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After a cost-cutting freeze on development in 2014, this season’s rules give manufacturers greater scope to improve their World Rally Cars. The changes will be subtle rather than revolutionary, but at the sport’s top level even the smallest detail can make a big difference.

In the cockpit, the most obvious change will be the reintroduction of steering wheel-mounted gearshift paddles, a system that replaces the 2014-spec sequential stickshift. Under the skin, manufacturers can take advantage of a new supply of homologation ‘jokers’, enabling them to make a limited number of mechanical changes to their homologated designs. There are changes too to the minimum weights of some components, allowing greater freedom to play with weight distribution and balance.

The first manufacturer to make full use of the regulations will be Volkswagen, which will introduce an new version of its championship-winning Polo at Rallye Monte-Carlo. Citroen too will introduce changes at the opening round, with the DS3 getting a new engine, developed alongside its World Touring Car unit, new suspension and a paddle gearshift. Two other evolutions are planned by Citroen during 2015, with an aero package scheduled for April and a second step with the suspension in the second half of the year.

M-Sport’s Fiesta RS will have a modified pneumatic gearshift system in time for Monte Carlo. More changes are planned for Vodafone Rally de Portugal, where a new engine, transmission and new hydraulic gear selection system will make their debut. Like M-Sport, Hyundai will start the season with an upgraded version of its 2014-season car, before an all-new model is introduced later in the year.

There are changes to the cars in the Junior World Rally Championship too, where this year’s competitors will drive the more powerful ‘Maxi’ version of the DS3 R3T. Finally, fans of exotic machinery should keep an eye on the FIA’s new Cup for R-GT cars which, for the opening round in Monte Carlo, features three, flat-six Porsche 911s.

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