RWD Rally Cars – Since the rise of sophisticated all-wheel drive systems in rally racing during the 1980s, conventional rear-wheel drive cars have faced an uphill battle to keep pace with their traction-maximizing rivals. But well-driven RWD models like the Toyota Celica GT-Four, Ford Escort Cosworth, and even the Subaru BRZ have upheld honor for traditional two-wheel drive despite the odds.
Let’s examine the challenges RWD rally cars face along with their engineering strengths and standout successes against increasingly high-tech AWD machinery over the decades. When wielded by talent, RWD retains relevance even today.
- 1 Quattro Sets New Benchmark in the 80s
- 2 RWD Rally Cars Fighting Back with Balance and Power
- 3 Legendary RWD Rally Racers
- 4 RWD Rally Cars Proving the Fight Remains
Quattro Sets New Benchmark in the 80s
The watershed moment relegating RWD came with Audi’s revolutionary Quattro AWD system debuting in 1980. By shifting power front to rear, the Quattro maintained traction far better than its rivals. With over 400hp for the short-wheelbase Sport Quattro, no RWD car could keep pace. Even drivers like Walter Röhrl struggled driving RWD cars against the superior Audis.
As Group B ended, the Quattro’s rally engineering legacy lived on in cars like the Lancia Delta Integrale, Toyota Celica GT-Four, and the coming dominance of Subaru and Mitsubishi. Developing 300+ hp and expert differentials, these cars proved RWD’s steadfast grip deficit despite valiant efforts.
RWD Rally Cars Fighting Back with Balance and Power
Rear drivers refused to surrender, finding ways to compensate for traction shortcomings. Key advantages RWD teams maximized included:
Balanced chassis dynamics – Ideal front/rear weight distribution kept rears planted accelerating even at 400+ hp.
Power delivery – Careful throttle modulation maintained grip without sudden loss of control. Left-foot braking helped rotate cars through turns.
Suspension and traction control systems – Careful suspension geometry tuning and electronic aids like ABS and traction control managed slip angles under power far better than in Group B.
Tire technology – New generations of ultra-high performance tires raised grip limits.
Still, expert car control was mandatory to translate these strengths into pace disadvantages versus AWD, especially in low grip conditions. Finding adhesion’s fine line defined RWD’s rally era battle.
Legendary RWD Rally Racers
RWD classics that dueled valiantly during AWD’s rise included:
Ford Sierra Cosworth – Swept the tracks at 1988 Rallye Sanremo thanks to 450 hp and agile balance.
Toyota Celica GT-Four – Won the 1990 Safari Rally in the hands of Carlos Sainz before switching to AWD. Proved RWD strengths.
Subaru Impreza 555 – Colin McRae carried Subaru’s honor in the late 1990s piloting this flat-out, rear-drive coupe.
Ford Focus RS WRC – Won 2010 Rally Bulgaria and 2011 Rally GB driven by Mikko Hirvonen despite 2WD antes being upped.
RWD Rally Cars Proving the Fight Remains
Even as technology marches forward, rear-wheel drive retains relevance in rallying thanks to balance favoring precision over gadgetry. Lower classes limit horsepower equalizing AWD advantages. And with the right talent, RWD still earns respect.
As late as 2018, scarcely 310 hp Subaru BRZs claimed podiums in Australian Rally Championships thanks to smooth driving conserving momentum, and ideal chassis dynamics. In historic rallies, RWD legends from the Celica GT-Four to Escort RS Cosworth can still turn hot laps thanks to the purity of experience and connection.
For grassroots events, rallying’s origins remain firmly rear-drive. With the right build, smart driving, and a dash of bravery, rallying with RWD upholds honor through balance favored by purists. Counterintuitively, sometimes two wheels convey a greater feel than four.