The 1979 World Rally Championship started with a new paradigm – drivers’ championship on the side of manufacturers’. The championship conquered a new continent, but towards the end of this era the calendar started to be more stable. Meanwhile stage mileages between rest halts, average speeds and spectator numbers seemed to be growing endlessly, until things had to be limited.
Cover image by Alan Burke / Flickr || Additional archive material by Ville Niemonen
|1||Monte Carlo (Monaco)||Tarmac/snow||Sat 20th – Fri 26th Jan||619.00 km|
|2||Swedish Rally||Snow||Fri 16th – Sun 18th Feb||630.00 km|
|3||Rally du Portugal||Gravel/tarmac||Tue 6th – Sun 11th Mar||737.50 km|
|4||Safari (Kenya)||Gravel||Thu 12th – Mon 16th Apr||5031 km*|
|5||Acropolis (Greece)||Gravel/tarmac||Mon 28th – Thu 31st May||1006.50 km|
|6||Rally New Zealand||Gravel/tarmac||Sat 14th – Wed 18th Jul||658.00 km|
|7||1000 Lakes Rally (Finland)||Gravel||Fri 24th – Tue 28th Aug||423.50 km|
|8||Criterium du Quebec (Canada)||Gravel/tarmac||Thu 13th – Sun 16th Sep||503.70 km|
|9||Rally Sanremo (Italy)||Tarmac/gravel||Mon 1st – Sun 7th Oct||962.00 km|
|10||Tour de Corse (France)||Tarmac||Fri 2nd – Sun 4th Nov||1128.90 km|
|11||RAC (UK)||Gravel/tarmac||Sun 18th – Wed 21st Nov||661.48 km|
|12||Bandama Rally (Ivory Coast)||Gravel/tarmac||Sun 9th – Fri 14th Dec||5622 km*|
The World Rally Championship had now 12 events, the highest number since 1973. However, only seven best results counted, and two starts had to be outside Europe. The champion Björn Waldegård drove all events except New Zealand, Sanremo and Tour de Corse, but two of his lowest scores in Safari and RAC were not counted in.
The itinerary of Monte Carlo rally had grown year by year from 18 stages in 1973 to 30 in 1979. Among the newcomers was the legendary Sisteron, which was actually also driven in the opposite direction as La Planas. Another curious detail is the Serre Chevalier stage, where each car did six rounds on a twisty ice circuit.
Tour de Corse increased its stage mileage to a massive 1128 km. It was driven in two overnight loops with only one rest halt in between. The special stages had two types. In addition to normal stages, there were “selective” stages where you had a minimum time, as well as a tight maximum time, which didn’t add penalties but decreased maximum lateness. And reportedly many drivers prepared pace notes for the road sections as well!
The amount of tarmac on the stages of Acropolis had by now decreased to 71 km out of 943 km. The road sections were timed so tightly that no drivers survived through the rally without road penalties. The cars also started at one minute intervals, leading into visibility problems with dust.
The returning Rally New Zealand had now only 658 stage kilometres, less than a third of its 1977 edition. 10% of the route was on tarmac roads. Now the organizers kept their decision not to allow reconnaissance on the stages. They only published the route in between, but it was forbidden to drive through the stages in advance.
The special stages were largely in forests or on forest-type roads and they were of an extremely high quality, far better than many which are used regularly in Europe. The loose, dirt surfaces were often covered by gravel chippings and the tortuous nature of the roads was complemented by high degrees of camber.
There are some tarmac stages, on public roads closed by local authority order, one on a banked oval track with a dirt surface, and several at race circuits, using the circuits themselves and dirt-surfaced inner and outer access roads.– Motorsport Magazine 9/1979
According to Timo Salonen in the Vauhdin Maailma magazine, the stages in New Zealand were very long and twisty. “The straights are rarely over 100 m long” said Salonen, who reportedly drove most of the rally on 2nd and 3rd gears. However, he claimed never needing to shift down from the top gear on a particularly fast 30 km stage. Salonen also complained that the liaison times were so long that he got bored!
The opening stage of New Zealand, Western Springs, was a super special on a velodrome oval trotting track. According to this picture, multiple cars started simultaneously.
The 1000 Lakes Rally experimented with double-run stages for the first time. Five stages were fully repeated (Kuukanpää in both directions), as well as the first part of Ouninpohja was repeated as a part of another stage.
The Quebec Criterium was on the calendar for the last time. Here we can see some footage of it, mostly of the tarmac super special type stages.
Rallye Sanremo became again a mixed surface rally in 1979. The event still started with a day of tarmac stages in the mountain rounds of the Sanremo area, but already by midnight the cars took a long motorway liaison to Tuscany for a leg of gravel stages. There wouldn’t be a rest halt until Tuesday evening, in San Marino. Thus this is yet another WRC event to cross borders of countries.
The rally restarted on Wednesday morning with more gravel stages until Thursday morning, when the cars returned to Sanremo for some tarmac stages and a 24-hour rest halt on Thursday evening. The final tarmac leg of the rally was then contested from Friday night to Saturday morning.
The rally had been forcefully lengthened into a cruise around Italy’s countryside from Monday to Saturday, with a bunch of mini rallies contested on the way.– Vauhdin Maailma 11/1979
The RAC rally itinerary was now made more intense, with the forest stages starting already on the Sunday evening after the day on the park stages. All of Yorkshire, Scotland, Kielder and Lake District were run before the first rest halt on Monday evening, with the rally concluding on a similarly long leg in Wales from Tuesday morning to Wednesday afternoon.
Bandama Rally was renamed as Rally Cote d’Ivoire, and moved to December as the final round of the season. In these years it included a short opening leg which was primarily used to determine a starting order for the first properly long leg. In 1979 this leg was 280 kilometres long, and according to Hannu Mikkola in the Vauhdin Maailma magazine, there was a 100 km section where the target time was impossible to reach and the following penalties would create a ranking for the drivers.
In 1980 still seven best results counted, but there was no more the rule of having to start outside Europe. However, this time the 1000 Lakes Rally of Finland and Swedish Rally were not a part of the manufacturer’s championship.
The Monte Carlo Rally 1980 ended its concentration run at the alpine village of Serre Chevalier. The ice circuit was again used, but this time it was a “prologue” stage, and the result wasn’t counted in the actual rally. However, we can see from the video that it was packed with spectators!
Swedish Rally was based in Karlstad like always, but for the event’s 30th anniversary in 1980 the start was in the country’s capital Stockholm, with the first leg containing five super specials on trotting tracks and racing circuits, as well as long liaisons. Some of the drivers weren’t happy with this solution.
On the following days, most of the forest stages were again run twice like in the previous years. The rally was now shorter than before, having only 413.5 km of stages.
The 1000 Lakes Rally also started adding spectator-friendly stages. In the past years the gravel hill climb of Laajavuori or the sandpit of Seppälänkangas had been enough, but now they included a stage through a rallycross track in Suonenjoki, as well as the WRC debut of Jyväskylä’s own street stage, Harju.
FISA had announced already in 1979 that they would arrange four WRC events outside Europe – one in Africa, one in the Pacific region, one in North America and one in South America. In the end Quebec’s Criterium was no longer suitable for the championship so Africa was allowed two events (with Ivory Coast being favored by the French-heavy FISA). The candidates for South America were Brazil and Argentina, but Brazil’s event in 1979 didn’t convince the authorities so Argentina got the job.
Thus the first ever South American WRC event was Rally Codasur, based in Tucuman, Northern Argentina. The event started with a 1000+ km concentration run, like in Monte Carlo. Like the title underlined, neighboring countries took part in the rally organization. Thus starting points of the concentration run were also located – in addition to Buenos Aires – in Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Chile, although the two last mentioned were canceled because of snowfall.
The actual rally consisted of 14 stages which made up together 1223 kilometres. This means they were long. In fact the only stages to be shorter than 50 km were a twice-run 33 km stage – the only tarmac one – and another 48 km. Many stages were exceeding the 100 km mark with the longest being 159 km long. The average speeds varied greatly, with most stages around 80-100 km/h but some being outrageously fast, like SS13 with its 155 km/h stage win. Reportedly one stage had a straight lasting for 37 kilometres!
Rally New Zealand retained its alternation between the two islands. Thus the 1980 event was set on the South Island, having nothing in common with the two previous editions. Based on this video there has been some deep water splashes as well as partly more rough and straighter roads – almost like in Safari – compared to the twisty and smooth roads of the North island. Also at 44 minutes into the video we can see a confusing motor circuit stage, as well as the rally ending on tarmac roads.
Sanremo had received criticism on their tough route of 1979. Thus it was made now a bit easier by adding another rest halt in Tuscany. At the same time, the rest halt location was moved from San Marino to Sienna, and the following year another of them was moved to Pisa.
This video shows the conditions at the Ivory Coast rally in 1980. At 2:10 we can see very muddy sections, whereas in 4:00 the cars bounce through a village on a road likely damaged by streams of water after heavy rain. Meanwhile, at 6:46 there’s a good example of the dangers of rallying on unclosed roads.
Rally Brazil finally joined the Championship in 1981. A lot of criticism was posed on the how things were organized, as well as the demand for national starters to use alternate fuels – in this case alcohol.
Sadly not much is written in the history books about the Rally Brazil route, other than that it was gravel-surfaced and there was no complaints about the stages themselves. A big issue was that civil traffic too often was let inside the stages. We can see that the average speeds have varied from slow to very fast, so perhaps it has been similar to Codasur.
The Brazil and Codasur rallies were arranged back-to-back with only two weeks between them. Brazil didn’t get the manufacturers championship value, and Sweden similarly kept being only a drivers championship round. However, Finland got back its manufacturers championship status permanently.
Tour de Corse was moved to be run at the end April, like it’s best known. At the same time, all the stages were now shorter than 100 km, although the whole event was still quite extensively long.
RAC Rally also took again its familiar place as the closing round, when they switched order with Ivory Coast. The tarmac stage of Great Orme was again on the itinerary after a year off, but it would take decades until it would return on WRC level.
The itinerary of Rally Portugal had remained virtually unchanged during the last few years. Now the all-paved Sintra leg in Portugal was now again moved to the beginning of the rally. This loop of three stages was driven three times. It was always hugely popular with spectators.
The 1982 Tour de Corse was the longest edition of the event with 1176 km of special stages. However, the extra mileage came through more driving days, since now there were three legs instead of two, and the driving was occurred now only in the daytime.
Argentina was in the middle of a war and economic crisis, so it wasn’t a surprise that the Rally Codasur was canceled. That left Brazil as the sole South American round. Brazil was also awarded manufacturers points status, making Ivory Coast a drivers-only round (along Sweden). However, 1982 would be the last time Rally Brazil was organized.
Rally New Zealand returned to the North island, and has since remained there, making the 1980 South island event a curious one-off. The length of the rally was now again a whopping 1014 km and reconnaissance was fully allowed. Some of the stages were fully or partly paved like before. The route still went between Auckland and Wellington.
In the past, The 1000 Lakes Rally had been based on two overnight legs with a daytime rest halt in between. This time they opted for a more spectator-friendly itinerary with the rest halt being moved onto the first night. While this resulted in more daytime driving, it also meant that the second leg of the rally lasted for more than 24 hours with only two breaks of a few hours! Another curious detail on this edition is that Ouninpohja was driven a total of three times.
The Greystoke stage was run for the last time on WRC level in the 1982 RAC Rally. Today it serves as M-Sport’s testing road.
The Vauhdin Maailma magazine reports The Swedish Rally 1983 having very little snow. Especially the most Southern stages had started exposing gravel already during the recce. The situation was so bad that Michele Mouton asked the organizers to move the event higher North than Karlstad. As we know, it never happened, but the request would be repeated some decades later.
For years, Häljebyn – Stömne had been the longest stage of Swedish Rally with lengths above and below 50 km. However, for this year the longest stage was Klarälven, with 47 km of length and Mouton’s stage win equaling average speed of 135 km/h!
Argentina returned for 1983, now titled simply Rally Argentina. However, it’s not yet the event we’ve accustomed to knowing. Instead it was run further in South, based at the ski resort of San Carlos de Bariloche. The ceremonial start was in Buenos Aires with the first leg taking the crews to Neuquen and then to Bariloche.
The event is well known for its high speeds, especially SS1 where Stig Blomqvist ran 81.50 km at average speed of 189 km/h! We can only assume the road was very straight. 10 of the 18 stages were faster than 130 km/h, whereas six stages clocked average speeds less than 100 km/h. However, this had more to do with surprisingly snowy conditions high up in the Andes, with no studded tyres allowed.
The first string of stages after the concentration run on Rally Monte Carlo in 1984 wouldn’t take the cars to Monaco anymore. Instead, the concentration run ended on Monday in Aix-le-Bains and the first rest halt after five special stages was on Tuesday morning at the holiday complex of Grospierres, near Aubenais. The next rest halt was in Gap on Tuesday evening with the cars finally arriving to Monaco for the Wednesday night. A curious detail is that the two first stages on Wednesday morning were cancelled while the crews were still sleeping, and some of them never found out until they were ready to start the day, now two hours too early!
Monte Carlo 1984 @ rally-maps.com
The Swedish Rally had now 11 new stages, meaning a lot of work for the drivers during the two-week reconnaissanse. One of the new stages was Vassjön, driven on a frozen lake in the town of Torsby.
For the first time ever in the history of World Rally Championship, the season calendar was exactly the same as the year before. However, Rally Argentina was arranged in yet another location, resorting to the now-familiar Cordoba area with more technical roads and lower altitudes void of snow. The route included many classics such as Las Bajadas – Villa del Dique, Mina Clavero and El Condor (driven in longer format under the title La Posta).
Rally New Zealand didn’t have anymore stages driven overnight. The route was now based in Auckland with occasional remote night stops in Rotorua and each leg going to a different area. They had also added a super special into its itinerary, the street stage of Manukau City. It can be seen here at 15:06
The 1984 Sanremo rally introduced the Chiusdino stage, with its iconic hairpin through the town, at 0:15 into the video. This is a good example of the gravel stages in Tuscany, most of them had also tarmac sections, to be contested on gravel tyres and suspension, making up a true mixed surface rally.
The cars were developing rapidly, but as a contrast the calendar remained unchanged for a third year in a row. As if to underline it, most events also changed their routes only slightly. One small change was that now eight best results counted for the manufacturers championship (still seven for drivers), and only Ivory Coast was a drivers-only round.
Rally Monte Carlo now started with a television-friendly 2 km stage. However, it wasn’t a super special per se, just a short normal stage.
The duration of the rally was extended by two days. Now the rally lasted from Sunday to Friday. However, there was a 20-hour rest halt before the last double-loop over Turini, but the stage mileage increased from 753 to 851 km.
The Swedish Rally got its manufacturers points status back after four years of break in between. They also added a new stage called Lövåsen, which would later be known in a different format as Vargåsen.
The average speeds of all events were increasing with the new cars. In 1984 The Safari Rally exceeded 100 km/h for the first time, and in 1985 it was just barely under it (although the measurement through the time controls and penalties is a bit different to normal rallies).
One curious detail about the Safari rally was that the entry list was always pulled from a hat. In most rallies, the previous year’s winner got number one. In Safari it probably made a difference, because the first car was typically able to drive dust-free.
Acropolis’s iconic Meteora stage had been paved for 1985. It resulted still in quite spectacular driving, seen here at 4:14. However, it would be the last time the stage was used in the WRC.
During these years Rally Acropolis might have had a tight schedule with road penalties being common, but there was a 20 hour break before the final night loop on the Peloponnesian peninsula. Furthermore, the drivers were transported back to Athens with their cars on a ferry, to avoid getting road penalties from traffic jams.
The length of RAC Rally was increased up to 896 kilometres in 65 special stages. The schedule was gruelling, and the five-day rally had only one proper rest halt. The drivers were saying it’s getting dangerous to drive so tired.
The 1986 calendar remained similar, but there was a new addition – The Olympus Rally would take WRC back to North America after six years off the continent. However, it didn’t qualify for the manufacturers championship. Again the gravel stages in North America resembled the RAC Rally, particularly the Scottish stages. Most of the stages were driven twice, and there was a super special at the town of Aberdeen.
Curiosities of the 1986 season include Tour de Corse arranging almost exactly the same route as the year before. In addition, 1000 Lakes Rally added a remote night break in the city of Tampere. It’s the last time 1000 Lakes Rally has had a night break elsewhere than Jyväskylä.
It’s also remarkable that Markku Alen started all events except Ivory Coast. It’s likely a record of WRC starts in a season in these times, when reconnaissance for an event took weeks.
However, all this didn’t really matter much alongside the dramatic events in 1986. We could say it was a cathartic year in WRC. The cars were now so fast that it was not sensible anymore to drive long endurance events on them. The increasing popularity of the sport had grown against itself with too many people standing too close to the road. Something simply had to be done.
Rallying would be different from 1987 onwards, but not just because of a different main class of the cars. The routes would get their share of changes, already midway through 1986. More about that on the next episode!
UPDATE 17.9.2021: Added NZ 1979 SS1 information