You can watch online videos depicting small brightly colored sedans barreling through the woods over gravel, inches away from unprotected masses of spectators. This is called rally racing.
Like most if not all forms of motorsport, there is a series through which drivers compete in speed contests to collect points and claim a trophy, and in the world of rallying it’s called the World Rally Championship (WRC).
Cars that compete in other sports like Indycar are called spec-series cars, where every car that competes is identical to one another, and Formula 1 is sometimes referred to as a prototype series, because all of the cars are designed independently and for each specific event.
While this makes for some interesting racing, unfortunately you most-likely will never get the chance to drive one of these cars, much less own one, but that’s where WRC is set apart as a homologation series.
Rules of the WRC dictate that manufacturers build the racing cars with the idea of homologation looming over their shoulders, which means that any car they produce to compete in the WRC must have a road-going, production version. It’s a brilliant system, because if you see a car you really like competing in the WRC chances are you can own one.
Of course, it won’t be exactly the same because racing cars don’t adhere to restrictions like emissions control and street-legal tires. Regardless, these are some of the best cars you can buy that were created for the sole purpose of competing in the WRC:
While Subaru did in fact withdraw from the WRC in 2008 due to the economic downturn that impacted the auto industry, that doesn’t make its cars any less racing or road worthy.
The 2004 Impreza WRX STi came with a turbocharged 2.0-liter horizontal-four cylinder engine, that produced around 260 horsepower and near that much torque. It was also the last Subaru to win the WRC world championship for drivers in 2003.
There are different schools of thought when it comes to the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, in terms of its heritage and what it should be. Originating in Japan in the early 1990s, the Evo competed in rally racing with a new iteration every few years.
Finally when it hit the eighth generation the Evo found its way to North America. Evos got better with each passing generation, and surprisingly they all used the same engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, dubbed the 4G63T.
The most recent generation, the Evo X, was different though, so it didn’t quite fit in line with older Evos. Lancer Evolutions are quick with robust engines that can take a lot of boost thanks to their iron cylinder block and low compression, and while its six-speed transmission is seemingly made out of glass (it breaks on a whim), the five-speed is nearly bulletproof.
A modern car for this list, the Ford Focus RS does well as a rally machine. Its delectable ingredients of a turbocharged inline-four cylinder engine, 350 horsepower, and AWD mean the Focus RS is perfect for rallying.
It sits a bit on the heavy side at roughly 3,500 pounds, which isn’t necessarily the best course of action for a rally car, but the Focus RS has plenty of power to make up for it. Since it’s a new car the Focus RS is loaded with standard modern safety features, which could take some of the blame for its moderately heavy weight gain.
A particularly rare car is the Toyota Celica All-Trac Turbo. Celicas are common in their FWD setup, which provides an unimpressive amount of power while managing to pull off a more sporty vibe than, say, a Honda Civic. However they did come in a specific trim, called the All-Trac Turbo, which was an AWD turbocharged version of the Celica.
It had just over 200 horsepower, and depending on the options weighed as little as 3,000 pounds. It’s incredibly rare, and at this point probably plays Bridge with other relics from the early 1990s, but it hits all of the rally checkpoints in being light, turbocharged, and AWD.
Known as the granddaddy of the Lancer Evolution, the Galant VR-4 is what Mitsubishi competed with in the WRC and built a road-going version to comply with homologation rules. The VR-4 used a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four that produced 195 horsepower, AWD, four-wheel steering and active suspension, which allowed the car to dynamically balance itself (it’s body roll) through a corner. They are hard to find, but a Galant VR-4 is a perfect starting point for learning how to rally race.
All of these cars have made (or are in the process of making) their mark in the world of WRC. They were all taken as serious masters of their craft, and while some of them may be thought of as collector’s cars they nevertheless provide a supreme driving experience.
The Lancer Evolution IX, for instance, pounces like a cheetah, sprinting from corner to corner, a loud whine erupting from under the hood as the 4G63T’s turbo spools, and fire billowing from the exhaust. Terrible wondrous power and handling potential lurks among the cars that have championed the sport of rally racing.
Avid Formula 1 fan and motorcyclist, I enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and long rides to the beach.