After the tragic accidents in Tour de Corse 1986 a lot of changes were imposed quickly. Many of them concerned the routes of the rallies and would change permanently. Some alternate ways were also created to let the big audiences follow the sport safely.
Cover image by estoril, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons || Additional archive material by Ville Niemonen
Here’s a list of changes from FISA’s rally committee meeting on the 14th May 1986
- Special stage fastest time maximum average speed cannot be higher than 110 km/h with a tolerance of 10 % (actual maximum 121 km/h)
- The competitive distance of the rally cannot be more than 600 km, with a tolerance of 5% (actual maximum 630 km)
- A special stage cannot be longer than 30 km
- The rest halt between two sections must be at least nine hours (previously six hours)
- A road section cannot have a higher target average speed than 70 km/h
These changes were imposed immediately, so for example the 1986 1000 Lakes Rally had its fastest stages removed. Similarly not even RAC Rally had any stages starting after 19:00, as all nights had a proper rest halt instead.
All rallies of the latter half of 1986 shortened their distance. For example Argentina, New Zealand and Acropolis had been 800-900 km long in 1985, but under 600 km in 1986. 1000 Lakes was shortened from 458 to 389 km with a whole night leg removed from the route. Acropolis was run so soon after the meeting that they simply had to cancel a number of stages.
|1||Monte Carlo (Monaco)||Tarmac/snow||Sat 17th – Thu 22nd Jan||593.45 km|
|2||Swedish Rally||Snow||Fri 13th – Sat 14th Feb||402.32 km|
|3||Rally du Portugal||Gravel/tarmac||Wed 11th – Sat 14th Mar||603.50 km|
|4||Safari (Kenya)||Gravel||Thu 16th – Mon 20th Apr||1542.35 km*|
|5||Tour de Corse (France)||Tarmac||Thu 7th – Sat 9th May||618.20 km|
|6||Acropolis (Greece)||Gravel||Sun 31st May – Wed 3rd Jun||553.00 km|
|7||Olympus Rally (USA)||Gravel||Fri 26th – Mon 29th Jun||539.20 km|
|8||Rally New Zealand||Gravel/tarmac||Sat 11th – Tue 14th Jul||590.34 km|
|9||Rally Argentina||Gravel||Tue 4th – Sat 8th Aug||596.54 km|
|10||1000 Lakes Rally (Finland)||Gravel||Thu 27th – Sun 30th Aug||509.48 km|
|11||Rally Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)||Gravel||Tue 22nd – Sat 26th Sep||1074.01 km*|
|12||Rally Sanremo||Tarmac/gravel||Mon 12th – Thu 15th Oct||530.21 km|
|13||RAC Rally (UK)||Gravel/tarmac||Sun 22nd – Wed 25th Nov||513.29 km|
The calendar itself remained unchanged. The only difference was Olympus being moved to the middle of the season. The eight best results counted for drivers and seven best for manufacturers, with both having a requirement to start one rally outside Europe. New Zealand and Ivory Coast weren’t a part of the manufacturers’ championship.
Monte Carlo started again with a short “super special”. This time they used the hill climb of Alpe d’Huez, which is actually familiar from Tour de France.
The structure of the rally was very similar to 1986, which already had good rest halts anyway, but now the last night run was omitted, meaning there was only one final loop over Turini. All stages were run only once.
The 1987 Swedish Rally was contested in just two days, Friday and Saturday. Both days had a loop revolving on the same areas, but using mostly different stages. The Vassjön stage, on a frozen lake in Torsby, was cancelled. Meanwhile, the Färjestad super special stage used now mostly service roads behind the trotting track instead of the track itself.
Rally Portugal decided to cut off its troublesome Sintra area tarmac stages for good. Instead the rally started now with a very fast 13 km tarmac stage in the Estoril circuit, with the spectators safely far from the cars. In addition, one leg of gravel stages in the North end of the country was cut off. Other than that the route was very similar to 1986, with each night break in different cities. Another interesting addition was a 13 km run on a rallycross track in Braga
The route of Safari was somewhat changed by new regulations. Now 20 of the 83 sections were “competitive”, making up 1542 km. Together with road sections the whole route was 4011 km long.
[FISA] must have found such an exception to their precious rules difficult to accept, for the demand went out from Paris to Nairobi that the various sections of the 1987 route should be designated “competitive” or otherwise, and that the total distance of competitive sections be no more than the total special stage distance allowed on other rallies. Furthermore, such competitive sections had to be timed in seconds, not minutes, a completely needless complication which only hindered the organisers. It transpired that seconds were of no eventual significance.– Motorsport Magazine 6/1987
The organisers conformed by designating sections C (competitive), R (road) or S (service), which brought the route within the illogical margins created by FISA. Dictatorial honour was satisfied, but any inexperienced observers who assumed (as many did) that those letters were anything but token descriptions were just being gullible. “Service” sections were on tarmac
Rest stops were quite another matter, and the organisers were forced to punctuate the route with far too many of them. Divided into two legs by a substantial overnight stop at Nairobi, the route was further divided by four more in the first leg and one in the second, providing some 50 hours rest in a rally spanning 90 hours in total.
“More stop than go” was how one veteran described it, complaining that the enforced stops interrupted his rhythm when he would have preferred to have pressed on, although there were some who openly welcomed the ample sleeping time each night.
Tour de Corse retained its three-leg structure, with the start and finish in Ajaccio, via rest halts in Bastia and Calvi. The route was simply shortened from many places, since many stages were way over 30 km long before the new rules. However, the shortest 1987 stage was 18.4 km long. The stages where Bettega and Toivonen had crashed fatally were still kept on the itinerary.
Acropolis was mostly similar to the previous year, but now the all tarmac stages were omitted from the route. In addition, the final rough leg on the Peloponnesian peninsula, as well as the longest stages had been removed already in 1986, although in trade the 30 km Tarzan stage was brought back.
Now the rally started with a twisty and bumpy dirt-surfaced Anavissos super special which was the only stage of Sunday. The rally started properly on Monday with a leg of stages revolving on the hills around Athens.
“Subspecial” would be a more appropriate name for some of these preliminary tests, for most are artificially created on large fields or waste ground and are certainly unpopular among competitors.– Motorsport Magazine 7/1991
Judge yourself, the Anavissos stage can be seen here at 4:00
All of Olympus, New Zealand and Argentina stretched their rallies to four days instead of three, in order to give more rest halts to the drivers. Most of the stages were same from the past years. Even the Argentinian stage where Vatanen crashed in 1985 was included.
The route of 1000 Lakes Rally was probably the one to change most drastically. FISA had threatened to remove its WRC value if they exceed the stage win average speed limit (like in 1986) so the organizers wanted to make sure it wouldn’t happen.
Stages were taken onto small roads with detours into houseyards. Even chicanes were used to slow the crews down. The target was achieved, but not much praise was given from anyone. It almost seemed like the organizers forgot that the cars had been downgraded as well. In the end FISA questioned again whether a rally run on tractor tracks should keep its WRC value or not.
The futility of FISA’s alleged quest for safety and the absence of logic from their argument can best be demonstrated by a stage on which the overall average speed is reduced from an estimated 80 mph to an estimated 70 mph by the introduction of two slow deviations through farmyards. The overall average may have been reduced, but on sections outside those farmyards cars’ speeds can still be as high as 100 mph in both cases.– Motorsport Magazine 10/1987
The soft roads were cutting up so badly that the going was indeed difficult for the late runners, especially those in Group N cars.
Like the three previous events, 1000 Lakes Rally also extended its route to four days, starting on Thursday and finishing on Sunday. However, most of the Thursday leg was driven in dark. There was a high number of slow super specials as well, although the total stage count of 52 by itself was massive!
Sanremo added new tarmac stages near Genoa. As they were situated halfway between Sanremo and Tuscany, it cut the long liaison in half, at least when returning to Sanremo.
The RAC Rally seemed to retain its overall length and duration from Sunday to Wednesday. However, the leg to Glasgow was dropped, as were the Southernmost Welsh stages near Cardiff.
However, a new thing was that now all the Sunday spectator stages were allowed reconnaissance. The forest stages were still run blind as before, with just maps, road books and by memory.
The 1988 WRC Calendar was identical to 1987. However, some of the new rules were already refined:
- The length limits of 600 km for whole rally and 30 km per stage will remain, but it’s possible to apply for a waiver to arrange longer stages
- The average speed limit of a special stage win is increased to 120 km/h
Night stages made a return on the final leg of Monte Carlo. However, there was a 20 hour rest halt from Tuesday evening to Wednesday afternoon, after which the competitors set out for two loops of stages over Turini, the latter in the darkness of the small hours.
Monte Carlo had also requested for three longer stages with Burzet clocking in at 45 km and two other stages 37 km. These would remain the three longest stages of the whole season.
Rally Sweden returned back to a three-day itinerary. According to Vauhdin Maailma, FISA had notified the organizers that although the rallies should not be longer than 600 km, they should not be much shorter either!
The endurance rallies Safari and Ivory Coast added short sections of special stages into their routes in 1988. Motorsport Magazine described this change “idiotic”. Both rallies had four special stages on closed roads making up 50 km. However, two of the Safari stages were cancelled due to bad weather damaging the roads.
Finland advanced from the adjusted average speed rule. Its route was again more natural and flowing, and less car-breaking. However, in contrast to the previous years, the stages were now longer, often combining various types of roads. The event also compacted itself again to three long days to make up around 500 stage kilometres. The use of stage repeats was also dropped, possibly due to very long entry lists.
Sanremo dropped the Genoa area tarmac stages but went instead North towards Turin for a twice-run loop of tarmac stages right near the beginning of the rally. However, the Tuscany leg was still retained as well, meaning there were three long liaisons within the rally. The traffic jams in Turin were also especially bad, according to Motorsport Magazine.
When the RAC Rally entered Yorkshire on its final day, the stages were set in a loop which was repeated. This was a quite new method for the event which was well known for traveling through the country and only occasionally crossing its own route on the way.
Super specials in 1988
Another rule was imposed by FISA for 1988
Every WRC round must have a “super special stage” to be approved by FISA. The length should be 3-5 km and have two or more laps if driven on a circuit.
The super special rule was implemented in many different ways by each rally. Monte Carlo and Tour de Corse simply used a short bit of a normal stage.
Portugal modified its Estoril stage to include gravel sections inside the circuit. The cars started the stage within 10 second intervals, creating some rallycross elements and a big spectacle for the spectators.
Another special rule for this stage was that in case of a retirement the driver was still allowed to continue the rally with the maximum time of 15 minutes and 5 minutes penalty of having to use towing help. In a way, this is the earliest example of “super rally”.
Acropolis used the same super special stage they introduced already in 1987. Argentina started from Buenos Aires with a trotting track stage spiced with jumps and water splashes. The rally also arranged a short stage in the town of Tanti.
Sanremo’s super special was a part of the new Turin leg. However, a gravel stage inside a trotting track in the middle of a tarmac loop didn’t seem like a good idea.
Sweden, 1000 Lakes, New Zealand and RAC were probably the only events who were already experts at arranging super specials. The Swedish Rally started with the staple I2 military range stage. One stage was again arranged on lake ice and Färjestad was run similarly to last year, now completely without the trotting track part. Meanwhile, New Zealand had up to eight super specials on its route! 1000 Lakes Rally started again with the gravel hill climb of Laajavuori, but in addition there were mixed surface city stages on all of the three legs.
Even Safari and Ivory Coast arranged their own super specials as parts of their special stage routes. However, Safari had to cancel theirs on the Ngong Racecourse due to rain damaging the route, while footage doesn’t seem to exist from Ivory Coast.
Finally, like normally, RAC had a total of ten park stages, with eight of them making up the whole Leg 1. Snowy conditions made them relatively difficult to drive.
These two years were quite turbulent in terms of the rules and routes. However, as in the Group B era, the next following years would be quite stable, as speed of the cars progressed rapidly ahead of more changes to come.
UPDATED 22.3.2021 added Estoril 1988 stage layout
UPDATED 27.3.2021 corrected that RAC spectator stages were allowed reconnaissance already in 1987