Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Nuno Madeira: “It looks like the FIA forgot about the T1 category”

The T1 category for purpose-built race cars is the top level of cross-country rally, but also has subdivisions such as T1+ and T1.1 for upgraded 4×4 vehicles. The former has more freedom in regulations than the latter, making it no surprise that T1+ cars tend to be the best in a given rally, having won every World Rally-Raid Championship round so far in 2023.

While it is to be expected that the top cars receive the most love, T1 driver Nuno Madeira feels his subcategory is neglected as a result. Madeira races a Ford Ranger T1.1, which is naturally inferior to his T1+ counterparts such as the Toyota DKR Hilux T1+ or even the Ford Ranger T1+ developed by M-Sport and Neil Woolridge Motorsport but the disparity between his truck and those seems to only grow with no feasible way for him to narrow it.

This weekend’s Baja TT Sharish Gin, a round of the FIA European Cup for Cross-Country Bajas and part of the Portuguese Cross-Country Championship, only has six T1+ FIA entries to seventeen T1.1 cars, though Madeira feels strength in numbers will not mean much if they can’t keep up with the superior class. In fact, the performance gap has been so glaring that the neighbouring Spanish Cross-Country Rally Championship will spin T1+ off into its own class for the 2024 season.

“We lost competitiveness in our category because we’re in a sort of middle ground between T3 and T1+ categories,” he told Cross-Country Rally News. “It looks like the FIA forgot about the T1 category. I guess the solution is the FIA should give more power to T1 with a bigger restrictor. Otherwise, all T1 cars will stay in the garage.”

The FIA has been keen on championing the T1+ and T1.U categories, the latter intended for electric and hybrid prototype T1 cars like Audi Sport’s RS Q e-tron. With electric power still a developing concept in off-road racing, the petrol-based T1+ has been the star of the rally raid scene, with the Toyota Hilux T1+ having won the last two Dakar Rallies and clinching the 2023 W2RC manufacturer’s title before the final race.

At the Dakar Rally in January, T1+ cars occupied all but one of the top ten overall positions as Wei Han’s SMG HW2021 finished ninth for the 4×2 T1.2 class. Daniel Schröder’s Nissan Navara VK50 was the highest-placing T1.1 in a distant twenty-eighth.