2020 WRC Season Review

The 2020 season became exceptional in many ways. Many rallies were cancelled, leading in the championship having only half of the rallies it was planned to have. The routes were also shortened for various reasons. Meanwhike, two events made their WRC debuts.

Cover image by Richard Simpson (C)

Calendar shuffle

It feels unnecessary to explain why the 2020 calendar was torn apart in the spring and then rebuilt piece by piece after summer. Basically you could say there were 17 events, but 10 of them got cancelled. Out of the original calendar Chile was the first to go already early into the year, due to an unstable political situation. Later in the year Argentina, Portugal, Safari, Finland, New Zealand, Deutschland, Wales and Japan were cancelled due to the restrictions and bad situations caused by COVID-19.

Meanwhile, five new events were planned to replace the cancelled events: Rally Liepaja in Latvia, Rally Estonia, Ypres Rally in Belgium, Rally Monza in Italy and a new round in Croatia. Out of these Liepaja and Croatia never even got onto the calendar, and Ypres was finally cancelled once the second wave of COVID-19 struck Belgium. However, Estonia and Monza were run successfully.

The dates of rallies were also shuffled during the season, Sardegna cancelled its initial run in June. At first the event was moved to November, but placed again into earlier October.

Shortened events

In addition to canceling ten rallies, the last day of Rally Mexico was also canceled due to COVID-19, as the pandemic really started to spread during the weekend, and it was necessary to end the event earlier.

As if this was not enough, before the pandemic, Rally Sweden was struck badly with a warm winter, leading into half of the itinerary being dropped out. FIA took this as a force majeure and awarded full points from the shortened itinerary, which became the shortest WRC round ever, with only 169 stage kilometres, and even out of that one 21 km stage had to be canceled! See here how it looked like on the snowless shakedown stage

Once rallies started organizing again in the summer, shorter itineraries were allowed to use in order to get just something going. All of Estonia, Turkey, Sardegna and Monza run with less kilometres, sometimes having shorter days or sometimes less days. They are the four next-shortest WRC events in the history of the series after the aforementioned Sweden, with stage mileages ranging from 221 to 241 km.

The Fast Ones

The 2020 season had two distinctively fast rallies. Sweden was faster than usual thanks to the lack of snow banks and high grip on the snowless gravel roads on studded tyres. The event’s overall average speed was as high as 124 km/h, which is the fourth-fastest WRC event ever contested. Only the Rally Finlands from 2015 to 2017 have been faster.

The fastest stage in Sweden and the whole season was Hof-Finnskog, driven twice with average speeds of 131 and 135 km/h. However, the second-fastest stage comes from Estonia in the form of Arula, driven at 128 km/h on both runs.

Rally Estonia made its route deliberately slower. Image by Tapio Lehtonen (C)

Thanks chicanes and half of the roads being narrow and soft, Rally Estonia wouldn’t reach the overall pace of Sweden and Finland. Thus Rally Estonia winner’s average speed was 116 km/h, something that we’re used to seeing in Rally Poland.

The slow ones

The rest of the rallies could be described as slow. Turkey was again the slowest one with 81 km/h of overall average speed, but all of Monza, Sardegna and Mexico finished at between 85 and 89 km/h.

The slowest stage of the season was Street Stage Leon in Mexico, with 57 km/h of average speed. The slowest non-super special was the new and tricky Tempio Pausania in Sardegna with the stage winner Teemu Suninen making it through at 72 km/h on the first run, seen also here on the video.

By the length

Way before we knew about COVID-19 and the warm Sweden winter shortening the season, Mexico introduced their route, featuring the shortest ever WRC stage, the aforementioned Street Stage Leon, with only 730 m of length! Another interesting feature on it was a free-form donut to be performed in one of the junctions, without a barrel in the middle!

Even before this season, the trend has been to have less marathon stages. This year there were only four stages over 30 km in length, three of them driven twice. The longest of them was Turkey’s Cetibeli, and also one of the most difficult ones, as almost all WRC crews suffered punctures.

However, no stages with over 40 km length were driven. This was the first time since 1987, when all stages over 30 km in length were forbidden.

In terms of whole rally length, Mexico and Monte Carlo were the only normal ones, with Mexico being the longest of the season with 324 stage kilometres. All the rest were shortened and run at under 250 km of stage milage.

Exceptional itineraries

You could say that most of the the rallies had a somewhat exceptional itinerary, sometimes for the exceptional circumstances, sometimes for their own characteristics. Here’s an attempt to sum it together.

Monte Carlo retained having its own way of opening the rally on two night stages, both stages driven only once during the event. It also was the only rally to have two bases, as the rally started and finished in Monaco, but the service park was in Gap.

Night stages were run in Monte Carlo. Image by Nico Quatrevingtsix / Flickr

In Sweden, the reduced itinerary meant that three forest and one super special was run on Friday, but only once, and the exact same stages were run on Saturday as well, instead of the canceled more Southern stages.

Mexico again had its own quirks like having a double run of the opening street stage, four runs of the twin-car super special and three other super specials run only once. They also had three single-run stages on Sunday, but each of them shared a bit of road with the previous days, making parts of the stages run for the third time.

Rally Estonia and Rally Turkey chose to use a one day shorter itinerary format. This meant that the shakedown was arranged on Friday morning, and the rally started on the Friday evening. However, in Estonia, only a super special was run on Friday evening, making the program resemble a normal Thursday. In Turkey, the Thursday evening contained two normal stages.

To cope with the shorter itinerary of Rally Estonia, the starting order was adjusted during the Saturday midday service. However, unlike some media sources claim, this wasn’t done in Turkey. Instead, the two Friday stages determined the starting order for the whole of Friday.

The two rounds in Italy used the normal itinerary base of having the shakedown on Thursday (and the opening super special on Thursday evening in Monza), but just with reduced kilometres. Sardegna used an interesting solution where Friday and Saturday mornings had a pair of stages driven twice within the loop, whereas a third pair of stages were driven once during both afternoons. It’s quite rare to see a stage being repeated on separate days in today’s WRC.

Meanwhile, Monza was exceptional by having most of Thursday, Friday and Sunday on the same roads in the Monza circuit area, and only Saturday in Lombardy. See here how the Monza area stages looked like

Canceled stages

In addition to many COVID-19-canceled events, the full Sunday in Mexico, or the shortened itinerary of Sweden, there were also occasions where a stage had to be canceled for normal rally reasons.

Like mentioned, the first run of Likenäs of the already-shortened Sweden itinerary was canceled, in order to preserve the road for the power stage in the ever warming weather. Meanwhile, in Mexico things also got hot as Esapekka Lappi’s Ford Fiesta caught fire at the end of El Chocolate, occupying the fire engines of the following stage Ortega, resulting in the cancellation of the latter.

Conversely, the heavy snowfall was a surprise in the Saturday mountain stages of Monza Rally. This resulted in canceling of the second run of Costa Valle Imagna. Already before the second run of Selvino was red flagged after Gus Greensmith and Ole Christian Veiby crashed their cars, the latter blocking the road. Only one car managed to get through the stage before it was red flagged, so the whole run was canceled instead of notional times being calculated.

The year in It Gets Faster Now!

The exceptional year led into writing some historical articles, like the RAC 1985 or Tour de Corse route history. Also the article about having shorter itineraries in WRC events was almost prophetical, since Estonia and Turkey basically used the format I suggested and Ypres was planning the same.

Judging by the stats, the most popular articles were as follows:

  1. Route Preview: Rally Sweden 2020
  2. Route Preview: Rally Monte Carlo 2020
  3. Rally Sweden Route Altered
  4. Route Preview: Monza Rally 2020
  5. Route Preview: Rally Estonia 2020

Thanks to all readers!

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