In 1994 the WRC calendar was reshaped drastically. A new rotation rule meant that every WRC event — even the classic ones — would take their turn in having a year off the WRC Calendar within a three-year period. The calendar became shorter, but more competitive. Another big change on service areas would follow a year later. During this era the rallies became gradually shorter.
Cover Image by Motoring Weapon R – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons || Additional archive material by Ville Niemonen
For the first year of rotation Sweden, Australia and Spain took the job of hosting only the FIA 2L Cup. Portugal, Acropolis, 1000 Lakes, Sanremo and RAC included both series, while Monte Carlo, Safari, Tour de Corse, Argentina and New Zealand served only the main WRC championships.
|1||Monte Carlo (Monaco)||Tarmac/snow||Sat 22nd – Thu 27th Jan|
|X||Swedish Rally||Snow||Fri 4th – Sun 6th Feb|
|2||X||Rally du Portugal||Gravel/tarmac||Tue 1st – Fri 4th Mar|
|3||Safari (Kenya)||Gravel||Thu 31st Mar – Sun 3rd Apr|
|4||Tour de Corse (France)||Tarmac||Thu 5th – Sat 7th May|
|5||X||Acropolis (Greece)||Gravel||Sun 29th – Tue 31st May|
|6||Rally Argentina||Gravel||Thu 30th Jun – Sat 2nd Jul|
|7||Rally New Zealand||Gravel||Fri 29th – Sun 31st Jul|
|8||X||1000 Lakes Rally (Finland)||Gravel||Fri 26th – Sun 28th Aug|
|X||Rally Australia||Gravel||Fri 16th – Mon 19th Sep|
|9||X||Rally Sanremo (Italy)||Tarmac/gravel||Sun 9th – Wed 12th Oct|
|X||Rally Catalunya (Spain)||Tarmac||Tue 1st – Fri 4th Nov|
|10||X||RAC Rally (UK)||Gravel||Sun 20th – Wed 23rd Nov|
The WRC calendar had ten events, but still eight best counted for both championships. In addition, a manufacturer had to take part in nine rallies to be eligible for the title.
The Monte Carlo Rally of 1994 had the concentration run — as well as the first leg of stages — end in Valence, so the entry to Monaco would be again postponed until the final rest halt. No stages were repeated, not even Col de Turini.
Safari had now more competitive sections (2393 km) than road sections (1103 km). The target times for the competitive sections were now 00:00. Thus, instead of being able to manage a zero penalty from a clean section, now everyone got a time with the precision of seconds, essentially like special stages.
Rally Argentina was arranged already at the beginning of July. Its base was back in Cordoba, with no more trotting track super specials in Buenos Aires or Tucuman. In fact the only super special of the rally was the Camping General San Martin stage driven from time to time since 1989, in a fairly natural area near the city of Cordoba, visiting also a karting track. The stage is well seen in this 1996 video at 34:13
1000 Lakes Rally also added its own twin-car track in Himos. However, the drivers never liked it as the track was too narrow. The stage can be seen on this video, again from 1996 (for some reason YouTube has very sparsely footage from 1994!).
The modern format of Ouninpohja was also introduced in 1994. The stage now started on a small road before reaching the Kakaristo junction, where the old version of the stage — last used in 1985 — traditionally begun.
Sanremo was now again a mixed surface event but for the first time the rally didn’t start on tarmac stages. In fact, the first day didn’t include any special stages at all. The crews just traveled from Sanremo to Arezzo, where the first stages were driven. After two days of gravel roads, there was another long liaison back to the Sanremo area for one leg of tarmac stages.
The center of the RAC Rally was in Chester. All the forest stages on its North side including Grizedale and Kielder (with the absence of Yorkshire) were driven on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday were now both spent in Wales. Some of the more Southern stages on Tuesday — namely Brechfa, Trawscoed and Crychan — hadn’t been used in a decade on WRC level.
Meanwhile, the familiar Hafren stage was driven in two configurations. The first run on the morning started from North and ended into Sweet Lamb, whereas the second run later in the evening started South-East and ended North, using a part of the first run’s route in reversed direction. This video is obviously from the first run, in the spectator-friendly Sweet Lamb area where you can see each car for a minute!
In 1995 Safari, Acropolis, Argentina, 1000 Lakes and Sanremo were off the main calendar. The 2-Litre series was contested alongside the main series in Monte Carlo, Sweden, Portugal, Tour de Corse and New Zealand, while Australia, Spain and RAC hosted only the WRC championships.
|1||X||Monte Carlo (Monaco)||Tarmac/snow||Sat 21st – Thu 26th Jan|
|2||X||Swedish Rally||Snow||Fri 10th – Sun 12th Feb|
|3||X||Rally du Portugal||Gravel||Wed 8th – Fri 10th Mar|
|X||Safari (Kenya)||Gravel||Fri 14th – Mon 17th Apr|
|4||X||Tour de Corse (France)||Tarmac||Wed 3rd – Fri 5th May|
|X||Acropolis (Greece)||Gravel||Sat 27th – Wed 31th May|
|X||Rally Argentina||Gravel||Fri 7th – Sun 9th Jul|
|5||X||Rally New Zealand||Gravel||Thu 27th – Sun 30th Jul|
|X||1000 Lakes Rally (Finland)||Gravel||Fri 25th – Sun 27th Aug|
|6||Rally Australia||Gravel||Fri 15th – Mon 18th Sep|
|X||Rally Sanremo (Italy)||Tarmac/gravel||Mon 9th – Wed 11th Oct|
|7||Rally Catalunya (Spain)||Tarmac||Mon 23rd – Wed 25th Oct|
|8||RAC Rally (UK)||Gravel||Sun 19th – Wed 22nd Nov|
The season had now only eight events, but all of them counted in the championship points for manufacturers, and a manufacturer had to take part in all rallies to be eligible for the title. Meanwhile, drivers could still leave their worst result out of the scores.
As if the rotation system or adding permanent competitor numbers weren’t enough, servicing was totally overhauled in 1995.
In the past the cars could be serviced quite freely at roadsides, parking lots, houseyards, gas stations etc. This required the team to send groups mechanics in service vans out onto the route. In addition to being expensive, the service plans took time and effort to create. The service vans also suffered in traffic jams more and more as the sport became increasingly popular.
From 1995 onwards the services would be allowed only at designated areas — not yet named service parks — at certain times preset in the itinerary. This also meant that there was no possibility service the car between each and every stage like before (although road section with prohibited service had occurred more and more in the latest years especially when they were short).
In the past the service time was included in the road section, and co-drivers had to estimate how long the car could be serviced before they would be late from the next time control. In a way, the service rule reduced speeding on road sections, because the service time was fixed and you couldn’t drive faster to increase service time (unless you were already late!).
At this point the number of service areas was not limited, and typically there were services after every two stages. The use of designated service areas would have favored the use of cloverleaf format around the service area, or even more double-run loops of stages, but in 1995 most of the rallies didn’t change much, only service areas were added all around the route.
The servicing rules seemed to be still in development and some regulations changed from event to another. In Monte Carlo the service was allocated on certain stretches of road section, rather than on precisely determined areas. Servicing was allowed usually after every two stages, with an additional refuel in between them.
The service regulation made the tyre choice in Monte Carlo even more difficult than before. The drivers complained it was a safety issue, and in the end additional tyre changing zones were allowed through bulletins.
The route of Monte Carlo 1995 itself was quite similar to 1994, with only the Gap rest halt moved to Digne-les-Bains and a few stages swapped for others here and there.
In Sweden the services were always in the same designated areas for all competitors. Especially on second and third legs there were some three-stage stretches without service in between. All stages were single-runs, but parts of the legs revolved on same areas so many of the service areas were used on two legs. The rally had also added the 44 km Nisshyttan stage, which would be slightly reconfigured and renamed to Jutbo the year after.
Portugal was transformed now into a full-gravel event and its base was moved to Figueira da Foz. The first leg of the rally had some new gravel stages to fill the gap of the traditional tarmac stages. Services were arranged by the book similarly to Sweden, but the use of repeated loops allowed reusing the same service area during the final leg.
Tour de Corse had a mix of Monte-type road section services, designated service areas and additional tyre zones. The rally started with two three-stage stretches between services, after that service occurred after every two stages.
Rally Catalunya’s middle leg in Tarragona was now extended longer. The four new stages were located close to each other, including El Priorat and La Figuera.
RAC Rally was surprisingly similar to 1994. However, Pundershaw was now extended to a monstrous 58 km length, the first stage to break the 50 km barrier since Tour de Corse 1986. Service areas appeared after almost every stage, especially after long ones.
The rotation made this the most tarmac-heavy season at that point. With two full tarmac rallies and the half-snowy Monte Carlo, roughly a fourth of the season was driven on tarmac.
New Zealand was the longest event of the year with 560 stage kilometers. However, there wasn’t much variation as Catalunya was the shortest with a competitive length of 474 km.
With Finland off the calendar, the fastest stages list looked different, but the 130 km/h limit was again broken in New Zealand.
|1||New Zealand||Troopers||130.98 km/h|
|2||New Zealand||Maurice||123.60 km/h|
|3||New Zealand||Riverhead||121.43 km/h|
|6||New Zealand||Mangare||120.79 km/h|
|7||New Zealand||Kiwitahi||117.35 km/h|
|8||Australia||York Railway||115.64 km/h|
|9||Australia||Muresk 2||115.47 km/h|
|10||Australia||Bunnings North||115.13 km/h|
1996 felt like a weird season with all of Monte Carlo, Portugal, Tour de Corse, New Zealand and RAC reserved only for the support championship. In addition to those, the 2-Litre cars traveled to Argentina, Australia and Spain, while Sweden, Safari, Acropolis, 1000 Lakes and Sanremo were run only with the main series.
|X||Monte Carlo (Monaco)||Tarmac/snow||Sat 20th – Thu 25th Jan|
|1||Swedish Rally||Snow||Fri 9th – Sun 11th Feb|
|X||Rally du Portugal||Gravel||Tue 5th – Sat 9th Mar|
|2||Safari (Kenya)||Gravel||Fri 5th – Sun 7th Apr|
|X||Tour de Corse (France)||Tarmac||Mon 29th Apr – Wed 1st May|
|3||Rally Indonesia||Gravel||Fri 10th – Sun 12th May|
|4||Acropolis (Greece)||Gravel||Sun 2nd – Tue 4th Jun|
|5||X||Rally Argentina||Gravel||Thu 4th – Sat 6th Jul|
|X||Rally New Zealand||Gravel||Sat 27th Jul – Tue 30th Jul|
|6||1000 Lakes Rally (Finland)||Gravel||Fri 23rd – Mon 26th Aug|
|7||X||Rally Australia||Gravel||Fri 13th – Mon 16th Sep|
|8||Rally Sanremo (Italy)||Tarmac/gravel||Sun 13th – Wed 16th Oct|
|9||X||Rally Catalunya (Spain)||Tarmac||Mon 4th – Wed 6th Nov|
|X||RAC Rally (UK)||Gravel/tarmac||Sat 23th – Mon 25th Nov|
The designated services changed the nature of Safari. More service time allowed frequent changing of parts such as suspension, which transformed rally into more of a speed than reliability contest. However, FIA still granted an exception for Safari to allow servicing also outside the designated service areas.
Rally Indonesia was added to the series, oddly in the middle of the rotation period, albeit having been a staple of the Asia-Pacific Championship before. This was the first time the WRC entered the Asian continent.
Stages were mostly amongst rubber and palm oil plantations, surface turning into extremely slippery mud when it rained. So unique were these muddy conditions that Pirelli introduced a special very narrow mud tyre. Unfortunately, equatorial rains come suddenly and are heavy, making it easy to get caught with wrong tyres. Such situations turned rally into a lottery.– juwra.com
Most of the stages were between 10 and 22 km in length, and average speeds were usually below 100 km/h. The stages were so slippery that Nicky Grist burst into laughter mid-stage. He even told his driver Juha Kankkunen between pace notes that he had never seen so slippery conditions!
Rally Argentina added two new super specials onto its route, the Colonia Caroya and Carlos Paz. The former would be driven many times, the latter only this one time.
The 1000 Lakes Rally changed its route drastically. First of all, the rally started now one day later. Thus Friday consisted only of the Harju street stage, in reversed starting order (although it would get cancelled because of an accident).
The actual competition started on Saturday. The thinking behind this was not to repeat the problem of the three previous years when big names had retired on the first stages of the rally, before the biggest numbers of spectators would show up on the weekend.
In addition to this, stage repeats were now used for the first time since 1987. An especially new way of repeating stages was to set a 2-3 stage loop and repeat it instantly. The route was also planned partly to allow service parks to be reused during the route.
At the same time, the rally had to cut off some classic stages such as Myhinpää and Savo. Meanwhile, Ouninpohja was reversed, resulting in the route we know today.
In contrast to the tarmac-heavy 1995, now the championship didn’t enter its first tarmac stages until halfway to Rally Sanremo. In fact, the world champion Tommi Mäkinen had already secured the title in Australia, without having to drive a single tarmac stage!
In 1996 WRC rallies were not allowed to last for more than three days, excluding days with only super special stages. However, most rallies were already arranged this way, except maybe for Monte Carlo and RAC, which were off the calendar this year.
Thus the rallies kept becoming shorter. Rally Argentina was the longest special stage rally of the 1996 season with only 516 stage kilometres, while Catalunya was only 393 km long. However, even more shorter events would be ahead on the following year. More about that on the next episode!