With the implementation of the FIA’s new rally class structure, comprising Rally1 through 5 groups (where Rally1 is the new naming for WRCs, Rally2 replacing R5 etc.), M-Sport was first out of the blocks with a Rally4 version of its Fiesta in early 2020.
M-Sport is unique within the WRC. Though it has a degree of manufacturer backing from Ford, it is not a ‘works’ outfit in the way Toyota and Hyundai are. Instead, under the direction of founder Malcolm Wilson, M-Sport earns its living building rally cars (alongside an increasing number of projects for other OEMs, such as Bentley GT3). With rising costs in Rally1 / WRC, it sells very few of the top-flight cars, instead relying on sales of its R5 and R2 machinery.
In essence, Rally4 is an updated set of R2 regulations and for M-Sport, the Mk8-based Rally4 Fiesta is an upgrade of its latest R2 car, homologated in 2019. The company was the first to realise the potential of running 1.0-litre, turbocharged engines in the class (as opposed to naturally aspirated 1600cc) when it released the Mk7 Fiesta R2 in 2015. Since then, it has refined the package to improve performance and keep abreast of regulatory developments.
Summing up the latest tweaks, Maciej Woda, who heads up M-Sport Poland where the R2 / Rally4 cars are built, comments: ‘The new  R2 was based on the updated regulations, which allowed us to use a different turbocharger [from the OEM road car unit]. We made a lot of changes to the car, so that version was almost entirely new. There are now some small changes to the regulations with the arrival of Rally4 [compared to R2] that, for example, allow for bonnet vents to aid cooling.’
The R2 class was a commercial success for M-Sport. In 2019 alone, it sold 120 cars to competitors in the Junior WRC and European championships. With such a wide customer base, it has been able to gain an insight into areas ripe for improvement with the Rally4 car. Additionally, new competition in the class from the likes of Peugeot provided impetus for further performance upgrades.
Evolution not revolution
To fully understand the evolutions seen in the Rally4 Fiesta, it is necessary to look back to the 2019 R2. This was the first car that was completely designed, built, and tested at M-Sport Poland. ‘We wanted to make the car faster, cheaper, and more appealing to customers,’ explains Woda.
Some of the changes made to achieve that were subtle and focussed on the somewhat subjective area of driver feel. ‘The first thing we looked at was the driving position,’ says Woda. ‘In the previous car, the driving position was compromised, and we wanted to give the driver additional space to position themselves more comfortably in the car.’
In practice, this saw greater flexibility in the seat location, allowing it to be placed further back in the car, which created more room above the driver’s head and allows the driver and codriver to sit lower in the car.
‘We focussed a lot of attention on the seat mounts, and that is how we managed to find a broader range of seating positions. It is a more expensive seat mount than before, but we made savings elsewhere.’
Further improving the ergonomics of the car, M-Sport also looked at the layout of the controls in the cockpit and introduced revisions to the switches, handbrake and other details which, as Woda puts it, ‘help improve the feel’.
Cost vs performance
Cost is an overarching concern for constructors of cars in this class, with both an overall cost cap on finished cars and price limits on upgrades. As such, every update M-Sport made was subject to extensive cost / benefit analysis.
For example, the rules permit the use of bespoke front wishbones if a manufacturer deems them necessary, but instead a modified production part has been retained on the Fiesta. ‘It did not make economic sense because we could not improve the suspension travel or geometry,’ Woda points out. ‘We adopted the same philosophy as before, which is developing the rally car from the road car, using as many road car components as you can.’
Another example of maximising the performance of standard parts can be found in the rear suspension. Tarmac and gravel trim now use different rear beams, with a specific gravel-only production introduced. ‘We have implemented a new system on the rear suspension that is more flexible than the previous version,’ explains Woda. ‘It has not sacrificed much stability, but it improved the grip at the rear of the car. At the same time, we implemented new rear damper shims, so the car is much more driver-friendly at the back.’
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