue seeing the new cars coming in. FIA has setup Rally 2, Rally 3 and Rally 4 categories with budget caps for the vehicles. However, this should not prevent us from developing local regulations for national cars through KMSF with safety, performance and parts availability, to make the sport more accessible and affordable for beginners and enthusiasts. This way we can have a good base for developing the motorsport industry locally,” added Karangatha.

Victor Okundi, a KNRC Division One navigator said: “It goes two ways in my view. There are drivers here and indeed Africa, whose enthusiasts would like to see them in these machines as they’ve become pretty quick in the R5’s and R4’s.

"It would be fun to see a few of our premier class drivers in these machines. On the other hand, the acquisition and running costs would make no sense if they won’t score any national points.

"It looks like it’s going to be a dilemma here in Kenya I think. If guys bring them over, there’s no way the R5s will match them. Unless some rookie pumps in cash and they can’t drive. But any of the KNRC Premier Class and Division One guys, can push these machines.”

Earlier in March, the FIA World Motor Sport Council gave green light to technical rules for the exciting WRC’s new environmentally-friendly rally cars which will be introduced in 2022.

The next generation of Rally1 cars, formerly known as World Rally Cars, will continue the current spectacle but with a strong focus on cost management and sustainability, while making the sport’s pinnacle more accessible to incoming manufacturers, according to www.wrc.com website.

New-for-2022 Rally1 cars, the first to incorporate hybrid technology in the WRC, will continue to bear a close resemblance to the road cars from which they were born, while incorporating significant regulation change.

Compact Dynamics will be the exclusive supplier of the hybrid equipment to be utilised in the FIA World Rally Championship under a three-year agreement, commencing in 2022 and specifically to the Rally1 class. The company’s appointment was approved by an FIA World Motor Sport Council e-vote in March following a detailed tendering process.

The aim of selecting a single supplier was notably to improve cost efficiency, ensure sporting equity and safety, guarantee the best possible product and support the promotion of the championship.

Based in Germany, Compact Dynamics has developed and manufactured high-performance electrical drives and power electronics for more than 30 years with systems already in use in Formula 1, WEC and Formula E.

According to FIA, the firm will now bring its technical expertise to the WRC with the task to produce and deliver the hybrid kits to the teams competing in the Rally1 category.

Recently, FIA rally director Yves Matton told DirtFish website: “For national events, it’s the national federation that decides (if they can be used). It’s not banned by the FIA to sell the current cars to the national championships. We are looking to seeing if it’s easier to try to widen this to allow this car to drive in more championships.”

“But when I say ‘to drive’, it doesn’t mean to fight for the championship. I don’t think this car needs to be a car that’s allowed to fight in the national championships or some other championships. But some drivers are interested to drive this kind of car in some events without doing the championship.”

The new rules come at a time when local organisers are preparing for Safari which was re-admitted to the WRC calendar after an 18-year hiatus. The event initially scheduled for July 16-19 was postponed to next year due to the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak. Quite a number of local drivers were to drive the R5 car which would help gauge their drive against the WRC 2 lot.

In international rallying, R5 refers to a class of cars competing under Group R regulations. R5 cars are based on production cars and feature a 1600cc turbocharged petrol engine. R5 cars are a step down from World Rally Cars in their power and performance and are allowed to compete in WRC2 and WRC3 Championships.

Currently, Kenya has about five R5 cars racing on the KNRC front. Reigning African Rally Champion Manvir Baryan, KNRC contenders Onkar Rai, Tejveer Rai and Karan Patel are among local competitors running R5s.

Baryan’s Skoda Fabia R5 better known as ‘The Rat' in Zambia has swept the ground with all its opponents, winning the FIA African Rally Championship (ARC) three years in a row (2017, 2018 and 2019). The African champion has since taken a break from the sport following a high speed crash in Meru Rally last year. He also sold his other Skoda locally to Aakif Virani.

Karan’s Ford Fiesta R5 and Tejveer’s VW Polo R5 also set impressive stage times in KCB Nyahururu Rally, finishing second and fourth respectively.

Onkar has also driven aggressively on his R5 VW Polo this season despite retiring on his home round in KCB Nyahururu Rally and clinching a podium on the season-opening Guru Nanak event.

R5s have continued to give R4 Mitsubishi Evolution 10 drivers like Baldev Chager and Carl ‘Flash’ Tundo a run for their money in the KNRC.

But high-flying EVO drivers have also put on a brave fight more so on long straights. Tundo and Chager have dominated the series though with the former winning the 2018 edition of KNRC and latter getting his mitts on the coveted crown last year.

“VW and Skoda R5 cars are very similar in terms of power. This is because they are very regulated and take part in the WRC. They must be on a level playing field so be it a Skoda, VW or Hyundai, R5 is an R5, the difference can be in handling, just the wheelbase, the set up of the car and ultimately the driver.

R5 cars are different from Group Ns as they are built for racing purposes and are very steady, very stiff—handling-wise and very responsive. Group N’s have a 2-litre engine while R5s are underpowered with a 1.6-litre engine. R5 is much lighter though while in the long run and straights EVO’s get a higher torque speed,” Karan said.