Interview: Richard Millener on R5’s fifth anniversary
On May 5, the FIA’s R5 movement celebrates its fifth anniversary. That day in 2013 saw Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barrett tackle the Pirelli Richard Burns Foundation BRC rally in M-Sport’s first R5 prototype.
Homologation followed on and the show was on the road.
On the entry list for the Tour de Corse this year were R5 cars from Skoda, Ford, Peugeot, Hyundai and Citroen. In the line-up for the start was Gus Greensmith in M-Sport’s most recent Fiesta R5, chassis 267, and Ole Christian Veiby in Skoda’s latest Fabia R5, chassis 201.
M-Sport’s Customer liaison manager, Richard Millener, was in Corsica reflecting on the way the R5 regulations have changed the nature of WRC support and national championship rallying.
Richard Millener: I think R5 is an incredibly strong formula. All the top brands have bought into it because they think the same. I think it will continue to grow.
People have thought the market is saturated, but the older R5 cars are filtering down into the national levels and replacing the Group N cars, leaving holes for more R5 cars at the top end in the WRC and regional championships.
The regulations are stable, everybody has confidence in them, cars are not going to go out of date and lose their value because of changing regulations. The formula works incredibly well.
We are all very aware of the financial costing involved in competing in motorsport, especially at top level. Regulation stability means people are able to come up with a budget at the start the season which is pretty much the same as on the previous season, and annual increases in costs are not that great.
You can prepare a three or four year plan with your sponsor and know what you need to be competing at your chosen level.
Martin Holmes: Apart from allowing paddleshifts and detailed design upgrades, have there been any general changes in the specification of R5s?
RM: Basically no. Apart from regular design improvements, the new cars that come along might be slightly quicker, but only because of newer available technology.
Technology now is very different to when we developed our cars five years ago. For example, we are now running our R5 with the same damper systems that we ran in the WRC car a few years ago. Design developments in WRC cars filter down to the R5.
Again, elements of engine developments that are run in WRC cars come down to R5. Because the engine size, the restrictor size and the boost pressure are all set, all you can expect to gain is a 2-3% power increase as you move on to the latest generation of R5 cars. This situation is very good.
There are over 600 R5 cars around, of six different globally homologation designs. That has got to show you something! If it wasn’t a workable formula the teams would stop selling them.
The key is having a car that works for your customers and keeps them happy. A lot of them are investing their own personal money as a hobby to drive R5, so the customer is king.
Around the globe in most of the national championships the top level is now R5, which is great for the drivers. They can invest a predictable amount of money, be in the very top level of their competition and be seen winning these events and championships outright, as opposed to winning a class.
MH: Certain areas of the world say that R5 cars are too expensive and they prefer to run with their own budget-friendly formulae, like the AP4 cars in Australasia.
RM: I think sometimes the facts of R5 being ‘too expensive’, compared with development costs for the national formulae such as AP4 or Maxi Rally in South America, are a little bit skewed, or maybe the facts are hidden a little bit.
They are not cheap cars to develop and produce. Take AP4 cars for example, I know some people are spending just as much money on their local formula cars as they would on an R5 car.
MH: Doesn’t the Maxi Rally and the FIA’s new R4-Kit formula with more amounts of standardised engines, transmissions and everything like that work well?
RM: Personally, I think R4-Kit has got a little lost in what it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be the car in the middle between R2 and R5, but it has come to be nearly as expensive as an R5.
Yes, their running costs are cheaper, but in reality does that make a huge difference? I don’t think it does.
I think in the saving of running costs, what we are talking about is between £10-£15 per kilometre, while considering the difference in the performance, and the number of cars you are up against if you have an R4, who do you compete against?
There will be nobody. You’re in a class on your own. It makes more sense to go R5 where you are in with a big competition.
I know what they were trying to achieve with R4-Kit, but unfortunately R4 hasn’t worked for me. I think they need to revisit that again. There is a big expensive gap at the minute between R2 and R5. R4 needs to be somewhere in the middle of the gap, it needs to be £100K rally car.
MH: What is the typical R5 pound per competitive kilometre rate?
RM: If we’re going from our official calculations we look around £55/km on a WRC event, where they are worked pretty hard over a long period.
On national rallies it’s probably down to £35-£40/km because the events are shorter, you can rebuild after each rally and you get a little bit more time to be careful on how you are running the car.
We don’t know yet the cost of running a current generation World Rally Car, but I’d say it’s double the R5s. The old 2016 formula (WRC) cars are probably somewhere in the middle.
The top WRC cars are very expensive cars. They are the pinnacle of the sport, that’s why the manufacturers use them. R5 cars are a more cost effective way of getting up towards the top level.
When you go back 40 years ago or so, there was always a chance for every R5 driver on the rally to fight with the top professional teams.
MH: Is the current World Rally Car formula viable in the future, or could the R5 formula eventually become the top formula in the sport?
RM: Who knows? The WRC needs to set a plan on where it is going to be in the next 18 months – two years, to see if we can continue as we are.
But all the time there is a huge healthy market in R5 behind the top WRC cars. For a casual fan watching the stages, I’m not sure how many would tell the difference.
A hardened rally fan would notice, but the casual onlookers, the people who are the next audience in the rally market, I’m not sure they’d be able to tell so easily.