Ford last won the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 2017 with a highly modified Fiesta. It will again compete for the top spot on the podium during the 2022 season, but it will bring a different kind of hatchback: a hybrid crossover.
Unveiled as a prototype during the 2021 edition of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the Puma Rally1 is the street-legal model's rally-bound alter ego. It shares some styling cues with the production model, including the headlights, but it's a purpose-designed race car developed largely by the privately-run and Ford-backed M-Sport team.
Power comes from a turbocharged, 1.6-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that works jointly with a 134-horsepower electric motor linked to a relatively small, 3.9-kilowatt-hour battery pack. It's a plug-in hybrid system that will give the Puma the ability to travel on electricity alone when it's driving through towns, or between stages. In a race, the system will harvest energy during braking or coasting and inject it into the driveline to give the car a power boost.
Simply plucking a hybrid drivetrain from a regular-production crossover and stuffing it in a rally car wouldn't have cut it. M-Sport explains the liquid- and air-cooled system is housed in a ballistic-strength casing to ensure it can withstand impacts with rocks encountered during rally stages and the g-forces in the event of an accident.
M-Sport drivers Adrien Fourmaux and Matthew Wilson put the Puma Rally1 to the test on Goodwood's famous hill climb, an event that annually welcomes a stunningly diverse selection of cars ranging from classics to an experimental Polestar 2. While the festival of speed ends on July 11, the Puma won't rest for long. It will be used as a development car ahead of the 2022 WRC season. As of writing, Toyota and Hyundai have also announced they'll be on the starting grid with a gasoline-electric racer that complies with the new set of rally regulations.