The World Rally Championship is converting to a new plug-in hybrid electric powertrain ruleset next season, but after some clarification comments from Jari Matti-Latvala, principal of Toyota Gazoo Racing’s effort, I’m not entirely sure why. It seems that these new hybrid systems, while adding about 130 horsepower and 130 lb-ft of torque, can’t actually be used for a performance advantage or strategic difference between competitors.
Latvala explained that drivers won’t really have a say in how and when their cars deploy the hybrid energy. “As far as I am aware, you are not allowed to have a button to use the energy, like in F1, like the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recover System), where you can use the extra power when you want – you can’t do that in the rally,” he told Autosport.
The extra power provided by the hybrid system will be mapped and mandated by the software rather than the drivers. Some drivers will be able to adapt their driving style to maximize the hybrid system’s efficiency and power output, but for the most part it can’t be manipulated by the drivers or teams at all, apparently.
“It is more related to the driving style – on the throttle, off the throttle – as to when it is charging and when is it not charging to give you the power,” Latvala continued. “You use power, then you have to charge it to use it again. It’s not like you start with the electric on the first stage, and you drive on it for as long as it [electric power] goes. I don’t think it will be like that. It is going to be constantly releasing and then charging.”
Not that rally drivers need more things to think about in the cockpit, but I imagine a button to control the extra power of the hybrid system would add an extra level of driver engagement in the outright results. The ability to regen power to the pack via braking would also be awesome, because drivers could manipulate that as well, overpowering the brakes with the engine during slowdown to have extra straightline power for long runs, or re-charging with the engine during transit. It seems WRC has outlawed all of that.
To see how this will all play out in real time, we’ll have to wait until next season, and I’m deeply interested in how it will, but if the electric power can’t be modified by either the drivers or the teams, it’s going to just be more of the same. Why even bother with the added weight and complexity?