Rally Estonia got a surprise slot on the 2020 WRC calendar after the COVID-19 pandemic forced numerous rallies to be canceled. The event will be run in a compact three-day format. Its sandy gravel roads will likely produce the fastest special stages of the whole season.
The overall character of Rally Estonia is close to that of Rally Poland. The rally runs on countryside and forest roads which are often super fast, no matter the width. Oftentimes the speed is brought down by tightened junctions, detour loops from the road and pure haybale chicanes.
Compared to Rally Finland, there’s a lot less jumps and sharp crests. This is largely due to the Finnish soil having been affected more during the ice age.
However, the organizers of Rally Estonia have enhanced many crests during the last two years of the rally. They were deliberately made as unartificial as possible, sometimes in the middle of corners. This created jumping characteristics similar to Rally Finland.
In addition, a couple of spectator-friendly sections, almost arenas, have been constructed in the middle of some of the forest stages. Gravel surface is retained on these passages, but the character is different with slower and longer corners and more jumps.
One major difference between Finland and Estonia is that the roads in latter are typically sandier and softer. They have been often plowed into the ground, meaning there’s banks on the side of the road instead of ditches. The vegetation at the side of the road is also often more dense, making it more difficult to cut through corners.
When we look at the average speeds of Rally Estonia 2019 stages, we can see that there’s two distinct categories of stages – fast and slow. Stages like Aiaste and Puugi reached average speeds of 132 and 138 km/h respectively. However, the most outrageous one was Saverna, where Ott Tänak’s Toyota Yaris WRC flew through the stage’s single pass (second one would have been even faster!) at 141 km/h. Meanwhile, other stages like Rüa or Maaritsa had their average speeds below 110 km/h, which is slower than Rally Finland usually ever gets.
For the 2020 event I would expect to see again a mix of the two types. Some sections will be blindingly fast, some more technical and slow and most stages will combine them.
Rally Estonia, like Rally Turkey, is run in a shortened format. In contrast to Turkey, all the forest stages are driven on Saturday and Sunday. Friday offers the same as a normal rally does on Thursday – the shakedown and the opening super special.
The first half of the Abissaare shakedown is new but the rest was driven last year as Puugi.
The stage is mostly flat out and almost straight, with three junction turns on the way and a slightly more technical section at the end.
SSS1 Tartu is a new stage for this year, set on gravel paths at a park. It’s a nice change from the twin-car tracks or street stages.
Saturday is the longest day of the rally, containing two thirds of the rally length, spread over five special stages all driven twice.
The rally starts with the longest stage, SS2+7 Prangli, although the length is only barely under 21 km. The stage has remained from last year in its entirety, with a few kilometres of new fast roads and junctions in the beginning.
Where it joins last year’s stage is very fast on a relatively wide road. Roughly 7 km into the stage there’s a jump and a corner which has seen some crashes in the past. After this the stage starts alternating between technical and very fast sections, and the road also changes to narrow and softer or even on tarmac a couple of times. There’s also eight chicanes on this very fast stage.
SS3+8 Kanepi boasts a new stage title, but the first half of this stage was driven in the opposite direction as Aiaste last year.
Right after the start there’s a new detour onto very narrow roads, but apart from the junctions, it’s not technical at all. In fact, most of this stage is very fast, apart from the few junctions and a couple of other tighter corners. After the aforementioned detour there’s actually a long straight with some big jumps. The first and last roads of the stage are narrower than the middle one. The last road is new for this year – a bit softer in surface as well – but not much slower. This could be the fastest stage of the whole rally!
Last year’s Rüa has been renamed as SS4+9 Otepää. It is a very twisty and technical stage, although the beginning is quite fast. There are many artificially enhanced jumps, most of them sideways. In addition to an artificially built slower spectator area, this stage also has a couple of tricky junction turns, making it likely the slowest forest stage of the rally, but surely not the easiest.
Next stage is SS5+10 Mäeküla. The ending of it was driven last year as Arula.
The new start of the stage is angularly fast on a narrow and soft road. A quick passage on a very wide gravel road proceeds onto another fast road, wider than the first one, with occasional technical passages and narrower places. A tarmac junction at makes the road again wider and Finland-like flowing over crests and jumps but soon the stage turns onto a very narrow and rough road. However, it’s again angularly fast with long fast passages between corners. Finally the stage returns onto the previous wide road but now it’s more technical.
Last year the city of Elva hosted a super special, but this year they gave their name to the last forest stage of the Saturday loop, SS6+11 Elva. It’s a completely new stage to the rally. Again the road surface alternates from tarmac to soft and narrow countryside roads, but most of them are very fast, with just many junction turns and a tarmac rallycross track section at the end bringing the pace down.
Sunday is longer than typically. A three-stage loop driven twice results in 84 km of stages. It’s also a pretty long distance to go with a single set of tyres, including the rally-concluding power stage!
The day opens with SS12+15 Arula, which was also run last year. The beginning of the stage is same as last year, from a tarmac start to very fast gravel roads with big jumps. This section also contains the big jump where Evans landed hard last year and injured his back.
The new smaller road at the end is also fast, meaning that this stage could be one of the fastest of the whole rally. It’s also remarkable that a few kilometres in the middle are being shared with Mäeküla from Saturday, being driven four times during the rally.
Next up is SS13+16 Kaagvere. This stage also shares the spectator arena section from Saturday’s Otepää. Other than that the stage is mostly new, only parts of it have last been used in 2016.
The beginning is driven on a bumpy and moderately technical small forest road. After the spectator arena it’s very fast and straight, apart from the junctions and a chicane. However, a few kilometres before the end there is another more technical forest road, this time wider, with big ditches and long bends.
The rally is concluded with SS14+17 Kambja. Essentially this is last year’s opening stage Maaritsa, extended from the end to make it 20 km long.
The first couple of kilometres are technical, but then a wider and faster nicely flowing road begins. The pace is brought down at another spectator-friendly section, before disappearing into narrow forest roads and negotiating through many junctions. The new ending of the stage is pretty straight-forwardly fast.
Road conditions and starting order
The Rally Estonia roads get brushed from loose gravel and sand after a few cars, but also get broken quite fast, especially on the smaller roads. In addition, the second passes will be demanding for the first car because the ruts have been formed by lower class cars with different track width. However, Ott Tänak had no problem winning almost all stages last year being the first car on the road.
The organizers have managed to create an arrangement where the starting order is changed already at the midday service of Saturday, after 73 kilometres of rallying. Thus the second loop of Saturday will have all the WRC crews start in their reversed overall standing at the moment of the service. This is fitting since the length of the event is shorter and having all of Saturday driven in championship order would have been too much.
29.8.2020: Updated stage descriptions as the route was published in WRC+ preview magazine