Route Preview: Rally Turkey 2018

Rally Turkey is a new rally, even different from the previous WRC editions. What can we expect from the stages? For this preview, the routes and onboards of the two previous editions of the Marmaris-based rally were evaluated. It seems we’re in for the slowest rally of the season, but maybe not as rough as expected.

Rally Turkey was a part of the WRC season a few times in the early 2000’s. The last edition in 2010 was based in Istanbul and the previous editions in Alanya. Thus the Marmaris-based event at hand is completely new for all drivers and teams.

The Istanbul-based Rally Turkey had a share of open and faster roads with long tarmac parts, familiar from this onboard by Sebastien Loeb with the crazy jump at 5:48. Meanwhile, the Alanya-based rallies were mostly just rough and slow – faster than Cyprus but slower than Acropolis, by looking at winning average speeds. A good example of that can be seen on this onboard from 2008.

A national-level Rally Marmaris was run in 2016 and 2017 on the same area as this year’s WRC Rally Turkey. Last year it was also the candidate event for entering the WRC. Most of the stage material from 2016 and 2017 has been recycled to 2018’s event, but a lot of is now run in reverse. More stages have been also added to fulfil the length demands of a WRC event.

The itinerary

The 2018 Rally Turkey opens with a super special named simply Turkey. On a closer look, it’s actually a tarmac stage on the streets of Marmaris.

SSS1 Turkey

On Friday there are three stages North from Marmaris, with the longest of the rally, Çetibeli, at 38 km, being already the first of them, and the two others considerably shorter. Saturday has similarly three stages of different lengths but to the West of Marmaris. The longest one, Yeşilbelde, is 36 km long. All of the Friday and Saturday stages are repeated.

Finally, Sunday has two repeats of the Marmaris power stage with single runs of two other stages in between. Most of the Sunday stages are under 10 km in length, totaling in at just 35 km for the whole day, less than half the amount of Rally Deutschland.

Marmaris power stage

The power stage is one of the few stages run on the candidate event quite similarly as last year. It is titled Marmaris but actually only the opening super special is situated in Marmaris. Instead, the Marmaris power stage starts from Içmeler, but wait, there’s another stage with that title…anyway, here we can see a good onboard from the power stage.

The 2017 version starts with an acceleration on tarmac which will be preceded this year with a 640 m Mickey Mouse section on tarmac.

Marmaris 2018 power stage start
Marmaris power stage start 2018 (red) and 2017 (turquoise)

However, the following twisty gravel road is the kind which is probably what most people associate with Rally Turkey. It’s not the most narrow road out there but the surface is rough and rocky and it seems to turn all the time quite tightly. On the other side you have the mountain bank and on the other side a drop to the ravine with trees.

Towards the end there’s a turn to a more fast-flowing and smoother road at 4:00 on the video. Just before the 2017 finish the 2018 stage will turn left to a different road but only for 150 metres. Hopefully someone comes to the finish as spectacularly as on that video!

It gets faster now

This video from 2017 shows a compilation from various stages from the first day, all of the roads being driven in the 2018 event as well.

The first clip shows a wide and smooth cambered flowing road with just a rough layer of rocks on top of it. It will make up the ending of the longest stage of the 2018 rally, Çetibeli, in the opposing direction. The second clip seems similar but even without the rough layer, with a very fast part. This will be driven on Sunday as the stage Gökçe. The third one is a narrower and rougher road, but not super technical, turning again into a wider one. It will be driven near the end of Çetibeli, this time in the same direction. At the end the video there’s a clip from the Ula stage, reminding me of the roads of Rally Mexico. At the end it gets again twisty in the mountains. Judging by these clips, there’s all combinations of rough, smooth, wide, narrow, flowing and technical.

Another onboard from 2017 shows a stage which will be driven this year in the opposite direction as İçmeler on the end of the Saturday loop.

It starts on a typical twisty mountain road, but a faster section follows at 5:15. There’s even a bit of worn tarmac starting at 6:20. Notice also how the grip level change surprises the driver at 6:55 when returning to gravel. The rest of the stage is again relatively fast and flowing. Many parts even allow the driver to use the fifth gear (top gear on an R5 car) for a few seconds.

However, the 2018 route will include a detour not driven in 2017, joining the route back just at the end of the aforementioned tarmac part.

Numerous stones and rocks sideline the stage but the surface of the road seems quite smooth. Again it’s a bit like Rally Mexico, but still not quite like the 2010 Istanbul-based Rally Turkey.

However, another onboard from 2016 seems to show the same stage in a much worse condition with rocks all over the place. Maybe the road was repaired before the 2017 event or 2016 was a bad year in terms of weather? We have to wait for this year’s event to see how it turns out.

Anyway, in the good conditions of 2017 this stage had the highest winning average speed of the event, 82 km/h by the local star Murat Bostanci on a Ford Fiesta R5, obviously boosted by the tarmac section as well. Although we can expect a lot faster from the works WRC cars and all of the stages haven’t been in the candidate rally, I’m still quite convinced Rally Turkey will be the slowest gravel rally of the season.

It gets slower now

Here’s yet another onboard from the 2016 rally. Most of it will be used for the 2018 stage Yeşilbelde, albeit with some little deviations and into the opposing direction. On the 2017 event the roads from Yeşilbelde made up two stages, which were the two slowest ones of the whole rally at 66-67 km/h of winning average speed.

The section at 2:51, which begins the part of the video to be driven in 2018,  is medium-wide and quite smooth-looking, but there’s a lot of stones at the side of the road and at times also on the road. It’s not a mountain road but still quite twisty. The tree branches seem to reach often over the road, making the road appear narrower than it is.

At 5:10 we turn onto a wider but also rockier road. Near the six minute mark it turns a lot rougher with lot of big stones on the path. At times the road also becomes a lot narrower, being very technical all the time.

Yeşilbelde 2018
Yeşilbelde 2018 (red) and Mustafa Koç 2016 (blue), the latter of which we have the onboard of. Notice the opposing driving direction.

The amount of hairpins increases to a constant level at 8 minutes into the stage. Although the road is wide and cambered, the driver barely gets to use the third gear at all. Three minutes later the road leaves the mountain into the forest, becoming again narrow and rough. A river crossing occurs at 13:43, where the road is very small.

At 15 minutes into the video the road becomes again a bit wider, but also very rough and rocky.  The ongoing series of tight bends doesn’t seem to give much rest to the drivers except for a couple of minute-long faster sections after the 20 minute mark.

At 26:26 the stage passes a junction which ends the shared section between 2016 and 2018. The 2016 stage continues with a fast section in the forest, whereas the 2018 stage running in the opposite direction will start from a more twisty seaside road but have also a fast-looking section before the aforementioned junction.

This stage will be a heck of a challenge. A 34 km long stage with endless tight turns, mostly on the first three gears, but also sudden fast sections where you need to have the pace instantly up. Quite reminiscent also of the Antalya-based Rally Turkeys of 2008 and earlier.

Conclusion

On these two last onboards we can see probably the two sides of the rally, smooth roads and rough roads, but never getting too fast for a whole stage. Although, there’s still stages and roads that didn’t feature in the 2016-2017 rallies at all, remaining a mystery so far, as well as the effect of the weather and the current condition of the roads.

Colin Clark told in a recent Autosport podcast about the organizers planning on additional roads in 2017 to supersize the candidate event up to WRC length for 2018. Rough and smooth roads were presented, and reportedly the FIA representative Michele Mouton wanted the roads that were “already exposed to the bedrock”, so maybe the intention was indeed to get a rough rally in the calendar.

Later in the same podcast David Evans mentions the stages to alternate between smooth and rough and each day to have their own characteristics. He also confirms that the actual condition of the roads will remain a mystery until the start of the event.

Martin Holmes reported in the RallySport magazine that the teams were doing pre-event research of the stages, but so far the only thing predicted were hot conditions and challenging logistics. After all, this will be the first new venue for a WRC event since the 2011 Rally Australia. It will be a whole different story going into a new rally where no one has been before, with an equal level of experience, or lack of it.

With Acropolis, Turkey and Cyprus off the calendar for a long time, the drivers and cars haven’t been used to this kind of roughness. It will be interesting to see whose car is the strongest. With the road surfaces varying from smooth to rough and fast to slow, the challenge here is to know when to push and when to take it easy.

Road order

I would expect the first car to have a big duty of road sweeping. Guys like Paddon, Suninen, Breen and Østberg might have a good chance to surprise on the first day. At the same time, they must be aware of ruts and stones on the road. Another factor could come from possibly hanging dust on the stages.

Bonus

An interesting feature about the 2016 and 2017 Marmaris Rallys is that the stages were named after Turkish rally drivers or other motorsport influencers, such as Renç Koçibey or Ali Sipahi. A nice gesture, but makes it difficult to google search for the locations.

UPDATE 4th September: added more precise information about the Cem Alakoc onboard and the İçmeler route

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