Next year, rallying will embark on a homologation revolution. The FIA’s new five-tier rally pyramid will go from a basic front-wheel-drive Rally5 car right up to 2022’s hybrid Rally1 cars spearheading the World Rally Championship.
Most tiers are comparative to pre-existing classes, except for rallying’s new middleman – Rally3.
The first manufacturer to take the dive into Rally3, M-Sport Poland, revealed its challenger last autumn. The Rally3 Fiesta is due to be homologated at the start of March.
With no competitive outings until then, it is still unclear how close the cost-effective four-wheel-drive car will be to that of its Rally2 big brother.
Thankfully for Rally Insight, Jon Armstrong was at hand to talk through his recent test-drive in the Rally3 Fiesta.
Armstrong sat beside Ken Torn as the Estonian tackled a bumpy, gravel stage. Torn will drive the car in the European Rally Championship’s refreshed Junior class this year after he claimed ERC 3 honours in a Rally4 Fiesta last year.
“There were a couple of jumps so you could see what the car flies like,” described Armstrong. “It kept really level which was surprising. It doesn’t really nose-dive, it flies a bit more like an R5 or World Rally Car instead.
“Apparently, that is down to the weight distribution and damper set-ups. The traction on gravel was amazing too.”
Armstrong, who is still aiming to compete in the Junior World Rally Championship, then got a chance to drive the Fiesta on an asphalt racetrack.
“It became immediately clear that it is a very easy car to drive hard. It just wanted you to drive on and it basically gave me confidence straight away.
“On the second lap, I was confident enough to keep pushing and start drifting the car a bit.
“The slides are very progressive. They’re more like a four-wheel power-slide rather than proper oversteer.
“The car feels a little bit more similar to the Rally4 car [rather than Rally2], but obviously with the rear helping you out.
“It’s 215 bhp and has 400 Nm of torque but you can be super aggressive and it wouldn’t punish you.
“The slides on-throttle were always very gradual so you are always going forward. For that reason, I think you could be really competitive on a slippery event compared to a Rally2 car.
“It feels so new but it feels like this is what we should have had for a long time.
“I’m really excited to see what the stage times are like compared to Rally2 because I think it’ll be a lot closer than what people expect.”
M-Sport Poland has its Rally3 Fiesta advertised at €99,999 excluding VAT. Of course, there are a variety of options that will pump this price up but is still a significant saving on the more powerful Rally2 cars.
The ERC’s switch from Rally2 to Rally3 for its ERC Junior series is the biggest indicator of how championships will make use of the category. JWRC crews also look set to compete in Rally3 cars in 2022 rather than Rally4.
That’s a cost-saving for ERC hotshots while WRC’s young guns will likely have to fork out more for the JWRC’s four-wheel-drive upgrade.
Closer to home, Armstrong, who has experience of both R2 (Rally4) and R5 (Rally2), reckons Rally3 makes perfect sense for domestic championships.
“Okay, we don’t know the exact delta, but from what I’m seeing, it’s going to be quite a bit cheaper.
“So yeah, I think it makes total sense to go for a Rally3 car, because it’s a lot cheaper.
“If we could get some national championships to make Rally3 the prime class of car, even if the British Rally Championship could do that, I think it would be great.
“Front-wheel-drive was at the forefront of the BRC in the early 2010s. Rally3 is the perfect category now, because you have got the best of both worlds.
“But I do think we need to see the stage times first and see what sort of pace it has against the Rally2 cars.
“You’ve always got that thing where you can buy a well-used 2014 or ‘15 Fiesta R5 for €130,000.
“So yeah in comparison you’re probably going to get national people who say I’m going to get an R5 because it’s the same price or slightly cheaper.”
The three-cylinder turbocharged Fiesta has struck a chord with Armstrong who understands first-hand the expense of international rallying at the moment.
The Northern Irishman thinks the class is ideal for a R2 or Rally4 driver to sample four-wheel-drive for the first time.
“I think it’s something that probably should have been done a long time ago. It just feels right.
“For any young driver, they’re aiming to go to the highest level and that’s obviously Rally2 four-wheel-drive.
“So if they can’t necessarily afford that, then Rally3 could be the stepping stone to prove what they can do before making the jump up to a fully backed Rally2 campaign.”
Photos courtesy of M-Sport