2018 WRC Season Wrap-up

It’s a good time to reflect on the past season and look a bit into the statistics of the 2018 WRC stages. What were the longest or fastest rallies or stages and how did they differ between each other? What were the most memorable or creative solutions?

Cover image by Kyn Chung

By the numbers

The longest stage of the season was Vero – Sarrola – Carcopino in Corsica with 55 km of length. Corsica also offered the second longest stage of the year in the form of the 49 km La Porta – Valle di Rostino. Meanwhile, with El Chocolate and Nambucca chopped in two stages, the longest gravel stage of the year was Cuchilla Nevada – Rio Pintos in Argentina.

Although the longest stages have been shortened, also the shortest non-super-special stages of 2017 like Arena Panzerplatte and Saalahti were now lengthened or gone, leaving Sardegna’s power stage Sassari – Argentiera being the shortest non-super-special of the season at 6.96 km.

The highest number of special stages in a rally was 24 in Australia. The lowest was the 12 of Corsica, but even that was two more than the year before. The longest rally of the season was Monte Carlo with 388 km of length whereas many rallies were around 315 km in length.

Corsica
Tour de Corse has long stages, but a low number of them. Photo by Richard Simpson

The fastest and slowest rallies were quite expectedly Finland and Turkey. Turkey was actually the slowest rally since Cyprus 2009 with overall average speed as low as 78 km/h. With Acropolis off the calendar since 2014, the WRC season hasn’t really had a super slow rally in years, making Turkey a welcome addition.  Meanwhile, the average speeds of Australia and Sweden dropped considerably from 110 to 105 and from 115 to 109 km/h, respectively, making the gap bigger between Finland and the next fastest rallies, now that Rally Poland was dropped.

The fastest stage of the year was Äänekoski in Finland with 132 km/h of average speed on the second run. Meanwhile, the slowest was the rainy Salou super special in Catalunya with its average speed fractionally under 50 km/h. The slowest non-super-special was the rainy and foggy Tula in Sardegna with winning average speed only 68 km/h, although the snow-drenched Agniers en Devoluy – Corps in Monte Carlo was only fractionally quicker.

If we compare the fastest and slowest stages in relation to the whole rally average speed, the relatively fastest one becomes Coiluna – Loelle in Sardegna with 116 km/h of average speed, clearly the fastest stage of the rally with only one other stage even exceeding 100 km/h and the whole rally at 89 km/h.

The relatively slowest is the now reversed Giulio Cesare – Mina Clavero in Argentina, being only 75% of the whole rally average speed, but the aforementioned slippery Tula comes close.

Meanwhile, the fastest one in Finland, Äänekoski, is only 108% of the already fast whole rally average speed. Similarly, Arena Panzerplatte and Freisen were only 97% of the whole Rally Deutschland pace and no other stage were slower than them.

Fastest-Slowest-2018
Fastest and slowest non-super-special stage of each rally, compared to the speed of the whole rally average speed

The only canceled stage of the season was the first run of Savallá in Catalunya, because of spectator control issues. Also, the ending of Great Orme Llandudno was shortened for the second run because of a non-competition show run accident.

Mixed Surfaces

One thing that WRC+ All Live has revealed to me is that gravel rally non-super-special stages often have asphalt sections. In fact, all gravel rallies this year have had at least one such stage, most even more.

Partly this has changed for this year, as Mexico and Finland had added paved sections on their power stages which were new or last driven decades ago, respectively. Also, the new event of Turkey had tarmac on at least two of its stages and the new regulations in Great Britain allowed tarmac roads to be used for a number of stages, in addition to the all-tarmac Great Orme Llandudno

stage. Coincidentally Rally Argentina also had a tarmac section on its only new stage Tanti – Mataderos.

Great Orme
Tarmac on gravel tyres and gravel suspension at Great Orme. Photo by Richard Simpson

However, stages like Castelsardo and Cala Flumini in Sardegna, Amarante in Portugal, Welshes Creek and Argents Hill (formerly of Nambucca) in Australia have had their tarmac parts in the previous years as well. And of course then there’s Catalunya’s La Fatarella – Vilailba – previously known as Terra Alta – which has a 7 km tarmac section in the middle, in addition to shorter bits of more rough tarmac.

However, the most interesting mixed surface stage must have been Savallà in Catalunya, which was one of the tarmac stages but featured a short chip seal kind of gravel section at the end which had the cars sliding wildly in the rainy weather. Similar action also happened on the subsequent Salou super special.

Super Specials

Similarly as the years before, there were no super specials at all in Monte Carlo or Corsica. Also similarly, Rally Mexico had the highest amount of super specials in seven of them, with Australia having only one less.

Sweden, Mexico (Autodromo de Leon), Argentina (Parque Tematico), Portugal (Lousada) and Sardegna had super specials with two cars running simultaneously, although the one in Sardegna is remarkable for having only a single track, with the cars starting from the opposite ends of it. The 6 km stage in Argentina is the longest super special of the season and also considered as a favourite by the drivers.

40992636310_f4481ffd21_o
Ittiri Arena Show in Sardegna. One of the better super specials of the season. Photo by Richard Simpson.

Modern day street stages are usually very artificial, with the track created by barriers and often spiced with donuts, going in both directions and/or multiple laps. This kind of stages were included in Argentina (Villa Carlos Paz), Portugal (Porto Street Stage), Germany, Turkey, Catalunya (Barcelona) and Australia (Destination NSW). Similar stages on gravel base were driven in Wales and Australia (Raleigh).

Harju in Finland is also a street stage, but it doesn’t include any of those artificial elements, the route is based on existing streets and paths and it has been driven similarly for decades. The Guanajuato Street Stage in Mexico is also interesting by going for a long distance in the tunnels, but it also concludes with a roundabout and going back the same route to the tunnel. Finally, the Street Stage Leon in Mexico and Salou in Catalunya are artificially constructed street stages without donuts or multiple laps –  although the Leon stage had the route crossing itself at one point this year

There are also super specials which could be considered short normal stages, such as Slate Mountain in Wales or Torsby Sprint in Sweden. Additionally, the Sardegna twin-car stage was also run in a single-car configuration with an exit road added to the end.

Slate Mountain
Slate Mountain super special in Wales. Photo by Richard Simpson.

Conversely, we could say the long Torsby stage concludes with a super special section. Similar solution was used also in Ruuhimäki in Finland with the new arena part and the final jump, and Coiluna – Loelle with the motocross track section, the arena in Sweet Lamb Hafren, as well as the spectator-friendly sections of Likenäs and Hagfors in Sweden. Whereas the carefully constructed Ruuhimäki jump received generally positive comments, some more angular man-made jumps caused controversy in Sardegna and Australia.

Other novelties to be mentioned are the Wadern-Weiskirchen stage in Rally Deutschland which was run in a track-like configuration on normal roads. Meanwhile, Arena Panzerplatte was extended to 9 km length, making it more than just a super special. The Riudecanyes stage in Catalunya contained a roundabout donut in the middle of the stage, as did Great Orme Llandudno right at the end.

Power Stages

Out of the power stages of the season, the ones in Corsica and Germany were run only once, meaning that there was no high-speed recce available for the drivers before sharing the points. Similar treatment was also the case in Wales where the first run of Gwydir was already the power stage. In addition, the Torsby stage in Sweden was run for the first time already on the Friday, allowing less use of short term memory for the drivers.

Since Sassari – Argentiera was the shortest non-super-special of the season, it was also the shortest power stage with just under 7 km of length, whereas the longest one was the now reversed Copina – El Condor in Argentina, being almost 10 km longer. It seems this range has been narrowed with the +20 km power stages in Monte Carlo and Mexico now shortened or changed for others, probably to suit televising better.

Single run (non-super-special) Stages

Single run stages offer more options for spectators and a different challenge for drivers because the stage cannot be repeated with fixed pace notes. However, it’s not financially as efficient for the organizers. Most stages today are always repeated, but there are still some interesting exceptions.

The opening stage of the whole season, Thoard – Sisteron was driven on Thursday on the way from Monaco to Gap and wasn’t repeated during the rally, unlike its pair Bayons – Breziers, which was repeated on Saturday evening on the way back.

Alfaro in Mexico was run only once, but it was a partial repeat of Otates from the day before, making some sections of the stage run three times.

Corsica again had all of Sunday – with the longest stage of the season, Vero – Sarrola – Carcopino and the power stage Pénitencier de Coti – Chiavari – 71 km in total, driven only once. A single run of the short Luilhas stage was also in the middle of Rally Portugal’s Sunday – just like the year before, with now the Montim stage also being repeated.

Meanwhile, Finland offered an updated long version of last year’s power stage Oittila to be run only once in the middle of Friday. Wales also had Dyfnant and Elsi driven only once, as did the new Rally Turkey with Ovacık and Gökçe between two runs of the power stage.

Special configurations

Like mentioned before, Monte Carlo was the only rally to start with proper stages already on a Thursday – which were also the two only night stages of the season – instead of a super special. In relation to this, Monte Carlo has its own special rule where Rally2 is not allowed between Saturday and Sunday, while the crews travel to Monaco for the final night break and last stages around Col de Turini.

Monte
Driving in the dark in Monte Carlo. Photo by Tapio Lehtonen.

The only stages repeated on separate days were Bayons – Breziers in Monte Carlo and Torsby in Sweden. Curiously, Torsby was also driven partly for the third time as the semi-super special of Torsby Sprint, making each day end near the service park. Meanwhile, Sweden, Mexico and Germany had two stages repeated directly after each other, because of aforementioned single-run stages.

Again the only creative use of stage ordering happened in Rally Finland with the Saturday stages run in a way that Tuohikotanen was run both sides of service and Kakaristo as the second-last of the morning and second of the afternoon loop. This helps in reducing traffic by giving two runs of the stages with reasonably short intervals.

Not all super specials were run on Thursday night. Mexico was spreading them all over the itinerary with Street Stage Leon being driven in the middle of Friday and at the end of Saturday, whereas both days concluded with two runs of Autodromo de Leon. Similar strategy was used in Australia with the Destination NSW stage driven twice at the end of Friday and Saturday instead of having a Thursday super special, and also the Raleigh stage driven twice during the Saturday loop.

In addition to this, the Destination NSW double runs had the cars in groups of three doing both runs at once, before giving way to the next group. In turn this resulted in interesting results on Saturday with a sudden rain allowing some competitors complete both runs in completely dry conditions and others having to do both in wet, losing 20 seconds on two short super specials!

Towards 2019

The rules will change for 2019 limiting the total length of the events to 350 kilometres at maximum. This would affect only Monte Carlo, Portugal and Argentina in their 2018 form, as most rallies are already closer to 300 km in length. I don’t see this as a problem, although as an enthusiast I would love to see rallies being a bit longer. Maybe the night stages of Thursday could be a staple for every rally, but I also understand that financially it’s tight and the night stages don’t make good television.

There is a new event on the calendar, Chile, which will be again another equal unknown for everyone. However, no events are dropped or planned to be moved to other regions.

As of now, virtual chicanes are considered to be tried after the horrible failure in Rally Australia where a tractor was fixing the chicane when the next car already arrived. Time will tell if it’s used, if they find it useful or if another solution is found.

In any case, we’re in for an exciting 2019 season, and I will write again route previews for all events. Hopefully the rally routes will get updated so I have enough to write about, but in any case there’s some new things planned for the blog, keep in touch!

Updated 23.11.: added normal stages with super special sections
Updated 29.11.: added Sweet Lamb Hafren and Riudecanyes information
Updated 25.7.2019: fixed Rally Australia most stages record

One thought on “2018 WRC Season Wrap-up

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