Chile is a new addition for the 2019 season. Although it is located near Argentina and the rallies are paired together, the roads are quite different. Better comparisons can be actually found from other continents.
Chile is actually the first new country to host a WRC event since Bulgaria in 2010. The rally is based on the Pacific coastal city of Concepcion, a bit south from the capital of Santiago.
Instead of rough roads in the desert, this rally will be about quite fast cambered bends on forest roads. In fact, it reminds of more New Zealand or Wales, with the road having similar characteristics to Mexico at times. The landscape meanwhile resembles everything from the jungles of Australia to the mountain views of Turkey. And sometimes you could think you’re in Finland with all the pine trees!
The roads have a firm surface and a clear line with slippery loose gravel outside it. The clear line will also most likely get wider with every car. Additional challenges include narrow wooden bridges without railings, as well as wooden structures in the ditches or fences and posts right next to the road.
Compared to Argentina, it’s actually surprising that most of the roads in Chile have ditches. However, what both countries have in common is that it could be foggy on the spring mornings or dusty in dry conditions.
Rally Chile will have three non-super-specials driven only once, which is rare in today’s WRC rallying. It will also probably be the only gravel rally of the season not to feature any tarmac (except for the super special).
Rally Chile follows the example of Australia and the upcoming Portugal by not hosting a Thursday super special. Thus the only action on Thursday will be in the form of the shakedown at Pinares, about 15 km South from the service park.
The stage starts on a twisty road which varies in width from narrow to quite wide. About halfway through a fast descending part arrives, only to give way to a more technical ending. There’s some Rally Mexico character to this stage in the way the width and rhythm varies constantly.
Friday contains three forest stages South of the service park. Two of them are repeated after the midday service along the only super special of the rally. All the stages of the day are quite technical compared to the rest of the rally.
The opening stage El Pinar will be run only once during the rally and could be the slowest of them all (excluding the super special). It can be seen on this onboard from 2017, starting at 1:42 and ending at 13:00.
The beginning of the stage is run on medium wide road. It’s quite technical and rough at times. At 3 km the road becomes narrower with grass growing occasionally in the middle, bringing also the trees and vegetation closer to the road. It reminds slightly of the “jungle” stages on the Sunday of last year’s of Rally Australia.
The surface becomes sandier and softer at 4.7 km but the road also gets wider a bit. A slightly faster section appears about 9 km into the stage with some nice crests over corners. Towards the end there’s one junction turn and a couple of other tight corners but otherwise the road is quite fast and flowing although narrow and slightly rough.
El Puma is the longest stage of the rally at 30 km of length. The official WRC site describes El Puma as the “Ouninpohja of Chile”. However, as it’s quite technical I’d rather name it as the El Chocolate of Chile.
The stage begins quite fast on a medium wide and slightly bumpy road in the forest. At 5.5 km it turns onto a more technical road. At 9 km it gets more fast and flowing for a while before a tricky downhill section.
A pair of wooden bridges leads into a slightly narrower and very technical section with continuous crests. There are also wooden structures in the ditches which don’t advocate cutting.
At 19.4 km a combination of a wooden bridge and a tight but wide junction takes the stage back onto a firm medium wide road. The stage remains technical but a bit faster, ascending occasionally through hairpins.
The 22 km stage Espigado is the third stage of the day. It starts quite wide and quite fast but has some surprising blind corners. At 4.5 km one of those blind corners turns onto a narrower and more angular road. One and a half kilometre later another junction takes the stage onto a yet smaller and bumpy road.
The turn at 10.4 km makes the road smoother and wider. A narrower and rougher spot appears at 11.6 km but after that it becomes faster with only some ascending hairpins jarring the flow.
A junction at 16.4 km starts a fast section. Two kilometres later another one makes the stage a bit narrower but nicely flowing with some descending hairpins at 19 km.
The day is finally concluded with the only super special of the rally, Concepcion – Bicentenario. It’s a street stage with a lot of doughnuts and crossing of its own route near the end. Nothing to see for the rally geeks, but a nice chance for the occasional tourist to see the car in sight for a longer period of time – and without having to get into the forests.
Saturday has a three stage loop also Southwards, but this time the stages are slightly nearer to the service park. These stages are generally quite fast with less of technical parts. The competitive length of the day is almost the same as on Friday.
The first stage of the day is Rio Lia with 20 kilometres of length. It starts quite narrow but fast and flowing. There’s two tricky combinations of a narrow bridge and a junction on the way – the second of which at 6 km turns the stage a bit more wider. However, now some technical corners alternate between faster sections. There’s also often big ditches where advantage could be gained by cutting.
The ending of the stage keeps the rhythm similar but offers a couple of tricky places. At 15.9 km there’s yet another tricky bridge between two 90° rights. At 18.9 km a series of tight corners arrives before the last 600 m which are quite fast.
Maria Las Cruces is the longest of the day at 23 km. It can be seen on this 2017 onboard from 0:27 to 19:53 in quite Welsh looking conditions.
The stage begins on a quite wide road but turns after a kilometre onto a narrow forest road. It returns later onto the first road and gets quite fast and flowing with a few tighter corners. At 13.6 km there is a crest which could turn into a sideways jump. A chicane like series of tight bends appears at 14.5 km. Towards the end there are some very fast sections in the area where trees are cut down.
The third stage of the day is Pelun, the shortest of the day, but still almost 17 km long. It could also be one of the fastest of the whole rally.
It starts like the previous ended – very fast and at an open scenery, although the road is not that wide. The first technical corners of the stage don’t appear before 9 km, and at 11 km it becomes more twisty, now deep in the forest again. The last four km have a stunning scenery as the road twirls down through hairpins towards the river Biobio.
Sunday contains a similar structure to Rally Turkey with two single-run stages between a repeated stage. The single-run stages are driven South-East of the service park with the power stage situated near the shakedown. All the three stages are quite different to each other in character.
So, the Bio Bio stage opens the day and will be run for the second time as the power stage. It starts with a steep ascension through hairpins. Occasionally the road is narrow with grass growing in the middle. At 5.3 km the ascension ends at a junction and the road becomes a bit wider and faster on top of the hills. At 9 km the road starts descending steep through a couple of hairpins and fast sections towards the finish.
Lircay is different to the other stages of the rally by having fast sections on roads which range from narrow to very narrow. The key is to know when to keep the foot down and when to watch out for the tricky places which occur all over the stage. The corners are also less cambered here, presenting a difference in the driving style. This could still be the fastest stage of the rally.
San Nicolas is the second to last stage of the rally, also run only once. This onboard from 2:29 shows the stage in its 2017 form.
This one starts with a quite wide gravel road in a forest, quite fast and flowing with crests but no jumps. The junction at 1.7 km makes the road a bit narrower and more technical, with a series of tight corners near the beginning of the section.
Another junction at 7.8 km makes the stage even more narrower and softer with obstacles close to the road. The road starts with a twisty downhill and remains technical, with the pace being upped slightly just before the finish.
Road conditions and starting order
The slipperiness of the road remains a mystery to everyone, but my guess is that if it is dry, the road will be very slippery to the first cars because the surface is very firm. A clean line will be brushed onto the road and any deviation from it will result in a timeloss. However, if it rains, it’s a different story, where the first car could even have an advantage like in Wales Rally GB.
The winner of the two previous rallies, Thierry Neuville will start first on the road with championship rivals Sebastien Ogier and Ott Tänak behind him. However, if it’s dry, the later starters such as Esapekka Lappi and Sebastien Loeb could have a considerable advantage. Or maybe Neuville can repeat what he did in Argentina and win a gravel rally starting first on the road?