The WRC regulations that were abruptly canceled

January 05, 2023

by Maciej Hamera

Following the downfall of Group B, FISA pushed forward Group A as the new face of international rallying. With 1987 being the first season which saw Lancia dominate the points standings, by 1990 the FIA was thinking of new regulations to introduce into the World Rally Championship. And thus, Group R was born.

For months throughout 1990, FISA worked on what was seen as an improved Group A. Essentially the plan was for a silhouette formula to attract various manufacturers to the WRC.

For 1990, the WRC already had multiple factory teams from Lancia, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Audi, and more. However, it was only the first two that participated in all the races in the championship.

Therefore the point of Group R was to allow manufacturers disadvantaged by the Group A regulations to take part. To this end the modifications that would be allowed were significant.

The rules under Group R would allow more freedom with areas concerning the suspension, aerodynamic bodywork, and engine valve and manifold sizes. In addition, turbocharging would be allowed but the engines would be capped at a maximum of six cylinders and the drivetrain layout had to remain as the car came from the factory meaning that four-wheel-drive could not be added to models which lacked this from the outset. The weight limits would also be increased compared to those of Group A.

There was controversy as the detailed proposals for the rules presented to the Technical Commission seemed incredibly close to the ideas proposed by manufacturers like Renault, Peugeot, and Lancia. While Audi and VW weren't against the regulations, other teams such as Ford, GM, and Toyota were strongly against Group R.

Another stumbling block was the fact that these new prototypes would only be registerable for road use by the factory teams, not any of the private entries. With these non-works participants excluded, it would effectively have made the WRC a manufacturer only sport. 

After a period of particularly high pressure, FISA retracted the Group R proposal. Group A and Group N would carry on with minor changes into the future with many insiders believing that this was the correct course of action which resulted in the Group A regulations being used for an extensive period of time before the World Rally Car regulations were beginning to be phased in during the 1997 season. 

Group R would eventually see the light of day in 2008, aiming to slowly take over from the Group A and Group N machinery still campaigned by various independent teams. With categories such as R1, R2, R3, R4, R5, and R-GT being introduced, correlating to the various engine and weights of the cars, it took until 2019 until Group N and Group A were both excluded from competing at WRC events.  

While certain classes such as R5, allowed for increased modifications to the models competing in the WRC, the revised Group R regulations played a very much supporting role in the WRC. A stark contrast to the popularity originally envisioned for it in 1990...

Image credit: World Rally Championship


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