After seeing the 2020 World Rally Championship (WRC) season heavily impacted by Covid-19, 2021 was about getting back on track.
Now, the world’s premier off-road championship returns to Monte Carlo this weekend to kick off the highly-anticipated 2022 season.
Covid and calendar challenges
Having salvaged seven rallies in 2020, series organiser WRC Promoter managed to run a total of 12 events across Europe and Africa during the 2021 campaign.
Rallies in Sweden, Chile, and Japan were initially pencilled in, but were later removed due to challenges caused by the pandemic. Meanwhile Rally GB, which was due to switch from Wales to Northern Ireland, was cancelled as financial terms could not be agreed upon.
Despite those setbacks, Belgium’s Ypres Rally made its debut in mid-August, while the series also returned to Greece in September, marking its first event in the country for eight years.
“It was all about conversation, learning the needs of the organisers, together with the FIA [International Automobile Federation] and the manufacturers,” Peter Thul, senior director of sport at WRC Promoter, told Autosport.
“We turned over the calendar, it was turned upside down, to see where we could go and in what conditions we could go.”
Despite challenges presented with the pandemic, WRC still managed to run a considerable calendar
The championship also relied on its over-the-top (OTT) streaming service, WRC+, to connect with fans who were unable to travel to rallies because of the pandemic restrictions in place. The platform broadcasts all rallies live, in addition to behind-the-scenes content and exclusive interviews.
“If somebody told me one year ago that Rallye Monte Carlo would be forbidden to spectators and everybody had to stay at home, I would not think it was possible – but it happened,” Thul said during his interview with Autosport. “This makes us proud over the cooperation between the FIA, the promoters, the event organisers and the fans.”
The WRC has published a 13-round schedule for the upcoming 2022 season, which is due to include the series’ first event in New Zealand since 2012. Rallies in Sweden and Japan are also set to return, but there is no place for Mexico or Chile, despite both holding hosting contracts with WRC Promoter.
There is, however, one August slot on the calendar that needs filling, with Motorsport.com reporting that the original plan for a rally in Belfast, Northern Ireland is ‘no longer viable’ for 2022.
Hybrid switch at heart of 2022 sustainability goals
The 2022 WRC season is set to usher in some significant sustainable changes, to which manufacturers Hyundai, M-Sport Ford and Toyota have all signed up for.
The championship has introduced new technical regulations, known as ‘Rally1’, which will bring hybrid drivetrains to the series for the first time. The hybrid system, as well as its software, will remain standardised for the next three years in order to cut costs. All cars will also feature a control 100kW hybrid unit designed by Compact Dynamics.
The WRC is hoping that the new regulations will help the series cut back on its carbon footprint as it seeks to align with the FIA’s goal of reaching net zero carbon within the next decade.
“We see the WRC as a field of innovation,” says Thul, now speaking to BlackBook Motorsport. “Therefore, to develop sustainable technologies is an attitude we have. It’s not because we have to do it, we want to do it. We want to be part of the solution and not be a problem.
“Everything you see we are doing is in order to reduce our footprint as much as possible.”
Thul believes that WRC’s major changes embody the series’ willingness to be open-minded, something it may well need to draw upon this year if the calendar is once again impacted by Covid-19.
But with the first rally of the season set to begin this weekend in the iconic Monte Carlo, Thul suggests that there is no challenge the WRC will not be prepared for, especially when it comes to sustainability.
“We will always stay open-minded, we will not say, ‘we don't do this, we don't do that’,” he says.
“We should take every challenge which is offered by society and by the regulations. If we have a chance to develop this into wider motorsport and the automotive industry, then we can play a significant role in society.”
In any case, the WRC will be hoping to offer the kind of dramatic and unpredictable racing that has been missed by its fans over the winter break.
Last season: 2nd
President: Scott Noh
Team principal (interim): Scott Noh
Base: Alzenau, Germany
Partners: Hanon Systems, Innoclean, Shell, Pirelli, OMP Racing
What they’ve been up to: Following the departure of Andrea Adamo, Hyundai Motorsport head into the 2022 season without a permanent team principal. Instead, Scott Noh will take over team principal duties in the interim. Despite the uncertain management situation heading into the new season, Hyundai Motorsport has its sights set on the championship crown in 2022, after losing out to rival Toyota Gazoo Racing.
The team was the first to unveil its brand-new 2022 hybrid vehicle, the i20N. The car has undergone rigorous testing since May 2021 to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.
“From a corporate perspective, it is important for Hyundai to be associated with road-relevant technology; the WRC move to hybrid brings together the brand’s motorsport and road car activities,” said Noh.
Hyundai will aim for the championship crown in 2022 after losing out to Toyota
Last season: 3rd
Managing director: Malcolm Wilson
Team principal: Richard Millener
Base: Cumbria, Great Britain
Title partners: Ford, MS-RT
Partners: Castrol, Pirelli, Red Bull, Sparco, OZ Racing, Safety Culture, Lazer, Stilo, Ford Trucks, Fanatec, Endless, Audes, Eibach, SWP, HIAB, Trafalgar, Ifor Williams Trailers, Reiger Suspension, NGK Spark Plugs
What they’ve been up to: M-Sport Ford have named a new technical director, Chris Williams, who will oversee all current and future engineering projects within the business.
In addition, the 2022 season marks a new start for the M-Sport Ford squad, as the team bids farewell to its Fiesta in favour of a new hybrid-powered Puma car.
Ahead of the new season, M-Sport have also revealed a technical partnership with Fanatec to develop steering wheels for the team’s 2022 challenger.
M-Sport Ford has said goodbye to its Fiesta in exchange for a Puma for 2022
Toyota Gazoo Racing
Last season: 1st
Team principal: Jari-Matti Latvala
Base: Jyväskylä, Finland
Partners: DMG Mori, Panasonic, Denso, Kinto, Tamadic, Nisula, Japan Airlines, JTB, CCI Corporation, Asahi Kasei, IEC, Nisula Forest, Otsuka Pharmaceutical, Stilo, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Company, Endless Advance, PIAA Corporation, Pirelli, OMP Racing, Sumitomo Wiring Systems, Kyoto Tool, Schroth Racing
What they’ve been up to: After clinching the title in 2021, Toyota Gazoo Racing will eagerly look forward to the start of the 2022 season, when WRC’s Rally1 class will see teams race with hybrid technology for the first time.
In addition, Toyota Gazoo Racing will continue to operate its driver development initiatives in Japan. The team has also established a new secondary team for 2022, comprised of Takamoto Katsuta and Aaron Johnston.
Despite the challenges and uncertainties ahead, Toyota Gazoo Racing is targeting to win three championships (driver, co-driver and manufacturer) for the second year in a row.
Toyota secured all three available championships in 2021
Pirelli, TW Steel, Asahi Kasei, Wolf Lubricants, Forum8, Fanatec
Atlantis, Impex, Innovationist, Nacon, Playseat, Pro Grade Digital
Global: WRC+, Red Bull TV
South Africa: SABC
Sub-Saharan Africa: Canal+
Japan: J Sports, NHK, TV Asahi
New Zealand: Spark
Austria: Servus TV, Sport1
Croatia: Arena Sport
Cyprus: Cyta Vision
Czech Republic: Ceska TV, O2
Finland: YLE, MTV3
Germany: Servus TV
Greece: Cosmote TV
Italy: Sky Italia
Netherlands: Ziggo Sport
Norway: Eurosport / Max
Portugal: Sport TV
Romania: Romania Telekom
Serbia: Arena Sport
Spain: RTVE, TV3
Switzerland: Servus TV
United Kingdom: BT Sport, ITV4
Ukraine: The First Automotive Channel
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