Rally Turkey is the slowest and roughest event of the WRC season. Last year the rally returned onto the calendar in a new location. For this year the route is only slightly tweaked.
Rally Turkey has featured in three locations during its WRC history. The rough and slow events from 2003 to 2008 were driven in Alanya, whereas the fast 2010 route was based in Istanbul. Last year the rally made a comeback onto the WRC season, this time relocated to Marmaris, making it an equally new event for everyone.
The roads in Turkey are rough, making it an endurance test compared to the other rallies. Last year we saw only four WRC cars finish the rally without using the restart rule or having major issues.
The Turkish gravel roads are also slow. The average speed of last year’s winner Ott Tänak was only 78.3 km/h with the fastest stage only at 92 km/h. For example Mexico and Sardegna have typically been at somewhere around 90 km/h (although Sardegna was this year slower than in years at 83 km/h).
The shakedown is the same as last year, titled Değirmenyanı – İçmeler. It’s mostly a medium wide and moderately to heaveily rough road loaded with loose rocks. The beginning and the end are a bit faster in the forest with banks on the side, and the middle part is in a small mountain with cambered tighter bends and more rocks on the road. Finally there’s a jump at the end.
The shakedown is a decent representation of what the rally is about with plenty of roughness, especially on the later runs. However, it’s not as technical or narrow as some of the stages in the rally. Conversely, some sections in the rally will also be considerably smoother than the shakedown, requiring different ride heights and other setup changes which cannot be tested here.
The Thursday super special is also the same as last year, driven on the streets of Marmaris after the dusk has fallen. This year it’s called Marmaris Meydan.
The stage is set up creatively with a roundabout in the middle with loops to three directions with always a donut in the middle roundabout. Thus the cars will pass this roundabout four times. In addition to that, there’s another donut, a number of artificial ramp jumps, chicanes and barriers making the route narrower. The amount of artificiality makes even makes similar tests in Guanajuato or Barcelona look like proper special stages.
The artificial elements require special caution. Last year Sebastien Ogier’s car almost somersaulted in the first ramp jump and he went wide in the following corner.
Friday packs in 160 kilometres of stages, over half of the whole rally. One of the stages is driven near the service park, the two others further away in North-East.
The day and proper rallying starts with Içmeler. It has a tarmac sections as well as rough and smooth gravel. We remember this stage from 2018 as the one which Sebastien Ogier won on a hand-fixed car.
For this year the stage has 5.8 km of new in the beginning. This section crosses a small mountain on a narrow road with descending hairpins. Last year’s stage is joined on a relatively fast and smooth section with one corner at 6.9 km on tarmac. After a couple of more technical corners a fast tarmac section begins at 8.6 km.
A junction turn leads onto a narrow gravel road at 10.7 km. The road goes into the mountains occasionally through narrow places and tight corners. Some places are smooth, some are very rough. Occasionally stones have fallen onto the road from the cliffs, sometimes the bedrock is exposed. The technicality and roughness is increased at 13 km, including a tricky downhill section.
A considerably smoother forest road is joined at 14.5 km, although it’s also occasionally rocky. A third tarmac section appears at 16.3 km with a turn to a very fast and smooth gravel road. Finally the road gets a bit narrower towards the end as it climbs and descends, but doesn’t get that rough anymore. This section is where Esapekka Lappi crashed last year.
Çetibeli is driven exactly like last year. It may not be the most technical stage of the rally, but especially the first half is some of the roughest of the whole rally. It is also the longest gravel stage of the whole 2019 season at 38 km.
The start is relatively fast – medium wide and quite smooth but soft in a forest. Almost gradually without a proper rhythm change it turns into a mountain road – narrower and more technical. At 5.2 km the surface becomes considerably rougher for a couple of kilometres. The bends on this video are situated at 7.8 km, where the surface is a bit better.
Now the road widens a bit but often there’s just a narrow line drawn in the rocks fallen from the cliffs. It gets a bit smoother and cleaner for a while at 10 km. A dry river crossing appears at 12.2 km.
The road becomes suddenly narrower and rougher in the forest at 13.1 km – first very technical, then faster. An even rougher section follows at 15.2 km with another dry river crossing. It gets slightly smoother at 16.6 km with some places very rocky here and there. A very narrow and tricky descending section appears at 18.3 km followed by a slightly faster and smoother but still narrow and technical section.
A hairpin takes the stage onto a smoother road at 20.4 km which is mostly fast and flowing with just a couple of tricky technical sections. However, the width varies constantly.
At 25.3 km the stage turns onto a narrower road. It’s first twisty and narrow in the mountains. However, during the following kilometres, the surface, road width and level of technicality varies suddenly multiple times. Some sections are just smooth, some have a bit of bedrock and stones. Most corners are also cambered and it never gets super twisty or slow.
At 34.8 km there’s a technical ascend which leads onto a narrow and quite rough, degraded road with some bedrock and stones. Again it’s not very technical or slow apart from one hairpin.
Ula starts on a medium wide mountain road. It resembles Rally Mexico by being firm-based, smooth, layered with loose gravel and having a constant flow of tight cambered bends. A faster forest section follows at 1.8 km with some more twists and turns after it. There’s a couple of junction turns but the overall rhythm remains, with some parts slightly rougher and slower.
At 7 km the road becomes suddenly very narrow. For this year the stage is lengthened here, with a twisty section before entering an open area popular with spectators. The road is wide but now a bit softer than in the beginning. This section has high banks on the side of the road and a constant flow of long corners. At 11.8 km the stage goes into the forest and becomes a bit faster and narrower. Finally the surface becomes looser as a steep descend begins at 13.6 km .
Last year Mads Østberg and Elfyn Evans broke their cars on the ending of this stage. This technical, rough and narrow section is now omitted, making this a smoother stage in overall. Still, last year Thierry Neuville managed to post the fastest time on both runs of the stage albeit being first on the road. However, this time he cannot “push on the rough sections” like he did last year.
The Saturday stages are driven West and South-West from the service park, mostly near the sea. In overall the roads are less rough than on the other days. The only new stage of the rally is also driven today.
Yeşilbelde is the longest stage of the day at 33 km. It has a new beginning for this year from a section used in the other direction in the 2017 candidate event. The stage is also shortened from last year by 1.4 km through taking a shortcut near the end. For the most part it’s a relatively smooth stage layered with loose gravel.
The stage starts on a quite wide, fast, flowing and smooth forest section. As it joins last year’s route at 1.5 km it becomes more technical but the corners are cambered and there’s occasionally fast-flowing passages.
At 8.7 km the stage turns onto a smaller road. It’s rougher and more technical. 1.5 km later there is a forest section with trees, bushes and banks right at the edge of the road. Then a kilometre later a series of hairpins climbs up and down, followed by another technical section with constant tight turns.
The stage opens up and the pace increases on a forest section at 14.4 km. It’s still rather technical at times and there’s a lot of alternating between light and shade. Last year the dust was also hanging on this section and the trees at the side of the road are huge.
The surface becomes smoother and firmer at 17.5 km but the road is still quite narrow. A twisty technical mountain section begins a kilometre later. This is where Sebastien Ogier went off the road last year
A more hectically and angularly technical forest section begins at 20.3 km. Four kilometres later the road narrows and becomes fast in the forest. Then a pair of hairpins brings the pace down before taking the aforementioned shortcut. After the shortcut there is another Rally Australia type section with smooth surface, technical turns and trees very close to the road, creating again a strobe effect with light and shade.
A fast passage leads to the ending section of the stage – bends on a mountainside with a spectacular view to (or from) the sea. The road is again wider and the flow of long tight corners is constant.
The short Datça stage starts on a quite soft and quite wide road. It’s technical and twisty, but not super slow. At 1.3 km there’s a super fast almost straight section with crests, ending at a 90 degree junction.
Here the stage becomes rockier, narrower and a lot slower as it twirls down. A steeper descend with a stunning sea view begins at 4.2 km. At the same time the stage roughens and slows down even more with big rocks on the sides of the road.
At 4.8 km the descend ends into a faster and smoother section with banks on the side. This is where Sebastien Ogier broke a steering arm last year by hitting a pothole on the road.
As the shoreline gets closer, the surface is again rockier as we go to ascending and descending tight mountainside bends. Before the finish the rhythm changes first into more flowing corners, then longer bends. For this year the stage is shortened by 1.8 km from the end.
A new stage called Kızlan has been introduced for this year’s Saturday loop. It’s run on wind farm service roads near the previous stage, on the North side of the peninsula. This stage is completely different to all the others and definitely the fastest stage of the rally.
The stage begins medium wide on a fast section with big jumps, some of them with a deceptive line. Then a wide and flat road is joined at 2 km with a firm and smooth surface but slippery loose gravel on top. A kilometre later a narrower and slightly more technical forest section follows. The road is a bit rougher with some bedrock exposed and banks on the side. At 4.1 km it joins another wide and smooth road similar to the previous one. After this the only challenges are a few narrow gates on the way.
The Sunday stages are driven in the same areas as on Friday – near the service park or further in the North-East. Two of the stages are driven only once during the rally. One of them is reversed and the other has mostly new route, meaning that the drivers will have to make a lot of new pace notes.
The Marmaris power stage both opens and closes the day. It the shortest non-super-special of the rally at 7 km but still has three distinct different sections. Like Teemu Suninen said, it has a bit of everything. Last year it was one of the fastest stages of the rally and this year it’s driven the same way.
The stage starts with a super special like tarmac section. In addition to turns between barriers, there is a jump.
The turn onto gravel goes through a narrow gate and into uphill. The gravel road is narrow, technical and quite rough with lots of big stones. It’s very twisty at first, then straighter. Once it starts descending over the hill, there’s again more hairpins and slightly smoother surface.
At 4.8 km there is a junction turn onto a wider and smoother road, making the stage now easier and faster but not super quick. Finally a pair of junctions ends the stage right next to the service park.
Gökçe was last year the fastest stage of the rally by a clear margin. However, for this year only the first 1.9 km have remained, the rest being a new small road section reminiscent of the Friday stages in this year’s Rally Portugal. This combination two very different road types is unique to the rally.
The start from last year’s stage is on a wide, firm and smooth road with cambered bends. At 1.9 km it turns at a tricky hairpin junction onto a narrow and rocky path which at first barely resembles a road, climbing steeply upwards. At 2.4 km the road crosses Cetibeli’s route and the uphill turns to downhill.
Until the hairpin junction at 2.9 km the small road was quite straight, but now it becomes more technical with a small drop on the left and a high bank on the right for the most part. Some parts of the road are in better shape, some have grass growing in the middle. A lot of the road base also has bedrock or stones in the road base, which could cause punctures.
Çiçekli has been reversed for this year and is now driven only once. Last year it was the slowest non-super-special of the rally with only 72 km/h of average speed. This is due to the stage being extremely technical and twisty with hairpin after another, not roughness.
For the most part the corners are cambered and the surface as smooth as in Mexico, but that is similarly contrasted with a slippery layer of loose gravel. Many drivers were struggling with grip here last year. Meanwhile, Ott Tänak said he used a lower ride height on the second run to snatch the stage win.
The surface changed last year suddenly into very coarsely rocky and rough at some places, probably because of road repairs. Also some sections in the forests almost resemble Rally Australia with the trees up close and making a strobe effect with the shadow and light.
Road conditions and starting order
Like in every gravel rally, there’s always a handicap to start first on the road. However, last year we saw that Thierry Neuville was leading the rally after the first day as the championship leader.
Some drivers mentioned the road didn’t clean up as much as expected and stones started appearing on the line. Later starters also had issues with dust, especially in the early mornings. Obviously the weather and the current condition of the roads will play into this, but I wouldn’t expect this to be the worst gravel rally for the first car on the road.
A curious fact is that Friday contains 51% of the whole rally competitive distance, meaning that there’s more kilometres to be driven in the championship order. This year Ott Tänak will be first on the road, with Thierry Neuville second and Sebastien Ogier third. Meanwhile, the last WRC cars starting will be Dani Sordo, Esapekka Lappi and Pontus Tidemand.
Finally, it’s good to repeat that Rally Turkey is mostly an endurance event. Taking it easy and finishing with no problems could even secure a podium, so fighting for tenths of seconds gained from a good road position will not be important.