The World Rally Championship (WRC) is comprehensively the toughest motorsport on the planet. Huge kilometres in harsh conditions abiding by strict rules: rallying is not for the faint of heart. But where many a rally has been won or lost, is inside the temporary walls of a team's service bay. But how does it work?
CarAdvice got the chance to have an in-depth look at the world of WRC service at last weekend’s Rally Australia, sneaking in behind the barriers to get up close and personal with the Hyundai Motorsport WRC team and its three i20-based competition cars.
Every new Hyundai road car sold in Australia is covered by a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and a lifetime service plan, with costs ranging from around $150 to $300 per service.
For context, genuine spare parts for a Hyundai i20 (excluding GST) range from $81.81 for brake pads to $1012.88 for a front suspension subframe. New brake discs cost $161.88 each, while replacement front and rear guards will set you back $155.00 and $560.00 each respectively.
But what happens when that new Hyundai is a 296kW/400Nm turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder four-wheel-drive i20 WRC car?
Brake pads come in at $126.93 (80 euro), discs another $476.02 (300 euro) and a front suspension subframe a healthy $6347.55 (4000 euro). A $1110.80 (700 euro) front guard sound dear? The rears are costed at $1872.19 (1180 euro). The list goes on: $3967.06 (2500 euro) for a bumper and $4760.48 (3000 euro) for one of the i20 rally car’s massive rear wings.
Sharing more about how WRC service works, Hyundai Motorsport team manager Alain Penasse explains that there are three different versions of service.
“In the morning we get 15 minutes to prepare the car for the day. At lunchtime we get 30 minutes to repair it after the morning section and to change some parts if necessary for the afternoon loop. And in the evening we get 45 minutes to refresh the whole car to go again for the next day.”
“It goes very quickly… and of course, they do it a lot quicker than at a normal Hyundai dealership,” Penasse says.
Each car – Hyundai brought three for the 10th round of this year’s World Rally Championship – is allocated one engineer and five mechanics, with only those identified by Hi-Vis arm (or leg) bands allowed to touch the car.
With its base in Alzenau, Germany, Hyundai Motorsport GmbH is a diverse group, with the team comprising 26 nationalities. In order to ensure smoothness and clarity in communication when on the “battle field”, the team’s official language is English, though, Penasse tells us short codes are also used to speed things up.
Time limits, restrictions and penalties are a huge part of what makes WRC service so intense, with Penasse telling us, “If you are one minute late you get a 10-second penalty.”
With pressure like that, the cars are designed from the ground up to be able to have parts and components swapped and changed (relatively) easily.
The team shares that an entire engine swap can be performed in two and a half hours if necessary, with a gearbox change able to be completed in 20 minutes. Swapping four shock absorbers over can be done in 10 minutes, while a steering rack and subframe can be replaced in 15 minutes each.
“They are very well trained about it so everything is ready when the car comes into the bay and they start the job and most of the time they get it done before the end of the service.”
Clearly a touch pricier than your normal road car to service, Penasse says service costs at the WRC level are highly dependant on what state the car is brought back to the team in by the driver.
“If nothing is to do, it costs even less than in a normal dealership – we only change the tyres and we put fuel in it. But if we have some parts that have to be changed then the prices of the parts, of course, are more expensive than in a normal dealership.”
Hyundai’s best finisher in this year’s three-day, 1023.70-kilometre Rally Australia event was New Zealand duo Hayden Paddon and co-driver John Kennard, with the pair teaming to finish fifth ahead of teammates Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul in seventh and Dani Sordo and Marc Marti in eighth.
Volkswagen Motorsport continued its domination of the sport, with last year’s winners Sebastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia claiming not only the rally win but also the pair’s third consecutive world title. Further, the result – along with Jari-Matti Latvala’s second place and Andreas Mikkelsen’s fourth place – helped the German brand secure its third manufacturers’ title with three rounds of the championship still to go.
Note: CarAdvice attended this year’s 2015 Rally Australia as a guest of Hyundai.
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Videography by David Zalstein.