Last year, I had a passenger ride in a Ford Fiesta WRC car at M Sport’s woodland test facility in Cumbria. I’d love to describe it as a buttock-clenching white-knuckle ride, but weirdly, it wasn’t. Certainly not through lack of speed - Driver Gus Greensmith was well and truly on it. No - it was more down to the way the car just made everything feel like it was in hand.
There’s a good reason for this - modern World Rally machines are fantastically advanced under the skin. Want some proof? Nicely making up for the lack of WRC action at the moment - with Covid-19 forcing the 2020 season to pause - the above video was gaining some traction on Twitter at the weekend. Here, we see the Fiesta WRC taking off mid-corner, clipping the apex in the air, and landing with the vehicular equivalent of a shrug.
It’s almost as if there’s no rebound - the suspension soaks everything up with so little fuss, it doesn’t quite look right. And as shown in this second video, it’s not just the airborne moments that showcase this shock absorber sorcery. The compliancy of these things defies belief.
Rather than Gandalf-spec magic, however, it’s all thanks to the makeup of the hugely expensive dampers found on these cars. The damper bodies and the pistons inside them are much larger than a typical shock from a road car, and there are remote reservoirs to increase fluid capacity further. The wishbones are also significantly beefed up, ensuring they stay in once piece when the going gets tough.
Strength is important, as some particularly awkward landings might involve the whole weight of the car going through one corner. The dampers are also highly adjustable, ensuring setups can be tailored for each stage.
It’s currently unclear when the 2020 WRC season will resume - a good chunk of the calendar has been cancelled, and it’s far from guaranteed that the remainder will go ahead. If/when it does restart, we’ll be excited to see these ridiculous machines and their other-worldly drivers in action once more.