Next year promises to be a significant season for the World Rally Championship, with Rally1 hybrid regulations being introduced. To be eligible for championship points, all cars must comply with the new regs, meaning the introduction of a 135hp electric motor and battery pack on top of the existing 1.6-litre turbo - the aim is to use battery power to travel around service areas and built up areas.
With Ford and M Sport having enjoyed such success in recent years, they'll both be keen for the hybrid era to continue in similar fashion. And they'll be competing with this, the Puma Rally1 WRC. Yep, a Puma in the WRC. Well, if a Mini Countryman competed, why can't a Puma?
Making its global premiere at Goodwood in prototype format this weekend, the Puma Rally1 uses the existing Ecoboost 1.6 and matches it to the aforementioned electric motor and 3.9kWh battery. We'll get a clue as to how that will perform, too, with Matthew Wilson and Adrien Fourmaux driving up the hill over the weekend. It all works like a road car, too, albeit at an ever so slightly higher performance level, which is always useful for the stage-to-showroom link. Kinetic energy is recovered when braking or lifting off that can be deployed to improve fuel efficiency or, for the rally car, provide the 135hp boost for up to three seconds. The hybrid system adds 95kg and a full recharge is said to take around 25 minutes - although it's easy to imagine service park supply being patchy. It's all housed in "ballistic strength casing" to protect it from any damage in the event of a crash.
The Puma is the first car seen from M-Sport Ford after announcing a three-year commitment to hybridised rallying, and they aren't merely stopping at an SUV rally car - it's going to use synthetic fuel as well. For the 2022 season, the Puma Rally1 WRC will use "a fossil-free fuel from the 2022 season, blending synthetic and bio-degradable elements to produce a fuel that is 100 per cent sustainable." Which is certainly encouraging for those of us not yet sold on an ExtremeE-style future.
"The new era of WRC cars is one of the biggest technological advancements in WRC to date. The introduction of the hybrid means that the cars will be more powerful than ever whilst also directly reflecting the powertrains within their road going counterparts," said Malcolm Wilson. "The switch to the Puma is very exciting with the name already having rally heritage, the car looks fantastic and I cannot wait to see it at the start line of the famous Monte Carlo Rally in early 2022."
So that's Toyota and Ford sorted for next year - now it's just Hyundai needed to complete the set. Will it stick with an i20 to rival the Yaris? Or might it prepare a Kona to take on this Puma? A fascinating year of the WRC surely lies in wait.
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