Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Planned FIA regulations for 2024 W2RC include dropping Prologue from overall, no T5 championship

The World Rally-Raid Championship‘s five FIA categories will see sweeping changes to the regulations for its third season in 2024. The changes would need to be finalised upon approval from the W2RC Committee and World Motor Sport Council.

“We have many things which are being considered because we are only in July and the regulations are for next year,” FIA cross-country rally category manager Jerome Roussel told Cross-Country Rally News at the Italian Baja on Friday.

Race day

While the race schedule will remain the same of a Prologue stage followed by five stages (twice as many for marathons like the Dakar Rally), the former will no longer be counted in the overall results. The Prologue is far shorter than the main legs, generally lasting no longer than ten minutes per driver, and is mainly used to set the starting order for Stage #1 and as a final warm-up.

If a competitor retires from a stage but is able to continue the rally or has a poor showing, the FIA intends to be more forgiving when setting the start order for the next day. Generally, the best finishers in a given leg will start at the front for the next, with at least three minutes between each starter, though Section 32 of the Cross-Country Rally Regulations allows the Clerk of the Course to reposition drivers or change the time interval for safety reasons.

“If you had a bad day on the next day, you can be repositioned, but we changed the rules to make them more universal on based on the mathematical calculation,” commented Roussel. “It’s a bit complicated to explain, so the best would be to look at the regulations, but for example, if you had a very bad day, you would be able to be repositioned but not before the driver who had a good day. It will not be based on the position but on the gap with the winner.”

Championship organisation

Despite being a fan favourite, the trucks of T5 will no longer have their own championship due to a lack of entries outside of the Dakar Rally. The trucks did not race the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge or Sonora Rally despite being present at the former in 2022; that year’s calendar saw the class run all but one round. T5 is not expected to return post-Dakar until the fifth and final race of 2023 at the Rallye du Maroc.

Even with no trophy to race for, the FIA will open a T5.U (“Ultimate”) subcategory for trucks on alternative fuel sources. This comes on the heels of KH-7 Epsilon Team’s hydrogen-powered truck being barred from the 2023 Dakar Rally’s T5 class and was instead placed in its own “Challenge New Energy” division.

“The competitors are mainly interested in Dakar, so that’s why we decided to stop the T5 championship,” Roussel stated. “But the T5 are still there. They are still very welcome. They bring a part of the show which is very interesting. What they need is stability, so now we have FIA regulations in place and it’s planned to remain as it is.”

While T5 loses a championship, the Cross-Country Bajas series—which consists of two regional (European and Middle East) and one World Cup—will gain a handful as T2, T3, and T4 co-drivers will be separated into their own class-specific navigator standings.

Roussel is also eyeing the development of the 2024 W2RC schedule as a template for the Bajas Cups. The former is expected to be announced later in July, with the Dakar Rally being the lone confirmed date so far; the Sonora Rally is gone after hosting the championship in April, while a new Iberian round is set to join.

“It’s not easy to understand why this was not there, but next year the co-drivers will be rewarded,” said Roussel. “At the moment, the only new thing is the title for the co-driver, but we are discussing all the time with the Bajas committee and the target is to build the good calendar at the moment.

“I think stability is a good thing for the regulations in Bajas Cups, but we need to have attractive calendars for the competitors, so that will be our next discussions in the next week, starting from the W2RC calendar to try to build some good calendars for the World cup and the regional cups.”

The champions of the SSV categories T3 and T4 will be upgraded to gold status, which is currently reserved for the rest of the T1 grid while the top five are given platinum rank. All W2RC drivers qualify for silver status at minimum. This system, known as driver priority, is the cross-country equivalent to the FIA’s driver ratings in pavement racing. If the season were to end today, points leaders Austin Jones (T3) and Rokas Baciuška (T4) would be elevated to gold priority for 2024.

Technical changes

The biggest discussion point on the technical side concerns the T1+ and T1.U subclasses that headline T1. Like T5.U mentioned above, T1.U is reserved for electric prototype cars such as Audi’s RS Q e-tron E2, while T1+ is for petrol-based counterparts like the Toyota Hilux T1+ and Prodrive Hunter.

Although all three vehicles won stages at Dakar, Audi struggled to keep up with the T1+ teams. In Stage #5, the FIA increased the Audis’ horsepower via Equivalence of Technology, which allows the speed of T1.U and T1+ to be altered to ensure a level playing field. This action sparked outcry from Toyota, though they ironically dominated the rest of the rally and currently lead the W2RC. Conversely, Audi’s Dakar ended on a sour note as two cars wrecked out while the third finished outside the top ten.

As Audi regrouped to prepare for the 2024 Rally, the FIA agreed to invoke EoT once again and boosted the RS Q e-tron E2 to 286 kW, an increase of 23 kW from what they started the 2023 edition with. The FIA also increased the minimum weight of the T1+ cars from 2,000 to 2,010 kilograms and 2,040 kg to 2,050 for diesel powered vehicles, though Roussel noted the change was bound to happen anyway as BFGoodrich is producing a heavier tyre for them.

“This is a very complex calculation, but at the end it showed that the T1.U Audis needed to receive more power to compensate their extra weight,” he explained. “The FIA is working on the data we get from all the cars. All the cars are the data recorder, so we get the data from the cars, and then we have some engineers who are not working only on rally raid but they are working also on Formula One, working on all the disciplines, and they make some analysis, some calculation, just to at the end give us the key figures showing the difference of performance between the classes.”

The T2 category for production vehicles will continue as usual, but the FIA is considering ways to boost grid numbers. While T2 cars are not the racing-built monsters of T1, the conversion process from stock to rally ready is difficult on a modern 4×4. The 2023 Dakar Rally saw only two competitive entries in T2, both from Team Land Cruiser Toyota Auto Body who has won the class every year since 2014. Roussel did not specify what his blueprint would be beyond expressing that the sanctioning body is “thinking about a new T2 category for the future that will make the cars eaier to be prepared.”

T3 will also remain the same, though 2024 will mark the début of T3.U. MCE-5 Development’s T3M car, which won Sonora with Mitch Guthrie, is capable of competing in T3.U upon incorporating more hybrid technology. Apache Automotive will also roll out their APH-01 starting at the Rallye du Maroc in October before entering T3.U at Dakar 2024.

On the other hand, the FIA plans to “completely change the T4 regulations.” Similar to the differences between T1 and T2, T3 is reserved for race-built side-by-side vehicles whereas T4 is a production class, therefore making it imperative the latter is an affordable venture.

“At the moment, the T4 is too expensive,” Roussel continued. “We need to have a class which is closer to the production SSV, cheaper and to have a version that will be made for the national markets to have a car which is even more accessible, just so people can start the sport at a lower level.”

The 2024 season begins with the Dakar Rally on 5 January.