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GP Week : Issue 110
WRC FEATURE >> TheCiTroenDS3,theFordFiesta and now the BMW Mini John Cooper Works have all come out of the same tome of rules, but the way they travelled from the regulations to reality followed completely different routes. How can this be? The rules seemed to be so closely written that differences seemed to be impossible ... When Ford won first-up in Sweden, then Citroen won in Mexico, there were no complaints. The new World Rally Car formula had immediately lived up to its promise – different winners, and with the Mini coming along, more manufacturers were to be in the world championship scene. The FIA had drawn up the rules for a formula to replace the 14-year reign of the original World Rally Cars, with a host of other objectives. One of them was cost saving, so rather than force a new and willing manufacturer to design a completely new car for sport, the new World Rally Car was to be based on an existing Super 2000 design. In the six years that Super 2000 designs had been used in competition, no fewer than nine different manufacturers had already homologated these cars. It was to be a simple step to convert an S2000 car into a World Rally Car, by means of fitting extra items listed in a specific kit of parts, and (sometimes) to change the size of the turbo restrictor. The FIA’s next major objective was to follow current manufacturing policies, first by downsizing the engine, while still using turbo-charging to ensure a spectacular degree of performance. And then to follow social ambitions by requiring direct injection systems in the engine, which help reduce fuel consumption and provide cleaner exhaust emissions. Upgrading from S2000 version cars to WRC level was to be simple and reversible. The plan was to potentially use your car one weekend in one guise, and the next weekend in the other specification. The only mandatory difference between the two was that the World Rally Car version should have a more racy-looking front bodywork and rear aerodynamic wing. All the other requirements of S2000 were retained. There were two alternative control- supply six-speed transmission suppliers, a price cap on the total cost of the car, a ban on the use of exotic materials in car construction and a shorter minimum overall length requirement than the previous World Rally Cars, although a wider total body width was allowed The biggest hurdle was to be the design of the engine. Till now, all Super 2000 cars had been fitted with a two-litre, normally- aspirated power unit. Although these cars may still be used in competition, new version Super 2000 cars had to have the same 1.6 litre turbocharged, direct injection engines as the WRC version. Clearly, conversion from one specification of rally car to the other which involved changing the whole engine, and fitting the necessary extra ancillary parts like turbo, intercooler, wastegate and so forth, was impractical. For this reason, teams had to homologate a new generation of turbocharged Super 2000 design before any new World Rally Car could be evolved. How the three teams perceived their basic new generation Super 2000 cars was the first of the major differences between the teams. Citroenhaddeclaredforayearthatthey would never build a Super 2000 car. They said there was no market for such a car, they had never designed a car for this formula before (that was the work of their associated company Peugeot) and they did not intend todoitnow In the end, and to comply with FIA’ s requirements, they adopted a clever ploy. They designed their World Rally Car, took one example and converted it back into a theoretical Super 2000 form, principally by removing the front bodywork and rear wing. Voila! There was the regulatory ‘Super 2000’ car. There was no need to do more. Ford already had an old 2-litre normally aspirated S2000 car in production, and used a year’s experience running those cars to good effect by itemising detailed improvements, and of course designing the new aero mandatory parts. They have no current intention to put the model into production at this time. BMW Mini also had no previous experience of Super 2000 competition, but they alone planned to commercialise both versions of the Mini, introducing the S2000 version slightly ahead of the WRC. The next major debate concerned the basic 1.6 turbo engine itself. For a couple of years FIA officials had toyed with the concept of a Global engine, in which each manufacturer would designate one design of engine which could be used, in varying degrees of tune, in all major disciplines from entry level sport to Formula 1, with the World Rally Championship in between. This did not have to be a production engine design, or come from that manufacturer at all. The FIA drew up guidelines as to what would be an acceptable four-cylinder design for such a unit. This created big variations of plan. Citroen’s engine was purpose-designed, Ford’s was a mixture of production-base, using many of the technical freedoms on offer, while the Mini used a power unit already planned for use by their parent company BMW in Touring car racing. And the eventual designs of engine were quite different. Citroen and Ford both feature over-square engines while the BMW has a long stroke – all different ways of handling the challenge of cylinder combustion chamber design work which direct injection demands. The next difference concerned the way the FIA gave permission for the designs. No permission can be granted for a World Rally Car homologation unless a manufacturer is already registered in the World Manufacturers’ Championship. For Citroen and Ford, no problem. For Mini, big problem! Prodrive, the company preparing the Mini rally cars, had no opportunity to compete in the inaugural season with this model on enough events for registration in the championship to be possible. The requirement was seven events in total, of which two had to be done outside Europe. Politically, the arrival of Mini was a major requirement for the strength of the championship, a way HAD to be found to have these cars accepted! In the end, a private customer, Daniel Oliviera, undertook to enter sufficient WRC events with a Mini for the FIA to be satisfied on this score. Thanks to their extensive customer programmes, Ford comes to the 2011 championship season with the benefit of a year of experience of running Super 2000 cars, which neither Citroen or Mini have done. Their preparation company M-Sport heavily promoted customer activity for the new World Rally Car versions. Up to eight customer cars, in addition to the two official team entries, were to be prepared for each world championship rally. Citroen had no wish for the distraction of running customer cars, but faced major pressure to make one car available for Petter Solberg to run. They eventually agreed to run cars on events for Solberg, Raikkonen and the well-funded Dutch van Merksteijn team. The Mini customer programme, for which there were delays awaiting certain technical decisions to come from the FIA, eventually got off the ground with customers Armindo Araujo and Oliveira himself. And then came the surprise of them all. Mini, one might think, would be the smallest car of the group – but was physically the biggest! The smallest of the trio is in fact the Citroen. Mini, whose S2000 and WRC cars are based on their four-wheel-drive Countryman model, decided to change the name to ‘John Cooper Works’, a popular higher performance variant of the smaller standard two-wheel drive Mini. And then the biggest difference of them all. While Ford and Citroen never hesitated in their desire to make new generation World Rally Cars and were heavily engaged in all the technical negotiations in the early stages, BMW apparently never had any intention of getting involved! Traditionally the company disliked rallying – they called it ‘dirty car’ sport. Prodrive, however, was seeking the generically perfect available car design – cars which could well take advantage of the available regulations and perform successful ... and concluded thatMini would be ideal. They thus played the nostalgia promotional card with BMW, now the rights holders for Mini, and gained permission to represent the company on the world championship map. Some came of their own accord ... others had to be lured. And now there are more companies hoping to join the WRC circus as well. Martin Holmes Rallying / Selden 37