Debut of the new M-Sport rally car bodes well for the hybrid era of WRC racing.
The sheer variety of cars taking part in the hillclimb at the Goodwood Festival of Speed is well known, but did you spot the striking new machine that came 13th on the final shootout up the Duke of Richmond’s garden path, about nine seconds slower than the winning McLaren 720S GT3X?
Sneaking in just behind a BMW M1 Procar and in front of a Ford Mustang Mach-E 1400 (told you the field was eclectic) was the new Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1, making its competition debut around six months before its key rivals.
True, that’s not exactly the same competition it will face when rallying embarks on a new hybrid era in Monte Carlo next January. But the early unveiling of the much-rumoured Puma underlines M-Sport’s serious intent to move up from the role of WRC underdogs this year.
This is a ground-up design with an all-new car. And history has shown that whenever M-Sport comes out with a new rally car first (remember the pioneering Fiesta R5?), it tends to win with it.
While the full extent of manufacturer involvement isn’t entirely clear, it’s obvious that Ford is firmly behind the project, with electrification being a cornerstone of the marque’s future strategy and the WRC offering a high-profile showcase to demonstrate it.
The very best news of all, though, confirmed at Goodwood, is that the new generation of WRC cars won’t be boring. In some ways, the technology takes a backwards step: we’re back to manual gearboxes and the aero is less aggressive than it used to be.
In other ways, the new Puma is much more futuristic: it has a bespoke spaceframe machine, rather than one based on a production bodyshell, with carbonfibre everywhere. But the oddest thing was how it glided around the paddock noiselessly.
The rest of the time, it looked and sounded much like any other current WRC machine, in as much as you could tell from around 54 seconds of action. Except (bearing in mind this is just an early prototype, destined to become the test car, and the run was just a bit of fun for Matthew Wilson) it looked a little less planted. The odd slide, the occasional twitch.
Maybe that was just down to my imagination, but the omens remain good for a new hybrid era in which rally cars will dance once more.