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Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen’s hybrid Toyota racing car at Rally New Zealand at Jack’s Ridge, Auckland. Photo / Juha Saarinen
The World Rally Championship returned to New Zealand last week and it was a big, brisk and surprisingly quiet global event.
How large? Rally New Zealand boss Michael Goldstein estimated the number of spectators
70 million viewers worldwide and hoteliers in Auckland sell 34,000 room nights to visitors from all over the world.
If you haven’t seen how it went, 22-year-old ‘King’ Kalle Rovanperä, son of famed rally driver Harri Rovanperä, became the youngest ever racer to claim the FIA World Championship title.
Hayden Paddon from New Zealand also had a great race and easily won the title in the associated WRC2 class.
Toyota, Hyundai, Ford, Škoda, Volkswagen, Citroën and Mitsubishi were some of the major car brands represented at Rally New Zealand. There were also privateers, like Lorenzo Bertelli of the Prada family, who did well with co-driver Granai after shipping their Ford Puma Rally1 car and support staff from Europe, which cost God knows how much.
Rally is a great spectator sport, with drivers and co-drivers in small, very powerful cars driving down normal roads and sometimes flying over them – and unintentionally going off-road, as demonstrated by the big crashes of Welsh challenger Elfyn Evans and Britain’s Gus Greensmith.
A big difference this year is that you hardly notice when the cars come in for service and change tires in the depots. They slide in and out almost silently.
That’s because the WRC has mandated that the top cars in the Rally 1 class must be hybrids, so there’s the whirr of an electric motor and not much else.
The cars of the highest Rally1 class are equipped with the exact same P3 electric drive system from Compact Dynamics from Germany. The hybrid drive normally swallows up cars, but the P3 system weighs just 84 kilograms with the battery, motor and generator.
That’s about as much as one more person in the car, and the small increase in weight pays off with another 100 kilowatts of power and 180 Newton meters of torque.
The hybrid system is connected to the car’s propshaft for all-wheel drive and features a 3.9-kilowatt-hour battery that can be charged from 20 to 80 percent in 20 minutes and that can also recover the normal energy lost during braking and coasting .
All familiar things for hybrid owners, except that the P3 unit runs at up to 12,000 rpm and 750 volts. It’s also sealed in a carbon fiber case that can withstand forces of up to 70G in a crash.
Numbers aside, this means the cars can be driven up to 20 kilometers fully electric, which is more than expected with a 3.9kWh battery on board.
The ruling Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) added a bunch of geeky regulations, like the electrical system being able to release the full 100 kW, or 1000 kilojoules, for ten seconds at the start of each stage of the rally, and drivers being able to use three personalized maps create for the use of hybrid power after take-off.
For visits to the depot and in town, purely electric drive is mandatory, which is not a problem.
When the internal combustion engines in the cars start, they are very audible, even though the vehicles are roadworthy in all aspects, including complying with noise regulations.
The ICEs are the insanely tuned four-cylinder, 1.6-liter, 280-kilowatt turbocharged petrol engines that powered cars in the past.
At this year’s WRC meetings, the ICEs will be powered by petrol that is 100 percent sustainable and made from synthetic hydrocarbons and biofuel components. From now on there shall be no more fossil fuel rally.
Generators in the service parks must run on fossil-free biodiesel, and excess electricity is fed back into local grids.
This is part of the FIA’s PurposeDriven strategy, which states that motorsport events must be zero-emissions by 2030. Without this strategy, it can be said that motorsport would be a dying activity.
One could argue that motorsports in general are frivolous, but humanity has been racing against each other for ages.
Additionally, technology developed for rallies and other events eventually finds its way into everyday cars after being tested in harsh conditions to prove its worth.
It will be a challenge, but future WRC rallies should aim to do away with internal combustion engines entirely and drive electric vehicles based on lightweight, high-capacity batteries that can be charged quickly to get them across the finish line.