During the early 90’s the speed of the cars started growing again, alongside the popularity of the series. Some of the earlier limitations were lifted one by one, and when events couldn’t be made longer by the total distance, endurance aspect was brought in via longer stages. Two new events also made their debut in the series during this era.
Cover image by Moyano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons || Additional archive material by Ville Niemonen
|1||Swedish Rally||Snow||Fri 6th – Sun 8th Jan||504.41 km|
|2||Monte Carlo (Monaco)||Tarmac/snow||Sat 21st – Thu 26th Jan||613.25 km|
|3||Rally du Portugal||Gravel/tarmac||Tue 28th Feb – Sat 4th Mar||593.60 km|
|4||Safari (Kenya)||Gravel||Thu 23rd – Mon 27th Mar||4538 km*|
|5||Tour de Corse (France)||Tarmac||Sun 23rd – Wed 26th Apr||629.01 km|
|6||Acropolis (Greece)||Gravel||Sat 27th May – Thu 1st Jun||589.51 km|
|7||Rally New Zealand||Gravel/tarmac||Sat 15th – Tue 18th Jul||595.00 km|
|8||Rally Argentina||Gravel||Tue 1st – Sat 5th Aug||598.57 km|
|9||1000 Lakes Rally (Finland)||Gravel||Fri 25th – Sun 27th Aug||507.83 km|
|10||Rally Australia||Gravel||Thu 14th – Sun 17th Sep||544.27 km|
|11||Rally Sanremo||Tarmac/gravel||Sun 8th – Thu 12th Oct||544.20 km|
|12||Rally Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)||Gravel||Sun 29th Oct – Thu 2nd Nov||3528 km*|
|13||RAC Rally (UK)||Gravel||Sun 19th – Thu 23rd Nov||603.57 km|
The 1989 season started exceptionally with the Swedish Rally. There was only two weeks between Sweden and Monte, so most teams chose to skip the former in order to prepare for the latter. Apparently Sweden had tried to please FISA by agreeing to their demand of changing the order of the events, hoping to get the manufacturer’s championship status back, but in vain. Thus there were now three drivers-only rounds (also New Zealand and Ivory Coast).
North America was again left without its own round when the Olympus Rally was off the calendar, possibly due to low entry lists. Instead, the series had a new event – for the first time since Brazil in 1981 – when Rally Australia was made a part of the championship.
The event, based in Perth, introduced a new challenge through slippery gravel roads with no ditches between them and the trees. There was also plenty of bumps and jumps, the most famous of them in the forest of Bunnings, which always served the rally a quartet of stages.
Unlike many forest roads which have a constant character and have bends which follow each other in a near-rhythmic, predictable manner, the dirt tracks used by this event are almost beyond categorisation. The bends vary in style, camber, width, severity, gradient and surface, and they are strung together as though they were designed and built not by a single engineer but by a large committee.– Motorsport Magazine 10/1991
The surfaces are treacherous, to say the least. One bend can be fairly abrasive and provide reasonable grip, whilst the next can be covered in “marbles”, small clippings which provide the surface with as much grip as wet murram in Kenya or a snowy track in Sweden.
One futuristic character of Rally Australia was also the opening super special, which used a reversed starting order as the only stage of the day. The stage itself was a weird mix of high-speed oval trotting track as well as tight and narrow turns on service roads.
Rally Sanremo changed its route for the third year in succession. In addition to a new opening dirt super special at Sanremo, now the Turin leg was dropped. However, they went again further East on the gravel stages, partly on same stages as on the exhausting 1979 route. On the way back to Sanremo, a tarmac super special was contested in Genoa. It was the only stage of the day, but the last tarmac leg would start just after midnight, so rest was much needed. The Genoa super special can be seen here at 27:25.
In 1990 Monte Carlo opened the season again like traditionally. The concentration run now ended in Monaco, to increase the presence of the rally at the principality while celebrating the 100th anniversary of Automobile Club de Monaco. The rally started properly on Sunday morning and the first stage was a short climb onto Col de Turini, tailored for television.
The winters in Värmland had been warm in many occasions, but in 1990 the situation was so bad that the organizers of Rally Sweden decided to cancel their event. Thus the calendar was one event shorter and completely void of a snow rally.
Rally Portugal replaced the rally-opening Estoril stage with a similar artificial dirt track as in Acropolis. It was situated inside the Jamor stadium in Lisbon.
Here we can see the opening super special of Safari at the Ngong Raceource. The route became quickly very muddy, and the first car on the road had a considerable advantage – not that those seconds mattered for the actual competition!
Rally Acropolis had planned to arrange one tarmac stage, the first one in four years. However, the stage got cancelled and the event remained full gravel.
The 1000 Lakes Rally extended itself to four days, but the stages were still set largely in the same regions as before. The 1990 edition is also the longest that the rally has ever arranged with WRC value with 527 stage kilometers. The average speed of the fastest stage Vesala was almost 129 km/h and the overall winner’s average speed at 112 km/h, already higher than in the Group B years.
Rally Sanremo updated its schedule by adding night stages to both the first and last legs of the rally. The opening dirt super special was contested at Sunday noon with the first tarmac stages starting after midnight. By Monday morning, the long liaison to Tuscany was behind and the cars were on gravel setups. After six more gravel stages the drivers set out for a rest halt in the afternoon, at Arezzo. Having spent whole Tuesday and Wednesday morning driving gravel stages in Eastern Tuscany, the drivers returned to Sanremo, resting the Wednesday evening while waiting for the final night stages starting again after midnight.
A big page in history was turned in 1990 when the all the stages of the RAC Rally were allowed to be practiced. As Motorsport Magazine mentioned, the decision was pushed from FISA and some competitors, but the biggest obstacle was the Forestry Commission, who finally agreed to allow a limited period of reconnaissance over its forestry roads.
The use of pace notes made driving faster on many stages. In the past you couldn’t go flat out over blind crests with just a straight behind unless you had memorized the stage from earlier rallies. Here’s Juha Kankkunen’s thoughts on the subject, just before he crashed out himself:
There’s maybe less crashes but driving faster on pace notes is really tough for the cars. Some Kielder stages are a bit too fast on pace notes, otherwise the stages are nice and the roads are OK. The more twisty roads in Wales (sic) are nice, but in Kielder you have a few straights which last for a kilometer, a 90° turn and another kilometer long straight.– Juha Kankkunen, 1990
Whether it had anything to do with the introduction of reconnaissance or not, Wales was omitted completely from the 1990 RAC Rally. Instead more stages were driven in Yorkshire and Scotland. This was also the last time the ever popular Wykeham stage featured on WRC level, and the roads have later suffered from a landslide, becoming permanently unusable. The stage is seen briefly on this onboard at 8:25
Rallye Monte-Carlo 1991 @ rally-maps.com
Rally Sweden was back on the calendar with a revised route. Now the route was moved higher North, and for example the stages West of Karlstad were omitted completely. Some new stages not used since the sixties were brought in, and there was also a remote night break in Falun. This change was made in hope of ensuring better winter conditions, although the winter was anyway colder than in years.
Rally Portugal introduced a new exciting type of stage – the twin car super special at Lousada. The format was familiar from special events such as the Race of Champions or Memorial Bettega, but this was the first time it was used on a WRC event. It’s shown here at 3:47.
Rally Acropolis omitted now all the stages in the proximity of Athens. Instead it had its opening leg go to the Peloponnesian peninsula for the first time since 1985. Subsequently, a ferry ride was used to cross the Gulf of Corinth to Itea for the first night break and then back to stages familiar from the year before. Two more night breaks were held in Eratini. Tuesday was exceptionally tough with over 260 km of stage kilometres spread over 22 stages within 12 hours!
The 1991 Rally New Zealand introduced the Whaanga Coast stage, a twisty mountainside stage in stunning sea scenery. We can see it here at 3:20.
Rally Australia had four new tarmac super specials, two of them driven twice. The first one was the only stage of the opening day and it was again televised with reversed starting order.
Sanremo started now already on Sunday morning with the dreadful super special. Two nearby tarmac stages were tackled in the evening and a long liaison Eastwards for a new set of tarmac stages near La Spezia in the small hours. The switch to gravel setup happened in the morning, before the rest halt in Monday noon, but the rally wouldn’t proceed until Tuesday morning. Like before, the rally concluded with a loop of Sanremo area tarmac stages in the darkness.
The 1991 Ivory Coast started with a 7 km super special, but it was the only special stage of the rally. The route of the event was reported to be in very bad condition already during the recce.
The series grew to 14 events through the addition of Spain’s Rally Catalunya, based in Lloret de Mar near Barcelona. The two first legs were driven on smooth tarmac, the two latter on technical gravel roads. The combination of the surfaces was similar to Sanremo, but the structure of the event more straightforward and compact.
The rally started on a super special which was mostly on tarmac. However, most of its roads were dirty and the final corner was on gravel.
Spain’s new event didn’t get the manufacturers’ championship status. Thus there were now four drivers-only rounds.
RAC Rally had now again Wales back on its route. The rally ended with a half-day leg in Yorkshire (which obviously didn’t need stage repeats anymore), but the previous day containing Grizedale and Kielder was extended into late evening. It also contained the near-40 km Pundershaw stage.
Longer stages seemed to be used elsewhere as well, with Tour de Corse issuing three stages from 43 to 48 km in length. In addition to the aforementioned and Monte Carlo, Australia and Sanremo had also 36 km stages on their routes.
The WRC calendar remained identical from 1991 to 1992. Even many events seemed to keep their routes largely unchanged.
The Swedish Rally introduced the Likenäs stage, but actually it had very little in common with the current configuration. Instead, it was almost the same as the Gärdsås stage from 1984. It was 42 km long, the first stage in the rally to be longer than 30 km since 1986.
The amount of tarmac and mixed surface stages had increased in Rally Portugal. According to Vauhdin Maailma the drivers had to ask the organizers to move the start on the Piodao stage, where the ravine next to the downhill road seemed too dangerous near the beginning of the stage.
Tour de Corse faced again a disaster, but this time it was not related to the rally. A poorly constructed spectator stand collapsed at the Bastia soccer stadium, resulting in 18 people losing their lives. At this point the rally was already closer to Ajaccio, but the final stages were still cancelled.
The 1992 Acropolis ditched the Peloponnesean leg, opting to go instead straight North-West after the super special. In addition, the kilometers were spread now more evenly among the route, with each leg having less than 200 stage kilometers.
Rally Argentina moved from Cordoba to Tucuman for “political reasons”. This meant that the rally returned to the same stages as on the 1980-1981 events, and had barely anything in common with the previous year. The opening stage created an average speed of 142 km/h!
Rally Australia also created its own twin-car stage, the now-classic Langley Park Super Special. It was driven three times in the rally, to close each of the three first legs.
Sanremo adjusted its itinerary to reduce night driving. Now the rally started on Sunday morning. The La Spezia stages were reached by afternoon, and gravel stages begun on Monday morning. The final tarmac leg now begun at 18 on Wednesday evening, with the last stage starting just after midnight.
The Ivory Coast rally had a new team organizing the event. Reportedly everything seemed to work better and they had even chosen roads in better condition and repaired some of them. The rally was also shortened from five days to three, but the overall length didn’t decrease much.
The 1992 RAC Rally used consecutive stage repeats for the spectator stages of Donington and Clumber Park. This way the spectators saw two passes from each car on one sitting.
This time the event skipped going to Yorkshire altogether. Instead, the final leg was driven in Dumfries. However, this meant that the final liaison of the rally was about 300 km long.
All events were getting quicker and quicker. For example Portugal and Tour de Corse reached 90 km/h and RAC was close to 100 km/h.
Although Ivory Coast had made efforts to improve the quality of the rally the event was finally dropped from the 1993 calendar. Meanwhile, now all rallies counted for both championships for the first time since 1979.
It seems that the regulations on super specials were lifted off by FISA. At least Monte Carlo, Portugal, Tour de Corse and Acropolis had ditched their more-or-less artificial stages, likely to the delight of the drivers.
Rally Argentina still had its ceremonial start and opening trotting track stage in Tucuman. However, after that the route took a big liaison to Cordoba and revolved again on the familiar stages from 1991.
The centre of Argentinian rallying is at Cordoba, where most of the best special stages are located and where most of the country’s leading competitors live. However, last year the organisers signed a two-year contract to have the rally start again at Tucuman, and they were obliged to go back there this year.– Motorsport Magazine 9/1993
1000 Lakes Rally tightened their itinerary back to three days, and now the rally, like many others, didn’t start anymore with a super special, although two street stages were included later. The average lengths of the stages kept growing with the overall length remaining roughly the same but the amount of special stages vanishing. The longest stage was already 37 km.
The 1993 season had now three full-tarmac events (plus Monte as fourth) with both Sanremo and Catalunya dropping their gravel stages. In Sanremo the missing kilometres were caught back by using some Genoa area stages from 1987.
Paris has decreed against mixing stage surfaces within an event in order to reduce servicing costs for competitors, but whoever determined the stage locations for this year’s rally must have done so with just a pencil and a map, without any thought for service practicalities.
The route layout was such that even more service vehicles were needed than before for full coverage, and what teams gained by not having to carry dirt road equipment they more than lost by having to field more vehicles and personnel. ‘Straight line’ running, with competitive sections off left and right, works in some cases – the Mombasa leg of the Safari Rally, for instance – but in Sanremo it did not. And the long, boring, sleep-inducing road sections were as unpopular as they have always been.– Motorsport Magazine 12/1993
Meanwhile, Catalunya added a new leg of tarmac stages South-West in Tarragona. The new leg was set in the middle of the event, with the first and third days driven on the same tarmac roads as before. Two stages were driven three times. The only gravel part of the rally was on the new super special situated on and inside the Barcelona F1 circuit, seen here at 9:52.
The route of RAC Rally returned to the format of 1991, finishing again at Yorkshire. The event was again somewhat snowy, as we can see from this onboard of Kershope. It was the tenth longest stage of the whole season at 39 km.
Longer stages were becoming again more and more popular elsewhere as well. Already nine of the longest stages of the 1993 season spanned over 40 km.
|1||Rally Australia||SS23||Wellington Dam||45.00 km|
|2||Rally NZ||SS12||Motu||44.80 km|
|3||Rally Argentina||SS9||El Mirador – Taninga||44.45 km|
|4||Tour de Corse||SS3||Vero – Casaglione||44.27 km|
|5||Rally Argentina||SS3||Museo Fader – Canada de Rio Pinto||44.13 km|
|6||Tour de Corse||SS24||Vico – Valle di Mezzano||43.15 km|
|7||Swedish Rally||SS15||Likenas||42.81 km|
|8||Monte Carlo||SS7||Burzet||41.41 km|
|9||Rally Sanremo||SS28||Vignai 2||40.49 km|
|10||RAC Rally||SS22||Kershope||39.78 km|
In 1993 a 2-Litre World Rally Cup for manufacturers was established for FWD naturally aspirated cars, to compete as a support class. Their season consisted of all events except Safari and Australia.
In the following few years the WRC calendar would be up for its biggest shakeups as a sport in terms of the rules, calendar and routes as well. The 2-Litre Cup would have a big role in this play.