Some truly iconic cars have competed in the World Rally Championship. In the Seventies there was the Lancia Stratos and Ford Escort. Group B in the Eighties gave us the Audi quattro and Peugeot 205 T16. The Group A era of the Nineties produced the Lancia Integrale and Subaru Impreza.
Then we get to the most recent World Rally Car (WRC) crop. Hmm. Sure, some cars have utterly dominated, but the only truly iconic car to emerge has been the wide-arch Impreza of 1997-2000. And that’s because it spawned the epic Impreza 22B road car.
We counting out Tommi Makkinen’s Mitsubishi Evo 6, with which he won the championship every year from ’96-’99, because it was actually a sort of Group A+ spec, rather than a true WRC.
Anyway, the connection between the Impreza WRC and the 22B is relevant here. Unlike every previous rallying formula, there is no requirement in the WRC rules to build a homologation special road car directly related to the rally car. The only stipulation is that the WRC be the same length as its production brethren. Apart from the 22B, the only homologation special has been a Peugeot 206 with weirdly jutting bumpers.
So it’s no surprise that WRC cars tend not to live long in the memory, when there isn’t a road-going version in showrooms to drool over. You’ll probably remember the Peugeot 206, various Citroens and the VW Polo, simply because they dominated. Ford has always been around and Subaru and Mitsubishi are inextricably linked to rallying, even though they left years ago. You might be vaguely aware of Skoda’s efforts because Colin McRae drove his last world championship event at the wheel of a Fabia.
But many more cars than that have competed in the WRC era. So, here are five WRC cars that you’ve probably forgotten.
Hyundai Accent WRC
Hyundai returned to the world championship in 2014 with an in-house programme. It’s previous effort began in 2000 with the Accent WRC, built and run by Motor Sport Developments. Former champions Juha Kankkunen and Kenneth Eriksson, along with and up-and-comers Alister McRae and Freddy Loix, piloted the car. But there wasn’t enough money to develop it properly.
The Accent showed flashes of speed but never finished better than fourth and reliability was a constant problem. There were issues behind the scenes as well, as relations between Hyundai in Korea and MSD in England broke down. The plug was pulled at the end of 2003. A few British privateers bought the cars to run on local events and had some success. The odd one is still wheeled out occasionally.
Mini John Cooper Works WRC
Mini arrived in a flurry of publicity part-way through the 2011 season. It had all the right ingredients to succeed. The Countryman-based John Cooper Works was designed and run by Prodrive, the outfit that masterminded Subaru’s success. The team hired a couple of hungry young guns – Kris Meeke and Dani Sordo – to drive. And the car proved fast out of the box, twice finishing on the podium.
While this was happening, Mini parent company BMW, initially extremely supportive, was gearing up for a new programme in the DTM series for 2012 and decided to pull its funding from the rally team. A few privateer teams took up the mantle, and the Mini was adapted to other specifications, but it never had the chance to show what it was really capable of. It’s the great ‘what if’ of modern rallying.
Peugeot 307 WRC
For reasons known only to themselves, Peugeot got bored of all the success they were having with the multiple championship-winning 206 WRC. So they switched to the 307CC-based 307 WRC for 2004. Not only was it extremely ungainly, Peugeot – again for reasons known only to themselves – decided to fit it with a four-speed gearbox, instead of the usual six.
That gearbox proved the car’s undoing, breaking rather a lot. In did win three rallies, but that was mostly due to the genius of Marcus Gronholm. It was starting to come good towards the end of ’05, but PSA withdrew from rallying at the end of the season. Bozian Racing took on the cars, running Manfred Stohl to fourth in the championship in ’06.
SEAT Cordoba WRC
Having won the F2 championship, SEAT decided to step up to the top class with the Cordoba WRC. They had wanted to use the Ibiza, but it was too short and the FIA refused dispensation. Peugeot faced the same problem with the 206 and were granted dispensation. Cue accusations of the French-based FIA looking after its own.
The Cordoba debuted towards the end of 1998. The engine was in the wrong place, hanging beyond the front wheels, and it wasn’t very reliable. SEAT didn’t have the money to re-engineer the car and pulled out after the 2000 season with just three podium finishes on its record. The car went on to have some success in the Spanish national championship.
Suzuki SX4 WRC
Suzuki couldn’t have timed its entry into the world championship any worse. After a couple of trial runs in 2007, it contested a full season in ’08 with the SX4. It was an odd shape for a rally car – tall and short – but showed potential. There were predictable reliability problems, but of the finishes it did record only two were outside the top ten, with a best of fifth.
Unfortunately, the credit crunch hit hard in ’08. Global car sales plummeted and Suzuki decided it wasn’t a terribly good idea to throw millions at an unnecessary rally team (Subaru came to the same conclusion). Neither the team or the cars were seen again.
By Only Motors