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It's been billed as 'the new Group N', but what is Rally3, and what impact will it have on Australian and New Zealand rallying? Rally3 will be introduced to world rallying at the start of 2021, with the cars providing a stepping stone between Rally4 (formally R2) cars, and the higher spec Rally2 models (formerly R5). Rally4 includes front-wheel drive cars such as the Ford Fiesta, while Rally2 are the four-wheel drive turbo cars (R5) that are the step below World Rally Cars, or Rally1. Confused? I'm not surprised. For clarification, check out the FIA's rally pyramid below. Basically, Rally3 will be the new Group N, but with some differences. Group N was dominated by Subaru and Mitsubishi, whose WRX and Lancer Evolution models were four-wheel drive and turbocharged, and available to buy from your local dealer. Not so a Rally3 car. At least not yet. The problem with Group N, which was technically a standard production category, is that the Lancer is no longer sold in that form, and Subaru have pretty much disappeared from the sport. In addition, the WRX is now a bigger and heavier car, which works against it on the rally stages.

Interest in Group N has waned since Mitsubishi stopped production of the Lancer Evolution range. Photo: Stuart Bowes

Under the Rally3 regulations, manufacturers can convert an existing body shell from 2WD to 4WD, but the car must stay the same width as the standard production variant. This means that putting wider arches on the car (a-la the AP4 regulations) isn't allowed. Cars must retain the standard bumpers and guards, along with utilising some common parts, such as wishbones, suspension dampers and brake calipers, to cut costs. Using Ford's new Rally3 Fiesta as an example, the car comes with a Sadev transmission and a 1.5-litre, 3-cylinder engine that produces a grunty 210bhp and 290Nm torque. With a maximum purchase price from the manufacturer of €100,000 (around AUD$165,000) they won't come cheap, but neither would a new Group N Subaru, once you purchased the car and built it up to full rally spec. And that's still significantly less than a Fiesta or Skoda R5 machine.

The look of the Ford Fiesta R5 (above) is very different to Ford's new Rally3 version of the car. Photo: Luke Whitten

Rally3 is already being seen as a category that could replace Group N, and also be introduced as the major category in fledgling championships such as the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC). “Rally3 was really created to have more FIA [homologated] cars outside of Europe,” Rally3 category manager, Jérôme Roussel, said in an interview this week. “I take the African championship for example and there are only one or two Rally2 cars. “After that, we have all Group Ns, but the guys with Group Ns feel they cannot compete against the Rally2 cars, so the championship is not very balanced. “APRC is another example. If in APRC we don’t have any Rally2, then I think Rally3 would be perfect for the development of rallying in this region. “Rally3 will be used in national championships, will be used in regional championships, but also this is a category we want to see at the top level in the framework of the WRC also.” It makes sense, particularly for the APRC, which has struggled to survive in recent seasons. However, in the Australian and New Zealand national championships it would more likely be seen as an add-on to the current top categories. In both countries, teams are already too far down the R5 / AP4 path to be told to do an about face and switch to Rally3 – at least in the short term.

Subaru and Mitsubishi had some great battles in the Group N class in the 1990s and 2000s. Photo: Maurice Selden

Companies such as Force Motorsport, Ralliart New Zealand and Neal Bates Motorsport have invested significant money and resources into their existing AP4 projects, as have those who have purchased R5 cars from Europe. Where Rally3 slots in, however, remains to be seen. Down under, our problem has traditionally been that we are so far from Europe that the drip feeding of cars south has been a long time coming. It would take some bold decisions from both national authorities to introduce the category from the get-go, and some competitors with big budgets to ensure that it didn't become a white elephant until there was a significant supply of secondhand cars on the market. Still, it's a step forward from the FIA, and it won't be long before we see our first Rally3 car heading south. In the meantime, we'll watch what happens in the northern hemisphere with great interest as the world of rally cars evolves even further.
What is Rally3?
*Manufacturers convert bodyshell from 2WD to 4WD configuration
*Common front and rear parts (wishbones, dampers, brake calipers, etc) to cut costs
*Car width the same as standard production car (not widened as in Rally2)
*Standard bodywork (bumpers and fenders can be bought from local car dealerships)
*Fuel tank simple in shape to reduce costs, positioned higher in car for simple design
*One gearbox ratio set only, two differential ramp angles to lessen engineering input
*Homologated from 1 January, 2021
*Minimum weight set at 1,180 kilograms
*210 bhp balanced by a turbo restrictor
*Price cap of €100,000
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