Types of Rally Cars explained

Complete Guide To The Types Of Rally Cars In The WRC

But first, WRC rally cars differ from the other racing disciplines. 

wrc rally racing

Types of Rally Racing

Thus, the types of rally cars directly depend on the kinds of rally racing. It may be the original form of the sport – the road rallies; the official format of the sport – stage rallies; off-road/cross-country competitions – like Rally-raid or Baja; the endurance rallying like the Dakar Rally and the other forms like Rallycross or Ice Racing.

However, we focus on stage rallies or the FIA WRC, which requires the most specific cars to restain the challenges through the water, dust, and rally jumps

So, like in the motorbikes with their classes, all the types of rally cars are divided into ‘groups,’ which have changed over time. Moreover, each Group has subgroups according to the rally car specifications, a number for the engine size, and the FIA regulations. 

Therefore, to make it easy to understand, let’s divide all the WRC history into four eras. Please note that this classification is not official, but we use it as it suits us better. 

Rally Cars through the Eras of the WRC

At the beginning of the WRC, when it was the IMC, there were two groups. The first included four subgroups in which cars weren’t to be modified. In another one, there were five subgroups in which rally cars were allowed to be changed. We labeled this time as the ‘Early Era” of rallying, which had started in 1954. 

Since 1982, these rally groups were replaced with A, B, N, or 12 in total groups. We labeled it as “The Golden Age” of rally racing. That is for a reason, as at that time, the WRC championship, in some terms, was even more popular than Formula 1 sport

Introducing the WRC car formula in 1997 started “The World Rally Car Age.” The WRC gained a new face and became a different discipline during this age. 

After launching the Hybrid Rally cars in 2022, it started the “New Hybrid Era” of rallying. 

Why is that? In short, each era of the WRC has its types of rally cars. It doesn’t mean that some of them passed to history. It just explains how rally cars have changed regarding the rules and regulations from the FIA. 

Moreover, even after half a century, each decade related to the types of rally cars still has thousands of fans worldwide. At the same time, the rally cars of some groups are still racing in the different championships.

type of rally cars explained

Types of Rally Cars in the ‘Early Era’ 

So, let’s dive into each Era of the WRC with its rally cars, victories, and defeats to determine the magic of these speed monsters. 

Imagine that the first ever rally car race dated 1911 th, when the first ever road competition was launched, the Monaco Rally. With a speed limit of 25kph, it was far enough from that Rally Monte Carlo that we got used to.

So, the Early Era of rally racing started in 1954. It was the rise of the rally sport, where the competition helped manufacturers find new engineering ideas. Motorsports was a driving force to improve manufacturing. The factories were interested in the big prizes and the fame and improving sales as a result. Therefore, the types of rally cars in the ‘Early Era’ were closer to their road series than at any other time. 

There were used types of rally cars Groups 1 -4, which were racing serial cars. These cars were forms of unmodified or modified series production touring and grand touring cars used in rallying. At the same time, vehicles in Groups 5- 9 could be changed frequently. Here is the Wikipedia if you want to know more about the Rally groups of that time. You also can find the complete regulations of APPENDIX J on the FIA official.

The Rise of the FIA World Rally Championship

However, Sport Automobile Vélocipédique Monégasque attracted spectators to the unusual event after over half a century. The International Championship for Manufacturers – shortly called IMC, which included international rallies and was held from 1970 to 1972. IMC upgraded to the World Rally Championship the following year and launched the first-ever WRC round in 1973 with Rally Monte Carlo.

As it was rising of rallying sports, more new manufacturers were interested in joining the Championship. Thus, British Motor Corporation’s Mini Cooper joined the tournament with its successor, the Mini Cooper S, in Group 2 in 1962.

Ford hired Lotus to create a high-performance version of their Cortina family car. They launched one of the most successful rally cars of its era – the Escort Twin Cam in 1968.

Renault bankrolled the small-volume sports car maker Alpine to transform their little A110 Berlinette coupé into a world-beating rally car. They hired the best drivers to bring the car to the top of racing.

But these cars just got the pale when Lancia presented the Bertone-designed Lancia Stratos HF prototype at the Turin Motor Show in 1971. Lancia Stratos became the first car designed from scratch to win rallies. The Stratos HF was the first car to win the World Rally Championship in 1974, and it set the standard for rally cars ahead with opening the golden Age of Rallying.

Since this, it was clear that the racing world wouldn’t be the same. It was clear that the rally car should be fast, but how fast and how much was enough?

types of rally cars

The Golden Age of Rally.

The story began. Step by step, the fastest rally cars had been introduced. Thus, in 1979, the automaker from Italy revealed a small family hatchback and called it the Delta. It was voted European Car of the Year in 1980. 

Many motor sports fans call the 1980s the golden era of rallying, but it was a very short four-year time. The rallying came close to rivaling Formula 1 in popularity, and in some cases, there was proof of how unsafe it was.

Since 1982, all the groups were united into three main Groups: N, A, and B, which determined the types of rally cars. Group A replaced Group 2 with “modified touring cars.” Group N replaced Group 1 with “standard touring cars.” And Group B replaced Group 3 and Group 4 with a set of regulations for “grand touring cars” (GT).

That was a manufacturing boom. Each type of rally car complied with its group’s regulations but was still unique. However, at first sight, they looked similar. 

Types of Rally Cars explained

So, let’s start with the easiest-to-understand Group N rally cars. 

Group N Rally Cars

Types of rally cars in Group N were ‘standard’ large-scale series production vehicles for competition. Here, the rally cars production has needed to be built in more than 5000 units to get FIA homologation. 

The synonym of Group N was “limited.” These were limited in terms of modifications permitted to the standard specification by the manufacturer. 

With the same geometry as serial cars, Group N rally cars had no options for engine relocation, braking system, brake pads, and suspension layout.

Although the FIA allowed Group N rally cars to change the exhaust system, the catalytic converter modification, dampers, and springs modification. However, these cars were still far enough from street cars.

Simply put, Groups A and N of rally cars are very similar in some terms, duplicating each other, but with entirely different requirements to the car changes’ limits. At the same time, Group B was a nonlimited group of rally cars. 

The division into classes was made. Thus, these types are N4 and А8 (<3,5), N3 and А7 (<2,0), N2 and А6 (<1.6), N1 and А5 (<1,4). But still, each group has its specs and requirements, where each car has to be homologated by the FIA. 

group n rally cars explained
What is FIA Homolagation?

As soon as the team has a specific rally car on which its rally versions are based, it needs registration and approval by the FIA, complying with all necessary technical documentation.
It is the main rule for each participant of the WRC and the ERC. Besides, all the specs of the rally cars should be similar to the approved ones. Otherwise, the car and the team will get the punishment.

However, such precedents took place in the past.

Thus, in 1999, Rally Monte Carlo legendary Colin McRae lost his third finished place. He was disqualified because of the inconsistency of the water pumps with the homologated sample of his Ford Focus WRC.

Tommi Makinen was deprived of victory on Rally Australia in 2000. The turbocharger on the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI differed from the approved sample.

But the loudest scandal broke out with Toyota in 1995, which changed the turbocharging system on their cars. As a result, Toyota was a two-year disqualification.

types of rally cars group N Renault 5 GT Turbo

Best Group N Rally Cars

Mercedes E190, Audi Coupe S2, Renault 5 GT Turbo, Ford Escort Cosworth, Subaru Impreza STi, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 3 are characteristic representatives of Group N. Based on their serial comrades, these were strictly regulated, but far from those. 

Group N was the opposite of Group B. Althought, these rally cars still needed more power to compete against Group A. However, Group N rally car has won a WRC championship once. It was in 1989, when Renault 5 driven by Alain Oreille won Rallye Côte d’Ivoire.

However, rules have changed, and rally cars have improved. So, engineers took the bases and worked with these to build the best one. Therefore, new groups and types of rally cars came to the sport.

Authentic Group N4 or Group NR4 Rally Cars

The subgroup in N, the N4, was isolated, as cars had come from the so-called “homologated series.” Thanks to the rules, the manufacturer had the right to move between the groups and directly to the top of Group A. 

It led to the appearance of such unique production cars as the Lancia Delta HF Integrale, Ford Escort RS Cosworth, Toyota Celica GT-Four, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. Like their pure rally counterparts, these were equipped with a turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive.

As expected, since introducing Group R in 2008, Group N had to pull out from the rally competition in 2013. Therefore, the FIA created the R4 class, planning it to be the “new Group N,” where the existing N4 cars could also be re-homologated. However, they abandoned the idea in 2015.

The new sporting class, NR4, was added where four-wheel drive Group N cars over 2000 cc could continue to compete within the Group R format

R4 cars can’t race in FIA-sanctioned rallies in Europe. But as R4 became a transition group, participants in old Group N could run in NR4.

Group N Today

As the FIA had been following the strategy to close the gap between Group A and Group N cars, the last one became the most vulnerable class. Thus, the world financial crisis and switching focus on ecology made that very few competitors could afford competitive cars in this class. But rally cars Group N still exist.

Thus, those who decide to become rally driver try their skills on the Group N rally cars, as these are used in rally schools or for the drivers who cannot afford the budget. Rally car Group N is up to times cheaper than Group A rally car, but less competitive.

Besides, matched to the RC2 sporting class, today, privateers compete as an ‘NR4’ car, which is allowed for championships like ERC.

types of rally cars group A Toyota explained

Rally Cars of Group A 

Rally cars Group A had raced with a more radical design. These had sports suspension different from the serial and a unique racing gearbox. With the slight changes in the engine design, a different ratio of cylinder diameter and piston stroke, an increase in the number of revolutions, and the use of high-tech materials, their design must generally coincide with the essential production car. 

The primary production car should also have an all-wheel drive transmission and a two-liter turbo engine. The most successful incarnations of current Group A cars are the Ford Escort, Sierra RS Cosworth, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, Toyota Celica GT4, Subaru Impreza, and Lancia Integrale.

Does the Group A rally still exist?

Today’s Group A cars are real rally racing cars with fully adjustable suspension, straight-cut, non-synchronized gears, and sequential shifting. While with up to 3500 cc or 2000 cc., turbocharged, and all-wheel drive, the A8 is the most potent class here. 

The type of rally cars Group A have undergone limitations and changes but still exist. These are part of RC4 sporting class, and participating in the European rally and the other championships.

However, one of the most exciting types of rally cars in Group A is their Kit Car.

types of rally cars group A explained

What is a Rally Kit Car?

A Rally kit car is a unique series of vehicles produced by a particular order for a third party to build. Rally Kit car may be created with piece-by-piece assembly. 

Sometimes, these cars may be different than their homologated serials with various engine design changes in dimensions in the valid values and aerodynamics. However, such changes are available only with the unanimous consent of the rival manufacturers in the category. 

In short, with an atmospheric engine up to 2000 cc. and driven on one axis, it is a separate category of Group A cars. It can be suited to three classes: A5, A6, and A7. However, Rally Kit cars occupy approximately the same rank as WRC in A8. 

rally cars group B explained

Rally Cars Group B

Group B rally cars were the real-speed monsters created from steel, gasoline, and human passion for racing in 1982. It was that case when the “fast” meant too much. With powerful engines and specially designed suspension systems, rally cars Group B had racing even the most challenging terrain. 

These featured a variety of setups for different track conditions and customization to suit the driver’s style. Simply put, it was the rally beyond the edge as it allowed an unlimited boost. The development in this group was also growing fast. 

Thus, for the 1985 rally season, Lancia replaced their 037 with a turbocharger and a supercharger for optimum power output Delta S4

Ford returned with the Ford RS200 and the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth. Latter it went on to compete in Group A. 

Citroën developed and entered the BX 4TC. Rover created the distinctive Metro 6R4, which featured a large spoiler mounted on the front of the car. 

The Start of the End of Rally Cars Group B

Rally Cars Group B was the most controversial case in WRC history. However, it was like playing the game without speed limits. The reality was far from the game, while the tragedy was closer than possible. 

The danger of Group B rally cars was first exposed in 1985. Ari Vatanen suffered a significant injury in Argentina because his seat mountings broke loose.

The following crash of Attilio Bettega’s Lancia was a point to discuss, as there was a place to think the case wasn’t in his 037. The co-driver wasn’t injured after the crew crashed into a tree, which ruptured into the driver’s seat and killed him instantly. Since the incident, Group B participation has become an issue.

lancia 037 group b rally cars explained

The accidents in the following 1986 finished the Group B rally cars racing in the Championship. Thus, Joaquim Santos lost control of his RS200 at the Portuguese rally and slid off the road into the spectators. Thirty-one people were injured, and three were killed.

The deaths of Toivonen and Cresto were hardly the only fatalities attributed to Group B. But if the series was already on probation, the Tour de Corse crash was the final straw.

The Rally Portugal 1986

Henri Toivonen was the championship favorite with his Lancia. But on S4, he flew off and plunged down a steep wooded hillside. The car landed inverted, with the fuel tanks ruptured by the impact. The dry undergrowth fired. Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto died in their seats. Henri Toivonen was an experienced rally driver and struggled with many accidents. 

Regarding controversies around Group B, the case wasn’t in the driver’s bad luck but in his car. However, a vast scandal made a stir. That was a ‘the show must go on’ dilemma, and the teams suggested the drivers choose whether to continue. There was someone who retired from the event and someone who was quite against the cancellation. 

The last one was young Jean Todt – future Michael Schumacher manager and one of the best FIA presidents. After a while, he changed his mind. 

The Rally Portugal 1986 came into history in the worst way. Unfortunately, there were no safety measures adopted either. However, the Rally Portugal event is spectacular, with fascinating rally jumps at its route.

After the end of the 1986 season, the FISA (FIA) banned the group for safety reasons. They dropped its plans to introduce Group S and designated Group A. Last one became the top-line formula with engine limits of 2000 cc and 300 bhp. 

Best Rally Cars of Group B

So, it wasn’t just a few cars, such as the Audi Quattro. It was a whole Group B, including their iconic Lancia Delta S4, the Peugeot 205 T16, the Ford RS200, and the MG Metro 6R4. The cars were just too fast for rallying.

However, as the Group B formula was short-lived, the Peugeot 205 T16 went down in history as the most successful car here. It won two drivers’ and constructors’ titles, and won 16 rallies in total.

From words to deeds, let’s delve into how fast these speed monsters were. 

groups of rally cars explained

A, B, N rally cars’ speed comparison

Group N highlighted representer Mitsubishi lancer EVO 9 MR accelerated to 100 km/h in just 3.9 seconds, while 400 in 13 seconds. It is the best result in the history of the Evolution model so far. With a top speed of 250 km/h, it can race against the most powerful supercars.

Group B boasts four-wheel-drive and, in some cases, over 500 brake horsepower. Sources at the time claimed that a Group B car could accelerate from 0-60mph (96km/h) on a gravel road in just 2.3 seconds.

The best Lancia Delta HF Integrale is a four-wheel drive car with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and a turbocharger that can generate 210 PS and 298 Nm. The 1,300-kg car has a five-speed manual gearbox and can accelerate to 100 km/h in less than 6 seconds. Its maximum speed may reach over 250 km/h.

Grouped A, the powerful 2.0-liter Ford Cosworth unit, produced 204 hp. However, powered to the rear wheels, the road car could go from 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds, and reach 239 km / h.

The Most Successful Rally Car in the 80s

With winning six consecutive manufacturer’s world rally championship titles, bringing the team to the top during 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992, Lancia Delta Integrale is the most successful and memorable rally car of the 80s. Retired from Group B, it immediately occurred in Group A with Delta HF4WD. In the same year, the sales of its road car increased by 42%! The world record remains these days.

So, after Group B was banned, the Golden Era finished, opening the way for new types of rally cars. 

The transition to the World Rally Car Formula

ford focus wrc rally car explained

However, the dominance of Group A and its improvement, as a result, became the game changer for the FIA WRC. While the rally at that time was initially a challenge to European manufacturers, it also had a downside. Participating in the challenge required essential amounts of money. So, huge budgets became an integral part of the game. 

That is what Toyota, Mazda, Subaru, Nissan, and Mitsubishi could afford, and they joined the World Rally Championship. However, the situation started to change. Peugeot backed the WRC with three consecutive wins of the manufacturer’s Championship in 2000, 2001, and 2002 with their type of World Rally Car. 

Frontline Types of Race Cars

Besides, two groups are worth the attention. Thus, introduced in 1982, Group C was defined as a pure prototype class. It became a category for sports car racing until 1993. The Group C Racing Series is considered the golden age of endurance racing. However, it led to the production of arguably the most iconic cars in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Super 1600 and Super 2000 are rally car formulas used in the Junior World Rally Championship between 2001 and 2010, RallyCross, and national rally championships.

With 2-litre engines, the S2000 rally cars have raced in the WRC and the WTCR. The goal of the Super 2000 is to allow more manufacturers and privateers to race by reducing the cost of a competitive car. 

The Super 1600 cars are related to young drivers’ entry points into international rallying. It could only be used by entrants in the JWRC until 2011, when Group R cars took the replacement.

sébastien ogier

The Age of the World Rally Car

Designed directly for the WRC, the World Rally Car was a new type that appeared in 1997 to replace Group A. However, technically, the WRC car was comparable to the A8. Unlike others, these were allowed for the maximal changes. There was no need for the essential production car to have all-wheel drive and a turbo engine. The minimum volume of the crucial car series was only 20 vehicles.

However, there were still limitations. Thus, the WRC car’s engine must be located only in front. The motor can only be placed in the base behind the drivers if serial analog uses such an arrangement. The length of the car must be at least 4.00 m, and the width must be exactly 1.77 m.

toyota yaris wrc

How fast is a World Rally Car?

Until the World Rally Car type, the gap in terms of power between current and Group B cars had remained. 

In terms of speed, it was a step up. Thus, in 2017, Rally Finland, the winner, Esapekka Lappi, at the wheel of a Toyota Yaris WRC, scored the second-fastest average speed of all time with 126.16kph. The fastest Group B rally car, the Ford RS200, may reach 224 kph. Thus, WRC cars made only about 60-65% of the power of the best Group B cars. 

But closer to the average times, WRC cars pass the route faster. While the Group B rally cars were more aggressive, the WRC cars are better in terms of their settings, aerodynamics, and overall design. However, the best Group B cars would likely beat a WRC in conditions like tarmac.

However, WRC cars were the predecessors of the Hybrid types of rally cars.

Rally Fact

Sebastian Loeb, the most decorated driver in World Rallying, won the Championship nine consecutive times with a Citroën Xsara and the Citroën DS3. Both WRC cars are the iconic of the age.

daniel elena and sebastien loeb

Types of Rally Cars: Group R 

Types of rally cars Group R has replaced Group A and Group N rally cars since 2008. Comling the Group R regulations requires these cars first to be homologated in Group A and receive one or more extensions for homologated parts and modifications designed by the manufacturer.

Group R consisted of R1, R2, R3, R4, and R5, and a provision for GT cars, or R-GT. The R1, R2, and R3 cars are two-wheel drive with atmospheric engines up to 2000cc. Since 2015, the R1, R2, and R3 classes have allowed supercharged engines with a 1.5 equivalency factor for displacement.

R-GT relates to the Grand Touring cars to enter rallies. At the same time, the R5 class had to replace Super 2000 cars in 2013. So, before 2014, no specific championship for cars entered under R-GT regulations existed. R-GT cars were ineligible to score points in any existing championship outside the World Rally Championship. The FIA R-GT Cup for R-GT cars started in 2015, sharing some events from the WRC and ERC events.

The Group R bright representatives are the Ford Fiesta R1, Peugeot 208 R2, Citroen DS3 R3T, Subaru Impreza R4, Skoda Fabia R5, and Porshe 911 GT3. 

What is a R5 rally car?

One of the most popular in the group, R5 cars, are a step down from World Rally Cars in their power and performance. However, this type of rally ars is eligible to compete in the World Rally Championship and WRC-2. This Championship opens to manufacturers and professional independent teams competing in R5 cars.

rally cars types groups explained ford

Transition to the Hybrid Rally Cars

Switching focus to ecology, the preparation before the Hybrid rally cars appeared started long ago. Thus, the FIA Rally Commission presented a new Rally Pyramid in 2019. The FIA Rally Pyramid is a structure of car classes used across the sport. 

Understanding the Rally Pyramid

The first key to understanding the types of rally cars in the Rally Pyramid is that Rally3, Rally2, Rally1 are four-wheel drive. The Rally5, Rally4 are two-wheel drive cars. 

The second thing is that Rally5, Rally 3 types are based on accessibility for teams and drivers. The Rally 4, Rally2, and Rally1 are about performance.

Third is that Rally1 cars are considered elite cars. Powered with Hybrid, these are cutting-edge technologies and the most expensive rally cars. It required only professional drivers at the wheel of the Rally1 car. In simple terms, it is the top of the top. 

Fourth, the lower the level of the car in the rally Pyramid, the cheaper these cars are. However, the WRC car’s price is still costly pleasures. 

Fifth is that the Groups Rally3 to Rally5 also have classes within the Group for minor technical or regulatory purposes.

 All the groups are allowed to use in the World Rally Championship (WRC) and regional championships. However, the most significant differences between each group of cars are the performance and the costs involved in manufacturing, running, and maintaining them.

FIA Rally Car Pyramid

The New Hybrid Era with Rally1 

So, since 2022, the Rally1 Hybrid cars have replaced the World Rally Car type. Hyundai Motorsport became the first WRC team to announce their Hyundai i20 N switches for a hybrid power plant. Toyota Gazoo Racing and M-Sport Ford also moved to the new-generation Rally1 cars. While it was challenging, Citroën and the team pulled out of WRC at the end of the 2020 season.

What is the WRC Hybrid Rally1 Car?

At the heart of the Rally1 car is the high-performance hybrid by Schaeffler, with a total weight of just 87 kg, a compact system with a battery with 3.9 kWh capacity installed transversely in the cars. In fact, on the stages, the drivers can gain an extra 100 kW boost, which briefly brings the total output of the vehicle to 386 kW and thus over 500 hp! 

The energy is recovered by recuperating braking energy. That way, the drive battery is charged while the car is moving.

However, WRC cars and Rally 1 cars are different. Equipped with electronics and hybrid components, Rally 1 displays more performance. However, the initiative met different emotions. On the one hand, it is a step up to the cutting-edge technologies. But on the other hand, the expenses to provide and improve these technologies increase significantly.

Hybrid Rally1 car explained

WRC Car, Hybrid Rally1, and Group B, which one is faster?

As you see, the Hybrid Rally1 car is a step up in making rally cars more powerful but keeping the focus on ecology. If the WRC cars had about 380 hp, the new Hybrid Rally1 cars got 500hp. Therefore, as a result, the car’s speed increased to a maximum of 201 kp/h. However, it is still about 25% less than what Group B can make. 

Although, as for the aerodynamics and many other electronic elements added, the Hybrid Rally1 car has passed some special stages faster than Group B cars. As for the maximal speed, Group B cars are still the speed monsters, which have no tequilas. 

Why are Rally Cars hatchbacks? 

Hatchbacks have a shorter length than sedans, which gives the advantage of agility. Compact size cuts the weight of the rally car, which can be crucial in this sport. Besides, compared with Sedans, hatchbacks give less drag on the terrain, making it easier to cope with twisting hairpins and, as a result, improve grip. Winning the 1999 Safari Rally, McRae’s Ford Focus RS WRC, based on the Ford Focus Climate, became the first hatchback car to win WRC.  

types of rally cars

Rally Cars are Mythical Creations

After about seven decades, types of rally cars have passed the clear evolution. Is this good or bad? It is still an issue. Previously, rally cars had more standard features with their road associates. Therefore, for many rally fans, these cars, factories that made vehicles, made sense. For example, driving the Subaru Impreza was more than going it; it meant touching the legend. It was like taking at the wheel of a similar car that Colin McRae drove. 

Many rally fans argue that the FIA has been making to make the WRC in some terms, such as elite sports such as Formula 1. However, changing the rules and regulations specifications of types of rally cars is going according to the world trends. It causes new cars to appear, but rally cars have been keeping their label as speed monsters. 

There is still something special in their engine roars, aerodynamic elements, and mystical. Doubts? Just look at the Toyota Yaris and Toyota Yaris Hybrid Rally1 car. Magic comes when the rally driver starts the engine. So, the hidden gap between these two has always been a riddle; the answer has always been laid under in the passion for rallying. 

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