Rally racing is the most dynamic motorsport on earth—or at least it used to be. From the 1970s to the late 1990s, rally racing did wear that crown and rally cars were some of the most coveted vehicular icons of their time. The sport birthed world-renowned stars in both driver and vehicle, like Colin McRae and the Subaru WRX STI. But recent years have not been kind to the sport of rally racing and it is in need of a facelift. The Top Gear America hosts think they have that all figured out.
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The Heroes of Rally Racing
Rally drivers are some of the best race car pilots in the world. The constant variations in terrain and traction combined with open-stage course conditions that can change in seconds forces them to develop god-like levels of control and finess. It’s no wonder legends like Walter Rohrl and Sebasian Loeb crossed over into road racing with great success. Rally racing has produced (or attracted) some of Formula 1’s greatest drivers like Alain Prost and Kimi Raikkonen, too. Even modern legends, like Ken Block and Travis Pastrana, regularly demonstrate that they can hold their own on tarmac with the best.
The drivers aren’t the only heroes. Cars like the Lancia Stratos were hyper-exotic poster art akin to Ferrari and Lamborghini and just happened to be extremely capable race cars; winning races and stages for years on an out-dated two-wheel drive chassis when the dominators of the sport had long switched to four-wheel drive.
But it wasn’t just the country club and yacht crowd that could attain a world-class rally car. Group B rally racing turned everyday appliances into legends. Cars the Fords Escort, Focus and Fiesta, the Toyota Celica, Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer were all boy-racer dream cars that the average weekend warrior could attain. Ever wonder why WRXs and Evos were so popular in the 1990s? Win on Sunday, sell on Monday and boy did those cars do lots of winning.
Fundamental Flaws of Rally Racing
Rally racing, today, is not what it was 20 years ago. Only three manufacturers competed in the 2020 World Rally Championship (WRC) when dozens used to compete. Fan participation has dropped, tv coverage and viewership has dropped, but the Top Gear America hosts know how to fix it. The way they see it, rally racing is facing five fundamental flaws that they’re going to address in only the way Top Gear America can.
The Cars—Modern rally cars are cool and fast as all get out but they’re all based on boring subcompact cars that no one likes. If you went to high school between 1995 and 2005, you probably wanted a Subaru or Mitsubishi as your first car and it was because of rally racing. What car inspires the youth of today to get out and drive, the Ford Fiesta? Ford doesn’t even make it any more!
No, rally racing needs vehicular heroes that bring variety back to the sport and can capture the hearts of the youth. Jethro is kicking it old-school in his 2020 Subaru WRX STI Series White, figuring this more-street tuned evolution of Subaru’s indomitable rally car still has the right DNA.
Dax has gone for more of a sleeper approach with the 2020 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400. A sporty sedan in a rally race? Don’t worry kids, Dax hasn’t lost his mind. The Q50 Red Sport has 400hp and all-wheel drive, plus it comes from the same engineering geniuses that created Rob’s ride—the 2020 Nissan GT-R Track Edition—which does not belong off-road at all. But Rob thinks it will be a blast anyway with it’s 600 Tokyo-destroying horsepower.
The Drivers—Modern rally car drivers are just too dang good! How is the average weekend warrior supposed to keep up with Tanner Foust on a local race-weekend? They can’t! So the guys want to attempt to level the playing field and give everyone an equal shot at victory. Remember, Jethro is a real professional race car driver—Rob doesn’t have a hope in matching him for skill. But at the same time he has almost double the power in the GT-R as Jethro does in the Subaru. Time to break out the handicaps!
Audience Participation—The best part of motorport for the spectator is being there; feeling the exhaust pressure hit you as the cars race by, the wall of sound vibrating you to the core and the smell of hydrocarbons littering the atmosphere. Rally racing fans are some of the most dedicated to getting as close to the action as possible, often risking life and limb to get the best view. So how can our brave hosts get the people closer to the action without risking their safety? This one might need to be workshopped a while longer…
The Look—A modern WRC car looks like the technological marvel it is—and usually technological marvels are expensive. At around $750,000, a WRC race car doesn’t miss that mark. To get more people involved in rally racing, the barrier to entry needs to be lowered so that the amature racer isn’t priced out, but the cars still have to look cool.
Jethro has gone for a clean set of graphics, a la Colin McRae and his 555 liveries. Dax has gone for more utility and ruggedness by cutting his fenders and lifting the Infiniti. The light bar adds a mean look, too. Rob just went for off-the-wall-style points—no rear bumper, side pipes and truck-bed liner to armor the fenders. The guys definitely present a diverse cast of eye-catching characters here.
The Event—Rally race events themselves need the most help. The same stages get run year after year, cars are released one at a time to prevent everyone’s favorite part of motorsport—the crashes—and co-drivers are so good with the notes that even if a driver is unfamiliar with the terrain, they can confidently charge forward. It’s time to flip that on its head! No more co-drivers, no more well-known stages and tracks and give us that wheel-to-wheel action! What could go wrong?
This isn’t the end of Top Gear America for this season. The action all comes back starting May 7th, 2021, only on the MotorTrend App. Don’t worry, there’s plenty to watch in the meantime, like seasons 1-27 of BBC’s Top Gear, Roadkill, Fastest Cars in the Dirty South or Dirt Every Day. Plus, there’s no better time to binge the first half of this season of Top Gear America than right after watching the midseason finale.
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