WRC season 2019 review

The 2019 season introduced a new rally, but a whole round was cancelled along many individual stages. Some events remained as they were, while a few revamped their routes. Stages kept becoming shorter, whereas speeds became sometimes faster, sometimes slower. 

Cover photo by Richard Simpson / Flickr (C).

A new rally in Chile

Rally Chile debuted on the 2019 WRC calendar, being the first completely new event in almost a decade. Very little was known about the roads before the event started. Thus many must have been surprised to see smooth forest roads resembling Wales or New Zealand with flowing cambered bends and rolling crests instead of rough and dusty desert stages like in Mexico or Argentina.

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Photo by Rodolfo Marin

The fastest stage of Chile was the single-run San Nicolas on Sunday with 112.58 km/h of average speed. Thus, it could have been faster on a second run. It was clearly the fastest stage of the rally with only one other single-run Sunday stage at 105 km/h and the rest below 100 km/h. The slowest forest stage was the 30 km El Puma with only 87 km/h of average speed.

The overall average speed of the rally remained at 93.36 km/h. Thus it’s slightly slower than Wales and Argentina, but slightly faster than Portugal.

Based on recce videos and onboard videos from the candidate events, I expected the stages to be faster. Turns out the surface was so slippery that many drivers were struggling with grip. Also, the roads were partly more twisty than in Wales, where the surface is similar.

Last year all gravel rallies of the season included at least one tarmac section on a non-super-special stage. This year, Chile was the only one not to do so.

Bushfires cancel Australia

The season-ending Rally Australia became cancelled because of raging bushfires in the area. The organizers tried first to put together a shortened itinerary consisting of one forest stage run in both direction and many runs of the two super specials. In the end there was nothing left to do.

The last time a whole event had to be cancelled was China in 2016. The previous time a rally has been canceled so close to its start was Sweden in 1990, when the lack of snow became force majeure.

Route evolutions

The rallies of Sweden, Finland and Catalunya ran with almost identical routes to last year. Only one stage was exchanged for another in each with slight changes here and there. Argentina also had mostly minimal changes to the stage start and finish locations.

Sardegna had the same stage titles as in 2018, but almost each of them was changed more or less. Meanwhile, Wales didn’t introduce much new roads to the drivers, but the stages were a new combination of the three previous years.

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Rally Sardegna 2019 – same stages, new routes. Photo by Kyn Wai Chung.

Turkey used mostly the same stages as the year before, but in a shuffled order and new sections here and there. Portugal changed all of Friday, whereas the rest of the days remained almost untouched. Similarly, the new stages on the Monte Carlo route occurred on Thursday and Friday. The biggest update in Rally Deutschland was reversing Panzerplatte, but also the Sunday stages were modified from what they had been in the past.

Rally Mexico and Rally Australia are unique by having a very dense network of rallyable roads, which are used to make revolving routes every year. This year, Mexico had less changes than usually, whereas Australia would have had quite a bit of new combinations of familiar roads.

Corsica was the most updated rally, like it often has been. It used only one and a half stages from 2018, and introduced many stages which the current WRC drivers hadn’t done before.

The fastest ones

As expected, Finland was the fastest rally of 2019. Already last year its average speed got reduced and this year it was almost the same at 122.48 km/h. Still, it was 9 km/h faster than any other rally.

This year’s Tour de Corse became the fastest edition of the rally in its WRC history with average speed of 102.72 km/h. The fastest stage, Eaux de Zilia, was also the fastest stage ever seen in the rally at 121.05 km/h.

The fastest tarmac stage of the season was Römerstraße in Rally Deutschland (123.69 km/h) and the fastest non-Finnish stage Sweden’s Hof-Finnskog (126.97 km/h). However, the four fastest stages came from Finland, the fastest one being Äänekoski – just like last year – with 131.77 km/h of average speed. This video shows its route, including the new ending section.

The fastest stage in relation to the rally overall average speed was Kızlan in Turkey. It was the only smooth, flowing and wide stage of the rally, whereas all others were narrow, technical and/or rough. Kızlan’s winning average speed of 109.82 km/h was a whopping 137% of the whole rally average speed.

Finland is also the rally where the stages are percentually closest to the average. The fastest stage Äänekoski was only 107% of the whole rally average speed, and the slowest non-super-special stage Pihlajakoski as much as 94%. Pihlajakoski is also remarkable by being one of the fastest stages in the previous five years and the slowest stage in 2019, thanks to a largely updated route.

The slowest ones

The slowest rally was expectedly Turkey with 80.76 km/h of average speed, which is slightly faster than last year. Meanwhile, Sardegna got considerably slower. For nine years its average speed has been around 90 km/h but this year it dropped down to 83.54 km/h, due to updates on the route.

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Turkey is the slowest and roughest rally of the season. Photo by Kyn Wai Chung.

The slowest non-super-special stage was for the second year in a row Tula in Sardegna having only 71.2 km/h of average speed, although Mina Clavero in Argentina and Çiçekli in Turkey were only fractionally quicker. The slowest tarmac stage was Rally Deutschland’s Dhrontal with 92.47 km/h of average speed, if we don’t count the icy and snowy Monte stages.

If we take super specials into account, Salou in Catalunya was once again the slowest with only 51.7 km/h of average speed. In addition, the opening stages of Argentina, Turkey and Sardegna were under 60 km/h.

The slowest stage compared to the overall rally pace was Torsby in Sweden. The average speed of 91.85 km/h was only 72% of the whole rally. This was also remarkable by being won by Jari Huttunen on a Skoda Fabia R5!

By the length

The rally maximum length in the rules was reduced from 400 km to 350 km for this year. The longest rally was Corsica with 347.51 km of length but Argentina was only 10 metres shorter! Meanwhile, Chile was the shortest one with only 304.81 km of length. This can be explained by the second run of the opening stage El Pinar being removed at the last itinerary version, in order to have enough time for a midday service.

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Tour de Course was the longest rally of the season, with the longest stage of the year. Photo by Antoine Valenti.

In addition to shorter events, the trend is also towards shorter stages. This year there weren’t any stages over 50 km. The longest one was Castagniccia in Corsica, with a length of 47.18 km. The next longest was Panzerplatte (41.17 km) in Germany. Third longest was the mixed surface Catalunya’s La Fatarella – Vilalba (38.85 km) before the longest gravel stage, Turkey’s rough Çetibeli (38.15 km).

The shortest non-super special was Rally Deutschland’s rally-opening St. Wendeler Land with 5.20 km of length. Brenig in Wales was the shortest gravel stage with 6.43 km of length. Sardegna, Catalunya and Turkey also had a stage at around 7 km in length.

Stage counts

The highest number of stages would have been Australia with 25 stages. With it canceled, Finland takes the record with 23 stages. The least amount of stages was 14 in Corsica, but even they added the count again with two stages from the year before.

The highest number of super specials was again in Mexico with a total of seven runs over three different stages. Meanwhile, Monte Carlo, Corsica and Germany had no super specials at all. Thus Salou was the only super special of the season driven on tarmac setup.

With single runs and super specials omitted, most rallies opted for three repeated pairs of stages on Fridays and Saturdays. The exceptions to this rule were Monte Carlo Saturday and Chile Friday with only two stages. Four stage runs were done on the Fridays of Sardegna, Finland and Wales, as well as the Saturday in Finland. A four stage run was also planned for the Saturday in Australia, in addition to three stage repeats for Sunday.

Power stages

The longest power stage of the season was La Mussara in Catalunya at 20.72 km. It is the first power stage to be over 20 km long since Derramadero of Mexico 2017. Conversely, the shortest power stage was Brenig in Wales with only 6.43 km of length.

The fastest power stage was unsurprisingly Ruuhimäki in Finland with 123 km/h of average speed. However, not many would have expected the Corsican power stage to be second-fastest, but Calvi did that. The slowest power stage was again El Condor with only 75 km/h of average speed.

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Fafe has been the power stage in Portugal for five years in a row. Photo by Richard Simpson.

Calvi, Dhrontal, Brenig and La Mussara were the only new power stages of the season in addition to Bio Bio in Chile. All other rallies relied on the same power stages they had last year.

Shakedowns

The longest shakedowns of the season were Skalla in Sweden and Pinares in Chile, both being over 6 km long. Meanwhile, most shakedowns were around 4 km in length. The shortest shakedown was Salou in Catalunya at 2 km, resembling more of a super special.

The only new shakedown of the season (in addition to Chile on a completely new rally) would have been Lower Bucca State Forest in Australia. In addition, Olmedo in Sardegna had its route updated.

Canceled stages

2018 was a remarkably good year with only one stage in Catalunya being canceled altogether. Conversely, 2019 started already bad in Monte Carlo with the first Friday stage Valdrome – Sigottier being canceled because of spectator issues. The same happened again in Argentina with Amboy – Yacanto.

Portugal was supposed to have a double run Braga Street Stage, but it was canceled due to lack of funds from the local town board. A different story happened in Wales with Great Orme having to be canceled because of too stormy weather, as it wouldn’t have been possible for divers to work.

The first run of El Puma in Chile was red flagged after the first car and then restarted again. This meant that Thierry Neuville drove through the stage in road mode and got a notional time.

A controversial red flagging also happened in Mexico after Esapekka Lappi went half off the road on the Guanajuatito stage. His teammate Sebastien Ogier had a puncture on the stage, but received a notional time which didn’t set him back as much.

A number of stages were also cancelled after a few cars had passed through, giving notional times to the rest of the drivers. This happened for instance on the Sardegna stage Castelsardo because of a spectator medical emergency as well as in Aberhirnant in Wales because of misplaced spectators.

A partially canceled stage is always a place for what-ifs and complaints. In Chile Thierry Neuville said he could have driven the red flagged stage faster. In Sardegna Ott Tänak was one of the three cars to pass the stage. Later he mentioned his tyres have worn one stage more than most others. Sometimes drivers also say that they lack corrections of pace notes by missing the first run.

Driving in the dark

The Thursday stages in Monte Carlo were again driven in the dark like traditionally. In addition, Wales had again two stages at the end of the Friday at after the sunset. Dusk was also falling over the second run of Panzerplatte in Rally Deutschland.

The first run of Torsby and the Sprint version on Saturday were also driven in the dark. Same goes also for Sweden’s opening super special stage, as well as those of Mexico, Argentina, Turkey and Wales, plus the not-rally-opening super special of Chile.

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Torsby Sprint was one of the few dark driven stages of 2019. Photo by Tapio Lehtonen.

Stages not run twice

Neither of the Thursday night stages in Monte Carlo were repeated, and the same was once again the case for the Sunday stages in Corsica. Chile and Turkey shared the same configuration for Sunday with two runs of the power stage sandwiching two single-run stages. A similar idea was used in Argentina, with just Mina Clavero between two runs of El Condor.

Finland had again Oittila run only once, this time at the start of the rally, similarly as Chile had done with El Pinar. Finally, the short Luilhas stage at the middle of Portugal’s Sunday was run only once.

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Parts of Alfaro in Mexico were driven three times, parts only once. Photo by Richard Simpson.

Mexico had again their own way of arranging of stages, with Alfaro and Mesa Cuata containing parts from other stages already run twice earlier in the rally, topped with new sections run only once. A similar thing happened in Sweden with the Torsby stage, which ended all days from Friday to Sunday. However, the Saturday stage is the Sprint version which includes only the super special style ending section.

A concept never seen before was used in Rally Deutschland with the St. Wendeler Land stage being used for the shakedown and the Thursday night opener. This was also exceptional that the rally started with a stage on Thursday that wasn’t a super special.

The Autodromo de Leon super special in Mexico was run a total of four times during the rally.  Same would have been the case for the Rally Australia Destination NSW SSS, had it been run.

Special configurations

Like mentioned, Monte Carlo has the freedom to run two proper stages already on Thursday. Meanwhile, Corsica, Chile, Portugal and Catalunya chose not to have a Thursday stage at all.

Sweden kept using its format where the Torsby stage is run first at the end of Friday and then repeated at the end of Sunday. A similar setup was used for Las Minas in Mexico.

Usually the loops are repeated in the same order in the morning and afternoon. However, the Saturday morning in Rally Deutschland consisted of two countryside stage repeats, whereas the afternoon and evening were driven completely on the Baumholder area. Additionally, in Australia the Nambucca stages would have been run both sides of the service, with the two shorter stages both opening and closing the day.

The Sunday in Catalunya had a midday service. The same procedure would have taken place also in Australia.

It Gets Faster Now! in 2019

This year the route previews were prepared by watching the onboards of all stages where available. Sometimes local rally videos, road books and recce videos also helped, in addition to the usual rally-maps.com, google maps street views, ewrc-results and juwra statistics as well as youtube videos. Automatically updating weather forecasts from yr.no were also shown for each stage location.

Top 5 most popular route previews 2019

  1. Monte Carlo
  2. Finland
  3. Sweden
  4. Catalunya
  5. Wales

Thank you to Tapio Lehtonen, Kyn Wai Chung and Richard Simpson for excellent photography. Thanks to all readers, everyone sending comments and/or sharing on social media. See you next year!

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