Rally Turkey is the slowest and roughest event on the calendar driven in hot conditions, making it the endurance test of the season for both the drivers and the vehicles. However, this year the endurance element is compromised by a shortened event format. Additionally, pace notes from 2019 can be reused on every stage kilometre.
This year Rally Turkey is run one day shorter, meaning that shakedown occurs on the Friday morning. The stage itself, titled Değirmenyanı – İçmeler has some very rough sections on loose stones, as well as a jump at the end.
The ceremonial start is held at 16:15 in the afternoon. There is no super specials in the rally at all. Instead, the opening evening will contain two proper stages, both driven just once during the rally.
SS1 Içmeler is a Marmaris-based Rally Turkey staple, near the service park. This time it’s shorter than last year. The tarmac section where Kalle Rovanperä rolled his Skoda last year is now omitted and the stage starts after it.
The stage starts very technical in the mountains. The road surface is layered with big stones. At 5.5 km there’s a bit of tarmac followed by a fast section of gravel road.
It gets again more technical towards the end of the stage, but not as rough as in the beginning. This is where Esapekka Lappi’s 2018 crash happened.
SS2 Gökçe was included already in 2018 but its route was largely updated for 2019 and the same version is used this year. The first 1.9 km are flowingly undulating on a wide and smooth road with cambered bends, in the style of Rally Mexico. A tight hairpin sends the drivers onto a narrow track, which climbs up rather straight. One kilometre later the stage turns onto a technical mountain road, but the surface is quite smooth until 8.3 km where it gets again coarser until the end. Still, this is among the least rough stages of the rally.
The Saturday route is almost identical to 2019. At 107 km it is the longest day of the rally, covering almost half of the competitive length.
SS3+6 Yeşilbelde is run like last year,but a 1.4 km fast section has been removed from its beginning. The stage is more about technical tight turns than rough surfaces, but there’s always enough hazardous rocks around.
The beginning is on a quite wide road but it becomes smaller at 7.4 km. The pace is upped at 13 km on a fast forest section. At 15.5 km into this year’s stage Thierry Neuville went off the road last year, being blinded by the hanging dust.
After the 16 km mark the road surface becomes better, but a twisty mountainside section awaits. This section took Sebastien Ogier by surprise in 2018.
The next forest section alternates angularly between fast and technical passages. The final bends are driven between a mountain and a sea, with stunning views.
In addition to the two aforementioned title contender mistakes, Yeşilbelde has always served a healthy dose of drama. We remember Thierry Neuville’s broken suspension, Craig Breen’s smoking car and Andreas Mikkelsen’s differential trouble in 2018 not to mention Ott Tänak’s sudden technical fault just after the stage the next year.
SS4+7 Datça is the shortest test of the day at only 8.75 km of length and it has been driven both times the rally has been based in Marmaris.
Most of the stage is soft and twisty technical. However, at 1.3 km there’s a fast blast leading into a junction turn.
What follows is a technical and rough downhill section, but at 4.8 km the stage becomes again faster for a while. This is where Sebastien Ogier’s front suspension collapsed in 2018.
The ending section is again quite rocky with a constant flow of tight corners. There’s a great view from the sea, making it usually popular with television cameras as well as spectators on cruise ships.
SS5+8 Kızlan was a new addition for 2019. It’s exceptional to the rally by being fast, wide and smooth. Last year Esapekka Lappi’s stage winning average speed was as high as 108 km/h, whereas the whole rally ended with 80 km/h average speed.
The beginning of the stage is only medium wide. However, there’s a straight with big jumps.
The wide road is joined at 2 km. Soon the stage takes a short detour onto a smaller road. However, the last 8.8 km are all wide and fast.
Last year Kris Meeke struggled to get to grips with this fast stage as he spun on the first run and went off the road on the second pass.
The weight of Sunday has been increased remarkably for this short edition of Rally Turkey. The day contains 90 km of stages, and likely the roughest sections of the whole rally.
SS9+11 Çetibeli is the longest stage of the rally at 38.15 km, making it also the longest stage so far this WRC season. It has featured in this format the two previous years as well. It’s not that technical, but especially near the beginning it has typically been very rocky and rough.
The start may be smooth and easy, but it gets gradually rougher towards the 5 km mark, where the road turns to a track. Around 10 km it’s again better, but only a car-width smooth line is drawn on a rocky surface. Another rough and small section follows after the 13 km mark with a tricky descend at 18.3 km.
At 20 km it gets considerably smoother and faster. At 25 km there’s a turn onto a smaller road but the difficulty, pace and road condition vary from corner to corner. It goes on like this until 34.8 km where there’s an uphill and a very degraded road, which is not that technical.
Last year this stage became dramatic as a rainfall started, making the surface very slippery. Ott Tänak would have been one to benefit for having mostly dry road, but a puncture ruined his run. Meanwhile, Esapekka Lappi had an inspired run in the rain, matching Ogier and Neuville who got to drive in dry conditions, leaving others running in wet conditions by more than half a minute.
The power stage is again SS10+12 Marmaris like the two previous years. It’s the shortest stage of the rally at 7.05 km.
The stage can be divided into three parts.
First up there’s a 850 m super special type of tarmac section with an artificial jump and turns between concrete walls on a parking lot. For this year the super special section is omitted, but the start is still on tarmac.
Then the gravel section begins with a typical Rally Turkey road. First it’s quite rough and technical but becomes soon straighter. Then on the downhill section it’s smoother but more technical.
At 4.8 km the stage turns onto a smoother road for a fast-flowing finale. Just before the finish line at the service park there’s a water splash sandwiched between two junction turns, the latter onto tarmac.
For this year two stages from last year are omitted, Çiçekli and Ula. The former was a slow and technical but not so rough stage. It offered some interesting results in 2018, but similar character can be found from the end of Göçke or parts of Yeşilbelde. Meanwhile, Ula was a stage which combined different road types and is thus well covered by other stages.
Road conditions and starting order
Rally Turkey has a cleaning effect like all gravel rallies, In 2018 though we saw the championship leader Thierry Neuville lead the rally after the first day in slightly damp conditions. In his case one advantage were the roughest sections where it was beneficial to drive first since the roads became more undrivable with every car and the latest runners suffered damage on their cars. However, these roughest rock gardens have been since reduced and most of them are left for Sunday this year.
However, last year we saw more traditional handicap on the first cars on the road. Then it started to rain and it was suddenly an advantage for the first cars who got through the stage in dry conditions!
It’s also yet unknown whether the championship order will be used only for the two Friday stages or also half of Saturday like in Rally Estonia. The FIA Sporting Regulations has mentions shorter event formats, but it’s unclear to me whether Turkey passes as a 2 DAY EVENT (sic) with its Friday stages.
41.2.1 START ORDER – 2 DAY EVENT FORMATS
In case of a 2-day-format of an event, the FIA Rally Department may determine that the above Friday running order is used for only half of the 1st competitive day and at which point of the itinerary the order is switched over to the above Saturday order.
Sebastien Ogier keeps leading the championship and will thus open the road. His teammate Elfyn Evans – who had to skip the event last year and retired early in 2018 – is next, followed by Tänak, Rovanperä, and finally Neuville, who has now two zero results under him, but possibly a better road position for Turkey.
Hyundai’s third driver Sebastien Loeb will start eighth on the road, providing a chance for a surprise result, but then again he has never competed in the Marmaris-based event. He’s also lacking knowledge from rough conditions in these new-spec WRC cars, his gravel experience consisting of the smoother and faster roads of Mexico, Chile, Portugal and Catalunya. However, his pace has been decent in all of those, and he has won numerous times in rough rallies in the past.
It will be interesting to see how the shortened itinerary will affect the endurance element of the rally. In the past it has been a good tactic to drive cautiously and wait for faster cars to run into problems. Now the percentage of single-run stages is higher and there’s overall 80 km less stages to run – meaning thousands of stones less to be run over!
UPDATED 15.9.2020 added information about shortened power stage