WRC itineraries by the rule book

WRC rallies used to be longer and different to each other, whereas today they are short and quite similar in format. How much do the regulations limit the routes? Let’s take a look at the current rule book.

FIA Sporting Regulations 2019 are available for everyone to read. In this blog post we take a look at the rules which limit the routes and itineraries and try to understand what they mean and how effective they are.

13.2 Other than respecting the following criteria, organisers are encouraged to evolve their own rally characteristics and may devise their own rally programme/itinerary.

This is a good starting point. It is a beautiful thought, but how much room for personalisation is there left after dozens of rules?

Configuration over the week

13.2.2 Rallies must competitively run over 2.5 days, including section starts or section finishes.

13.2.3 Rallies must start on a Thursday with a Ceremonial Start or Super Special Stage and finish on a Sunday.

This doesn’t leave much room for interpretation. The only alternatives seem to be that some rallies can decide not to run a super special on Thursday, having only the ceremonial start on Thursday.

Then there is Monte Carlo who takes the freedom to host two night stages on Thursday night. It would actually be a nice refreshment on the current format on other rallies as well. I would rather watch a proper stage on television rather than a super special.

The weekend-centric configuration is derived from Rally Finland from the past decades, whereas other rallies used to have different configurations, such as RAC rally which would start on the Sunday with park stages, with the bulk of the rally run during the weekdays.

ceremonialstart
Ceremonial Start of Rally Monte Carlo 2019. Image by Iain Cameron / Wikimedia Commons.

In the past rallies would also last for different amounts of days. For example Rally Finland used to be the short rally, lasting only for one and a half days whereas said RAC or Monte Carlo could last for 5-6 days.

Services

49.1 Throughout the rally there shall be one main service park. Organisers may, however, submit to the FIA and the Promoter promotional justification to support relocation during a rally.

This is probably the biggest restriction over the route location. The special stages must be reasonably close to the service park, restricting often the use of some classic stages used in the past. At the same time, you can’t just put up a service park anywhere, since suitable facilities and financial partnerships don’t grow on trees, literally!

servicepark
All servicing must be done at service park. Image by Hyundai Motorsport / Wikimedia Commons

The only means of servicing outside the service park is what the drivers do during the liaisons with the tools, parts and spare tyres they carry in the car. In addition to this, a tyre fitting zone can be sometimes arranged for days run further from the service park, but this means the cars will have to do a longer amount of special stages without proper servicing. Recent examples of this are the Saturday of Wales Rally GB 2018 and the upcoming Rally Portugal 2019. This is always a risk for the organizers, since the service park will be empty for the whole day instead of attracting possible spectators.

52.1 TYRE FITTING ZONE (TFZ)
Any work within the defined zone may only be performed by the crew alone plus one team member per crew, but only using equipment carried on board the competing car. An extra car jack may be brought by the team member.
– The extra tyres to be used may, however, be transported to the zone in a service car and be prepared by team members to be fitted to the rally car.
– One team personnel may be present in the zone for the changing of tyres and as allowed by Art. 60.8.

A similar regulation is used for Light Fitting Zone. This is necessary when the drivers are expected to be needing extra lights for only a part of the loop of stages.

At each light fitting zone:
– No work is allowed within the marked zone other than for the crew and 2 team personnel to fit or remove auxiliary lights, using hand-held tools and under the supervision of rally officials at all times.
– The 2 team personnel may enter the zone only after their respective car has entered the zone and must leave immediately after the auxiliary lights have been fitted or removed.
– The extra lights and tools to fix or remove them may be transported to and from the zone in a service car.

The single-base clover leaf format is again something that was derived from Rally Finland, whereas many other rallies used to have often overnight breaks around the country and/or start and finish at different locations. Again notable examples include RAC rally traveling through England, Wales and Scotland, Tour de Corse going literally around the island or Monte Carlo even having multiple starting location choices for a concentration run before the first special stage.

All servicing was moved into the service parks in 1996, and the single service park format was taken into use in 2003. 15 minute remote service locations were again permitted for the 2007 season. However, they didn’t become very popular with the teams and many rallies resorted to just the main service park, and finally the remote service article was removed from the 2015 rule book.

Surfaces

13.1.1 The surfaces of a rally may be mixed but must remain the same between two overnight regroups.

For the recent years or even decades, Rally Catalunya has been the only mixed surface rally of the season, having gravel on the opening day and tarmac on Saturday and Sunday. In the past Rally Portugal and Rally San Remo were typically mixed surface rallies, although the former transformed into an all-gravel event and the latter into an all-tarmac event during the 90’s.

Within a special stage the road surfaces must not be mixed.
However, for the use of limited sections of asphalt on gravel stages, a request for a waiver may be sent to the FIA.

According to my observations, this rule isn’t that strongly obeyed or waivers are permitted easily. Last year all the gravel rallies had a tarmac section on at least one stage, often even on the power stage. Rally Catalunya conversely included a short slippery chip seal section on one of the tarmac stages, making it truly the mixed surface rally of the season.

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Rally Catalunya includes driving on tarmac on gravel setup.Photo by Richard Simpson

Lengths

13.1.2 The total distance of the special stages shall be between 300 km and 350 km.

This one changed for 2019, with the maximum being 500 km before. However, most rallies seemed to be closer to the minimum for the past decade, and many would have fit the 2019 regulations as well.

In the good old days rallies used to be 500-1000 kilometres long (with the exception of African rallies, where the length was calculated differently anyway). This has changed gradually by limiting the length explicitly and through aforementioned regulations relating to fixed week configuration and single service park format, which together make longer routes impossible to be run.

There shall be no single special stage minimum or maximum distance. However, there shall be no more than 80 km of special stages between visits to service parks or tyre fitting zones.

In practice this means two loops of stages with a service in between per day for Friday and Saturday. Setting up a third loop would probably result in running out of hours in a day.

Rally Mexico took this rule to its limits in 2016 by arranging an 80 km stage. Subsequently there was talk about preferring shorter stages to create more buzz for social media, and it seems during the last two seasons the extremely long stages have indeed disappeared.

13.1.3 No one stage or part of a stage may be run more than twice in a rally, super special stages excluded.

This looks like to be another rule easy to go around, since for example Rally Mexico uses same sections for three times and so did Rally Sweden with Torsby (although Torsby Sprint probably goes for a super special?). Rally Turkey also had a section which was shared by two twice-contested stages, but it was only 300 metres long.

58.1.1 Except as detailed for the change of a fuel tank (Art. 50), competitors may refuel only in the designated refuel zones (RZ) or at commercial filling stations indicated in the road book (RGT and nonpriority driver use only) unless otherwise detailed in the supplementary regulations.
The refuel zones may be located at:
– the exit of service parks
– remote locations on the rally route.
58.1.2 Any refuel zone shall feature on the itinerary of the rally and in the road book. No more than 3 different RZs between two overnight regroups, one being at the Service Park, may be scheduled.

Refueling also limits the route length. The fuel consumption has to be estimated for the liaisons and special stages with suitable locations for refueling taken into account when designing a loop of stages.

Reconnaissance

RUNNING OF RECONNAISSANCE
25.4.1 Timetable
Reconnaissance must take place according to a timetable set by the organiser. In order to allow for media activities, reconnaissance must be completed before 5 p.m. on the Wednesday

13.2.6 The reconnaissance schedule shall take place over 2 days. Organisers may, however, submit justification to vary this to the FIA.

It is quite explicitly expressed that reconnaissance must be completed during Tuesday and Wednesday of the rally week, with Wednesday evening spared for media activities. This also makes up a limit for the route – two days must be enough for two recce passages for every stage, at road speeds. This doesn’t encourage arranging single-run stages or highly scattered routes.

Rally_Driver_on_Reci,_Rallye_Monte-Carlo_2019
Teemu Suninen recceing at Monte Carlo 2019. Photo by Iain Cameron / Wikimedia Commons.

Shakedown

29.1.1 The shakedown stage shall be run as if it were a stage run during the rally and include all the appropriate safety measures. The stage should be representative for the rally.

Shakedowns are typically 3-6 km long and situated near the service park. According to my observations most rallies actually do a good job in finding representative stages. Although, sometimes it’s an impossible task when the rally covers different surfaces and road types, such as in Monte Carlo, Catalunya or Germany.

29.1.2 The shakedown stage may be run using a super special stage or part of a stage of the itinerary of the rally.

Last year Australia and Wales used the shakedown route on the actual rally as well. Shakedown is run by every WRC car at least three times, up to six times, so the road should be very durable to withstand both shakedown and the actual competition.

1280px-2007_Rally_Finland_shakedown_33
Shakedown at Laajavuori in Rally Finland 2007. Notice the big ruts on the start line. Photo by Yaamboo / Wikimedia Commons

Luckily we haven’t seen super specials as shakedowns as of late, but at least Rally Poland did so in 2013. Also, Laajavuori in Finland has been rather artificial for shakedown usage.

Power Stage

13.3.1 Announcement:
On each World Rally Championship rally, the organiser shall include one special stage called a ‘Power Stage’ with the purpose of enhancing TV coverage.

13.3.2 Characteristics
This stage will:
– Be the last stage of the rally.
– Be representative of the rally.
– Be chosen in consultation with and after the approval of the FIA and the Promoter.

As we remember from last year’s Wales Rally GB the representativity is a more powerful rule than the last stage rule. Although, power stages haven’t always been the last stage of the rally by default.

A few years ago power stage was also restricted by its length, but now I guess it’s more of a time-based solution, where slower stages can be shorter and faster stages longer. The starting intervals for power stage are also longer than on normal stages, up to five minutes for the top runners.

1280px-Hyundai_Motorsport_Rally_Sardegna_4
A quick podium is arranged at the finish of the power stage. A proper podium is held later at the rally center. Photo: Helena El Mokni / Wikimedia Commons

Television schedules

It is not mentioned in the rules, but the power stage always begins at 12:18 local time to suit television broadcasts starting at noon. The power stage is also always preceded by a regroup. The Sunday itinerary isn’t restricted in any other ways, but everything has to be completed before that.

Usually there’s only time for the first run of the power stage and another stage run twice around it. Typically there’s no midday service, but some rallies like Australia and Catalunya have allowed this opportunity recently for the drivers.

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Televising is a big part of rallying. Live broadcast stages must be organized together with the WRC TV crew. Photo by Richard Simpson.

A live TV stage is prepared also for the Saturday afternoon, with its starting time of 8 minutes past some afternoon hour (it seems the actual hour varies from rally to another, depending on time zones and other factors). This already poses a certain limitation to the schedule, since the TV stages are chosen together with the WRC Promoter, just like the power stages.

Both the television and power stage are expected to be an iconic stage that will look good on television. Once the puzzle assembly begins, these are the first pieces to go into their places.

In addition to this, the shakedown always starts at 10:00 and the super special at 20:08 on Thursday, but this doesn’t really create any restrictions for the other parts of the route, as there are usually no other stages during Thursdays.

Conclusion

The rules imply that the organizers should have freedom over the itinerary, but in fact the rules are quite strict, especially when compared to the previous decades when rallies used to have a distinct character compared to each other. For the hardcore and longterm fans it may seem a bit boring, but the positive side is that the rallies are equally valuable between each other. You could also argue it’s one step easier to adopt the sport for new fans, and the casual viewers should know to open the TV at the right time.

You can also read my previous observations about the differences between 2017 and 2018 WRC rallies.

 

3 thoughts on “WRC itineraries by the rule book

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