Rebuilding a car in 29 minutes, 30 seconds: First class engineering skills at play in Naivasha

WRC Rally: Mechanics repair Thierry Neuville's car in minutes after right rear wheel damage

What you need to know:

  • “While some rally fans aren't happy about the new hybrid direction of WRC, they are spectacular. When you look at the power and torque advantages and the fact that fans will still hear the fantastic sounds of a WRC engine, it's hard not to like them."

It’s no secret that rally car manufacturers try as much as they can to hide the structure and design of what is hidden underneath the bonnet of Rally1 cars.

Few Kenyans know that the body shell of these machines - which cost over Sh160 million each - hide a tubular frame of hardened steel frames designed and welded in such a way that the cage can withstand literally all forms of force and crashes.

It was also new knowledge to know that the body shell of a modern Rally 1 car is made of special composite material or carbon fibre and advanced polymer such as elastomers instead of steel It is light weight but as strong and hard, and is used instead of steel to reduce the body weight of the car, tech details from the  manufacturers’ team show.

But the hard road surfaces in Kenya also demonstrate that it’s possible to tear through this material, reducing it to torn pieces of rags as it happened with Thierry Neuville's Hyundai i20 Hybrid R1 Friday.

Neuville was the pre-race-favourite until a puncture threw him off course, his Hyundai hitting a stone, sending the car to the hard bank which comprehensively tore the rear right side of the Hybrid, leaving an ugly hole which exposed  an intricate web of hardened, almost indestructible steel tubular that protects the drivers, engine and transmission parts, a testament of why these cars are expensive, safe and built to race with the most expensive material money can buy. 

Motosport journalist Peter Njenga on Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville's accident

The  gapping  hole also exposed the fuel tank and Hybrid plug-in battery casing, leaving the body shell in rags similar to old clothes.

It is a sight every proud owner of a car would try and hide until repair work is done.

Neuville stopped and replaced the wheel holding a ring of rubber on the rim and bare threads of what was earlier a tyre.

According to World Rally Championship (WRC) rules, the Belgian had to bring back the rim as proof of a replacement.

Neuville, who is leading the global championship with 48 points, three ahead of Toyota’s Elfyn Evans, was distraught at the Naivasha Media Zone, looking sad and well aware that the puncture had derailed his first possible Safari victory after three futile attempts.

Work had to be done to return the car to its former showroom state in less than 30 minutes.

The repair work at hand, which would take an ordinary mechanic days, was accomplished in 29 minutes 30 seconds of the allocated 30 minutes to avoid penalties.

For the media and fans who had earlier gathered at Naivasha’s Buffalo Mall to greet the drivers, this appeared a herculean task.

But he returned in the afternoon for the second round of competition across Loldia, Geothermal and Kedong and with a new car.

This is what happened: As a team, Hyundai has brought in body pork kits, spires in tonnes, speedy mechanics and engineers who are using computers to diagnose misfires and Pirelli tyres in hard and soft compounds for mud and dust.

The mechanics simply removed the body panels and carried out any structural damages and changed parts before fitting back new ones, tyres, a whole sump guard from front to rear in 29 minutes and 30 seconds.

There was a heightened sense of urgency when the lead mechanic said they had only four minutes left until the clock started ticking towards penalties.

They completed the task with 30 seconds left when Neuville emerged from the resting lounge with an exclamation: “Well done, guys!,” before firing off for the start of the second loop.

So what is so special about this Sh160 million costing car?

We asked former national rally champion Azar Anwar, a trained mechanical engineer who has developed rallying cars for international customers to explain in a previous interview.

“Rally 1, the pinnacle of the WRC, is packed with technology and even more power than its predecessor.

“Since 2016, top-level rally cars have featured spectacular aerodynamics that added another element to the already extreme performance of the vehicles.

“They scaled back quite a bit on the aero part in 2022, but power and technology have made quite the jump with the introduction of the new hybrid power unit,” he explained.

“The 1.6-litre turbo engine is similar to the previous generation and produces 380 horse power (385 PS). The hybrid system boosts the power to over 500 horse power (507 PS) at specific points throughout the rally stage.

“The Rally 1 vehicles also feature an MGUK similar to F1 that recuperates kinetic energy to increase power in the rally stages and enable full electric mode in urban areas on transits between locations.

“Another step back from the 2016 car is the removal of the centre differential. The four-wheel drive system is basically locked front to back like a four-wheel drive truck.

“Also new in 2022 is the safety cell, which came as a result of research projects undertaken by the FIA. The safety cells have all been standardized throughout all of the cars, and teams will build the exterior body panels around the space frame. The Rally 1 weighs in at 1,190 kg (2,600 lb) and is required to have a power-to-weight ratio of 3.1 kg (6.8 lb).

“While some rally fans aren't happy about the new hybrid direction of WRC, they are spectacular. When you look at the power and torque advantages and the fact that fans will still hear the fantastic sounds of a WRC engine, it's hard not to like them."