The 2021 FIA Sporting Regulations for WRC were published. There’s a couple of new rules related to special stages. Let’s take a closer look at them.
10.1.5 NUMBER OF SPECIAL STAGES BETWEEN SERVICES
The construction of any itinerary that contains any more than 4 special stages (under the exclusion of a super special stage, if any) between two services is subject to FIA and WRC Promoter’s written approval.
We’re accustomed to seeing loops of 5-6 stages in Rally Finland in the last few years. Often they add a single-run stage in the mix and/or split the day into two sub-loops of three stages, resulting in something different than the usual 2×4 structure.
In fact, the organizers of Rally Finland already said in an interview with YLE Ralliradio, that they cannot reuse their abandoned 2020 route, because of regulations will change for 2021. We can only assume it was this rule in question, and possibly verify our assumption when the 2021 route is published.
However, Finland is not the only country to deviate from the default 2×4 structure. Rally Estonia 2020 crammed its route into two days, engaging two 5-stage loops on Saturday and 6 stages on Sunday. In fact, 5-6 stages on Sunday has happened sometimes in other rallies as well, such as Portugal or Catalunya.
It’s good to remember that limiting the number of stages between services doesn’t reduce the endurance element or change the overall lengths of the rallies. It’s just that the length variance of special stages will be narrower. It’s interesting though, since we’ve observed earlier that marathon stages have disappeared as well. Now it seems that a special stage is always 10-25 km long.
Influence of WRC+ All Live
It seems quite obvious that this new rule has come from the WRC+ All Live television service. Broadcasting three stages of 20 km of length takes less time than broadcasting six stages of 10 km of length, although they make the same total length. On long stages there will be more cars on the stage simultaneously, resulting in less air time.
In fact, the next new rule is likely related to the same factor:
10.1.4 SPECIAL STAGE OVERLAP
The choice and timing of the special stages must be such that there is no overlap of at least the first 15 cars on any special stage before the start of the next special stage at normal intervals.
41.3.1 P1 drivers on the start list and on the re-start lists will have an interval between their start times of at least 3 minutes.
41.3.2 P2, P3, P4, RGT and all other cars will start with an interval of at least 1 minute.
Basically we can do the math easily: if there is 15 WRC cars on the start list, it takes at least 42 minutes for them all to start. If there is 10 WRC cars, it will take 27 minutes and then further 5 minutes for the next P2 cars to get onto the stage, fulfilling the first 15 car rule. It’s another thing whether the rule defines that the 15 cars should also get to finish the stage before the next starts.
If we look again at Rally Finland 2020, the stages Kakaristo and Arvaja were geographically very close to each other. The start times were a mere 38 minutes away from each other, meaning that the stages would have been run very overlappingly. We can find other examples of this as well, like Wales 2017 where Gartheiniog and Dyfi started only 29 minutes from each other.
Overlapping is difficult for WRC+ All Live, when they have to cut the previous stage or not show the beginning of the following one. There’s also practical restrictions like the transmitter aeroplane which needs to refuel, or the voiceover people, who need to have a break every once in a while. These factors also are related to the four-stage-rule.
All in all, these new regulations won’t affect most of the rallies. If anything, it should make the experience for the WRC+ All Live viewer more pleasant. But for a route enthusiast, it is sad news since the itineraries of rallies will become duller and more similar with each other. It’s also interesting to see a media affecting its target, but I guess this happens elsewhere as well.