Some would suggest it’s been a slow spiral downwards. Ed Ordynski led ARCom for a brief 10 months, during which time he seemed to gain the trust and support of rallyists all over the country in his quest to redirect the national rallying strategy. Then, he left the role – or was pushed - depending on which stories you prefer to believe.

- By Tom Smith -

The recent late announcement that the 2008 Australian Rally Championship was without a major series sponsor – with barely months to the opening round - certainly was a further shock. The subsequent announcement that Ford - one of only two manufacturers in the series – had decided to withdraw, sent further shockwaves through the local rally community.

With AASA now aspiring to be a viable alternative to CAMS, many people in the sport may be wondering which way to turn?

What the hell is going on? And if, as a current rally competitor, you aren’t asking this question yet, you should be.

Every man and his dog are expressing their opinions on why Oz rallying is where it is, and how to fix it. In considering some form of solution, we must go back to what the sport is all about at the highest level in this country.

Like it or not, manufacturers and major sponsors are in it for the media exposure. They all want bang for their buck, and without good, exciting television coverage, they will take their advertising budget elsewhere.

Therefore, those in rallying need to provide a professional image in modern identifiable cars which look and sound great – sounds simple, but how can it be made to work?

One possibility is to stand back and look at what types of vehicles currently proliferate Australian roads, and which ‘Joe or Jane Public’ can readily identify with. Look around you in the traffic in every capital city and what you’ll see are mainstream 4-door hatches of about 2.0-litre engine capacity. Generally speaking, just about every manufacturer and distributor in this country has a model that fits this mould.

To the purist, maybe they are all very much alike under the skin, but they have their own identity and reputation.

With this basic specification in mind, I’ve come up with a new concept called ‘FORMULA 21’? ‘Formula 21’ refers very simply to the fact that we are now in the 21st century and the time is ripe for a huge change in thinking.

‘Formula 21’ dictates a very simple specification – 2-wheel drive, 2.0-litre engine capacity, 200 horsepower and 1000 kilograms.

The preference is for rear-wheel drive, but some manufacturers who have proven performance and history with front-wheel drives (eg: VW) may prefer to retain that traditional drive arrangement. Otherwise, the run-of-the-mill 4-cylinder hatch should be converted to rear-wheel drive.

The list of potentially eligible vehicles includes Mazda 3, Ford Focus, Nissan Tiida, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mitsubishi Lancer, Suzuki Swift or SX4, VW Golf or Polo, Proton Gen 3, Skoda, even Subaru……. the list goes on.

A ‘control’ 6 speed gearbox and diff could be sourced and used to maintain costs and equity, thus also ensuring some consistency across the field and interchange-ability of components.

Brakes could also be a ‘control’ feature with a supplier providing the same size discs and calipers for each vehicle, irrespective of make.

Tyres would be free, but given the demands of 2WD, limited to, say, 20 tyres per championship event.

Preparing a modern 2.0-litre multi-valve engine to reliably deliver 200 horsepower should not be a difficult task, but engine outputs would need to be controlled and perhaps measured by dyno sheets from a reputable independent engine-tuner.

Obviously, ‘Formula 21’ cars will not be quicker than the homologated 4WD turbo cars that currently dominate the sport, and perhaps it needs to be recognised up-front that WRXs and Evos will continue to win the Australian Rally Championship for the foreseeable future.

What ‘Formula 21’ offers is a second tier for TV coverage that should provide a level of excitement that is needed to attract the viewing public.

It would be fantastic for local manufacturers and distributors to support ‘factory’ efforts – but the beauty of ‘Formula 21’ should be that anyone with a budget of $100k could build a car to fit the regulations.

A committee of technical specialists would need to approve each submission in principle, and to ensure ongoing parity a system of review and even ballasting could be used.

A year or two down the track, if a model is superseded, the car could be sold and a new model built. This would encourage the ongoing participation of the ‘first generation’ cars at some level in local rallying.

In the ARC, ‘Formula 21’ may evolve into Category A cars (current models) and Category B (just superseded).

So long as television coverage is shared between the ‘outright’ race and the ‘Formula 21’ battle, a new demographic may find themselves following the sport of rallying.

In hindsight, the Ford team’s factory Focus may have been a forerunner to this concept – and showed that in the right hands, such a vehicle could be reasonably competitive and look, and sound great.

Is this creating a ‘bitser’ class that no-one else in the world has? Yes, but for many years we have aligned ourselves to the FIA and homologated vehicles -  and we can almost count on one hand the number of Aussies who have cracked the international game in internationally-recognised cars.

Why not sit back and rely on Australian ingenuity, and the level of engineering and technical expertise that exists in this country? All rallyists want to rally, enjoy themselves, and participate in a close battle under even conditions – as long as they are having fun along the way.

‘Formula 21’ could be a way to achieve Utopia.

Tom Smith is a long-time RallySport Magazine columnist and is the current Queensland Rally Champion Co-driver. He is also a member of the Queensland Rally Advisory Panel.

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