WRC Calendar History VIII: 1998-2003

The WRC had rebooted itself in 1997 and the format was found successful. The calendar changed mostly only by one event a year, although new events were eager to join in. Rallies started to concentrate their routes on smaller areas, with less service area locations combined with longer stages. Meanwhile, new rules were being experimented with.

Cover image by Nickgleris – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

RdEventSurfaceDate
1Monte Carlo (Monaco)Tarmac/snowSun 18th – Wed 21st Jan
2Swedish RallySnowFri 6th – Sun 8th Feb
3Safari (Kenya)GravelSat 28th Feb – Mon 2nd Mar
4Rally de PortugalGravelSun 22nd – Wed 25th Mar
5Rally Catalunya (Spain)TarmacSun 19th – Wed 22nd Apr
6Tour de Corse (France)TarmacSun 3rd – Wed 6th May
7Rally ArgentinaGravelTue 19th – Sat 23rd May
8Rally Acropolis (Greece)GravelSat 6th – Tue 9th Jun
9Rally New ZealandGravelFri 24th – Mon 27th Jul
10Rally FinlandGravelThu 20th – Sun 23rd Aug
11Rally IndonesiaGravelEvent cancelled
12Rally Sanremo (Italy)TarmacSat 10th – Wed 14th Oct
13Rally AustraliaGravelThu 5th – Sun 8th Nov
14RAC (UK)Gravel/tarmacSat 21st – Tue 24th Nov

The 1998 Monte Carlo rally route made life easier for the drivers as the long opening day liaison was now dropped (along with the Monaco super special). Instead, the Monday leg took the drivers from Monaco to Gap via special stages, Tuesday returned them to Monaco while the Wednesday leg was a short repeat over the stages near the principality. For example the Col de Turini stages were driven three times during the event.

In Sweden the short Monday leg was now driven already on Friday with the super special being now the final stage of the night. The three legs were also now more distinctively on their own areas – Friday North-West, Saturday North-East and Sunday just back to Karlstad from Falun. Sågen and Rämmen were the only stages to be repeated.

Portugal meanwhile had now moved its centre to the town of Matosinhos near the city of Porto. The rally started now with the Lousada super special on Sunday, which was the only stage of the day. The first leg started North-East of Porto but eventually took the crews South, to Viseu. Second leg was South of Viseu, and the final leg again North-East of Porto.

Safari had added again a super special on the Ngong Racecourse, like 10 years before. It was driven three times during the rally, with the third repeat closing the whole rally.

The length of Safari dropped from 1318 km to 1063 km. The longest stage was now “only” 109 km long, but event the shortest packed in 48 km.

Catalunya’s route was almost identical to 1997. The Santa Marina stage made its WRC debut and the Escaladei stage was extended to 45 km.

Tour de Corse also adopted Catalunya’s structure where the first and third leg were identical to each other. At the same time, the middle leg was moved North-East to revolve around Corte’s service park.

Argentina had created a new super special, which had three cars running at the same time on separate circuits. However, when the rally returned onto the stage after the opening stage, there were only two cars at a time.

All the Thursday and Friday stages were single runs, but Saturday consisted of three repeated stages, including Santa Rosa with its infamous water splashes.

Acropolis had now single-runs only on Sunday, while Monday and Tuesday had identical routes. The finish was held in Delphi so the the amount of road sections became extremely low.

As a part of its extended Friday leg, Rally Finland introduced the Mökkiperä stage in 1998. It became known especially for its heavy jumps in the beginning.

Rally Indonesia was cancelled some months before its running because of a financial crisis in Asia and an unstable political situation. This left the calendar one event short, as there was no time to come up with a replacement.

Rally Australia had now created a live television special for the finale of the rally – the big jumps and river crossing at the end of Bunnings was now made into its own short super special like stage.

Just like 1000 Lakes Rally the year before, the name RAC Rally would become history as the British WRC event was renamed simply Rally of Great Britain. The route itself was very similar to 1997, with just more weight on South Welsh stages, leaving out mid-Welsh stages.

1999

Monte Carlo‘s route kept evolving. Now it was like a mix of the two previous ones, starting with a long liaison to Gap on Sunday, then having the Monday leg around Gap. The Tuesday and Wednesday legs to and around Monaco were similar to 1998.

There were only 14 special stages in the rally, but they were all at least 20 km long and the average length was up to 30 km! And as if to underline it, the rally started with its longest stage, the 48 km Plan de Vitrolles – Faye.

Safari opened with a brand new twin-car super special. However, already the next year the rally would go on without super specials at all.

For the first time in the history of Rally Portugal, all the rest halts were in the same town, which was now Matoshinos. At the same time, the Lousada super special was replaced by a similar stage in Baltar.

Rally Catalunya 1999
Tour de Corse 1999

Rally Acropolis was now brought again closer to Athens with a new base in Agii Theodori. They had also added a twin-car stage at the same location of the 1987 Anavissos super special. The North-West loop of stages was now driven only once in the middle of the rally, while the stages closer to Athens were run twice.

Rally New Zealand 1999

A new experiment was made in 1999 to give extra points for the last stage of the rally, televised live, a similar concept to today’s power stages. This experiment was supposed to begin in Sweden, but in the end Tour de Corse and Finland were used to test the new ground-breaking rule. It also included the possibility to start the TV stage even if you had retired earlier in the event, in a way introducing super rally.

Rally China became Indonesia’s replacement in 1999. The itinerary of this gravel looks surprisingly modern – Friday and Saturday have a four-stage loop, Sunday a three-stage loop, and all of them are driven twice! However, there were no super specials at all.

If famous landmarks are a measure of a rally, China Rally would have been surpassed only by Acropolis. Or what do you think of finishing ceremony held at foot of Great Wall of China? Cultural differences were big and China was included more on political and economical grounds than for purely sporting reasons. Despite lack rallying heritage, organisation worked relatively well and biggest problem was somewhat chaotic traffic, according to some drivers.

Route was quite varying as is evident from big differences in average speeds. Faster stages were almost twice as fast as the slower ones and none were special spectators stages which routinely are the slowest ones. Weather turned from dry recce to wet in rally and but road surface did not turn into as bad mud as in Indonesia, even though conditions were very slippery in places.

– juwra.com

For me to organize a rally in this country…it’s maybe nice to come on holiday but not for rally

– Carlos Sainz

Very rutted and bumpy and rough and all the stones are up now so it’s not very nice to drive, Greece is better than this!

– Juha Kankkunen

Rallye Sanremo 1999

Rally Australia had a total of 18 visits to the service parks, including one service between every one of the four Bunnings stages on Sunday. This number was higher than on any other rally with the new servicing rules, according to Martin Holmes’s World of Rallying book.

Meanwhile, servicing was made more sparse on the opening day of Rally GB. Most of the stages were on tarmac surface, but the drivers were allowed only one service to adjust their suspension or tyres throughout the seven spectator stages, although most of the day’s 35 kilometers came from the two 10 km runs at Silverstone.

2000

For the 2000 season all rallies were ordered to be arranged on a weekend, ending on Sunday. Monte Carlo was the only exception, as the rally ran from Thursday to Saturday. The number of service parks was also reduced in most rallies.

Monte Carlo changed its route again, but now it seemed as simple as Monaco-Gap, Gap-Gap, Gap-Monaco. Only two stages near Gap were repeated, all the rest were single-runs. There were four service park locations.

Sweden had extended its event to start already on Thursday, but only with the start ceremonies in Karlstad. This allowed the rally to start earlier from Hagfors on Friday morning.

Portugal had now Baltar opening the rally and Lousada concluding the first day. The route was changed by reserving the Northmost Ponte de Lima stages for the final day.

Rally Catalunya adopted an economical modern structure where stages were driven once in the morning and repeated in the afternoon instead of repeating stages on different days.

Argentina added a new twin-car super special called Pro-Racing. The stage was driven twice consecutively with all drivers starting the stage on both lanes.

Rally Acropolis 2000

The Parahi and Ararua stages were combined in New Zealand, creating a 59 km monster of a stage, the longest of the modern era so far.

Rally Finland had now only two service parks, but neither of them was in the city of Jyväskylä. The route was also tighter than before, and the South-East stages on Sunday were replaced with more South-Western stages, mostly repeats from Saturday.

Finland also issued a new spectator stage on the Killeri trotting track. The cars simply ran on the oval-shaped gravel track, with two cars starting from opposing straights. The stage was very fast, so in the end the slowest stage of the rally was a forest stage with average speed of 110 km/h, making it likely the least slow WRC event ever!

In addition to lack of slow stages, there were two new very fast stages where average speeds of 133 and 138 km/h were reached. Needless to say, they didn’t return the year after.

Rally China was dropped due to lack of financial resources. Its place was taken by Rally Cyprus, a well-established ERC round. It was a similar challenge to Rally Acropolis, a hot event on slow and rough roads. However, compared to Acropolis, the stages weren’t as rough, but much slower on twisty mountain roads.

One stage was driven three times, but there were also several single-runs. Most of the stages were rather short, with only one 31 km stage driven twice and another stage exceeding 20 km. There were no super specials.

Tour de Corse was now arranged later in the year. The route itself was largely unchanged. Here we can see Francois Delecour demonstrating the twisty Corsican mountain roads on the Feo – Altiani stage.

Sanremo ditched the North-East leg, having all stages in the proximity of Sanremo. Thus there were some reusing of stages in different configurations. One bit of road was rallied over five times during the rally! Most of the stages were set in pairs between services, and mostly the pair was repeated instantly after the service.

Rally Australia 2000

2000 was the first year Rally of Great Britain was arranged solely in Wales, and the opening day of spectator stages was removed. Instead, a twin-car stage was set up in Cardiff.

The lack of the opening day park stages resulted in more forest stages needed, namely the introduction of Halfway as well as the returns of Brechfa and Trawscoed. However, the rally was now based more in South Wales, with Myherin and Hafren Sweet Lamb remaining the only Mid-Welsh stages.

2001

From 2001 onwards every rally has been allowed only one service park per day, meaning that the rallies couldn’t travel as freely and broadly as before.

Thus even Monte Carlo was now operating on a smaller geographical area than ever. The first night break was at Saint-Andre-Les-Alpes and second at Digne-Les-Bains, both roughly halfway between Monaco and Gap. All stages except one were driven twice.

Swedish Rally was still based in Karlstad, but no stages were driven anymore near the city itself. The first and third legs were based around the service park in Torsby, the second day in Grängesberg. The long Jutbo stage was now gone, but instead there was the 49 km Granberget, which ended onto the Likenäs rallycross track.

Portugal suffered from heavy rain, making the roads muddy. Many stages were delayed or canceled.

“There’s a strong argument that the rally shouldn’t have run because the conditions were not equitable”

“It was a dreadful state of affairs. The conditions were horrendous times two. Absolutely awful. It maybe wasn’t smart to be running the rally.”

– George Donaldson

These issues, along with persistent problems with spectators, not to mention political disagreements with FIA, led into Portugal not featuring on the 2002 calendar anymore. Before this, Portugal had featured on the calendar every year except 1996’s rotation.

Rally Catalunya 2001

Cyprus was now run already in the beginning of June. The Saturday and Sunday legs had adopted a modern format of four stages in the morning with the repeat in the afternoon after the midday service. However, all these stages were rather short. Meanwhile, Acropolis used only one single service park, being the first WRC event to do so.

Safari was now moved to July, resulting in drier and hotter conditions. In addition to this, the route was 100 km longer than the year before. Here is a rare onboard from old Safari, SS3 Orien 1. It was 112 km long, and obviously this video shows only a part of it.

The route of Rally Finland didn’t change much, but there were two notable additions: the Paviljonki service park in the center of Jyväskylä, and the 41 km Moksi-Leustu stage. Furthermore, the Killeri stage was modified to be a more traditional twin-car track with a more technical route, and it would remain unchanged for the following decade.

New Zealand was now run after Finland in September. Meanwhile, the route itself was virtually unchanged.

Rallye Sanremo

Tour de Corse was now also operating on a tighter area with only one service park and short loops of stages repeated after a service park visit. This was the first time the event repeated a stage within the same day.

Rally Australia

In Rally Great Britain the last Mid-Welsh stages were now omitted. Instead more and more stages were run twice.

2002

Monte Carlo was now operating closer to Monaco than ever. Only the two first double-runs were situated between Gap and Digne-Les-Bains, the rest relatively close to the principality. The Turini area stages were driven twice on Saturday and then again twice on Sunday, but into the opposed direction!

For the first time Swedish Rally had less single-runs than double-runs. The year before only three stages had had a repeat run, while now conversely only three stages were single-runs. However, no stages were repeated during a leg. The increase of stage repeats seems to be a result of moving the rally to use a single service park in Hagfors and also ditch the Falun area stages.

A curious addition was the Hara stage. A stage with an identical name had been driven in 1000 Lakes Rally in 1979-1981, making it the first time two rallies had stages with the same title in separate countries.

Tour de Corse was now already the third round of the season. Its slot would be taken by New Zealand, run in October, back-to-back with Australia.

Rally Catalunya now started from Tarragona. Essentially this reduced the liaison amount since the cars had to travel now only once the long distance between Tarragona and Lloret de Mar.

Until the previous year Rally Argentina had operated mostly on single-run stages. However, now Friday and Saturday were identical with each other, while Sunday had only single runs, including El Condor and Mina Clavero (as Giulio Cesare)

Rally Acropolis 2002

Safari was now serviced from a single service park. Possibly because of this, the route had a lot of new stages, including Kedong.

Rally Finland also operated now on one service park only. In contrast, all legs were now driven on different geographical areas, implementing the clover leaf format. The Sunday stages driven further West near Keuruu had been absent since 1997.

Rally Deutschland replaced Portugal for the 2002 season. This change increased the amount of tarmac rallies, since now there were four full-tarmac rallies and Monte as a half-tarmac rally.

The Trier-based Rally Deutschland was an all-tarmac rally, but completely different in character to Tour de Corse, Catalunya or Sanremo. Or actually, it had three characters. The first leg involved tight hairpins on narrow vineyard service roads, the second leg wide but abrasive concrete surfaces on the Baumholder military area, and the third one fast-flowing countryside roads in Saarland. The first leg was serviced from Trier, the second and third from Bostalsee, a bit more South-East.

Rally Deutschland concluded with a super special in the town of St. Wendel, which involved driving 300 m of the route twice during the course of the stage, in a looped structure. This is business as usual nowadays, but very uncommon in those days, if not the first ever example of this.

St Wendel stage of Rally Deutschland 2002. Screencap from rally-maps.com, base map from Wikimedia Maps.

Rally Sanremo 2002
Rally New Zealand 2002
Rally Australia 2002
Rally GB 2002

2003

The opening day of Monte Carlo had 196 kilometres in three double-run stages near Gap. Saturday and Sunday were again driven closer to the principality, both having just a pair of double-runs.

Swedish Rally was almost like in 2002. The only new addition was the Hagfors Sprint super special. However, instead of a trendy twin-car stage, it was almost retro in its single-car route situated at a sports center.

Safari Rally didn’t make it to the WRC calendar because of financial reasons. Instead, yet another new hot, rough and slow gravel rally was added in the form of Rally Turkey. Based on average speeds alone, it seems to be slightly slower than Acropolis but not nearly as slow as Cyprus.

The centre of the rally was in Kemer, near Antalya. All the stages were situated really close to the service park, resulting in very good stage/liaison ratio.

New Zealand’s date was moved again. Now it was the fourth round of the season in April. At the same time Australia was arranged earlier to September while Tour de Corse and Rally Catalunya had to wait all the way until October.

New Zealand altered its route by using the Northern stages for both Friday and Saturday. Only Sunday were driven in South, and Whaanga Coast was absent.

In Argentina most of the stages were repeated. The Capilla del Monte stage was driven three times. It’s also notable that all the Southern stages, as well as El Condor and Mina Clavero were absent from the route, which had some very last minute changes.

Originally Leg Three consisted only of stages 23 to 25. Spectator problems in Leg Two led to stage cancellations and rally was considerably behind schedule. In order to avoid running last stages of Leg Two in darkness, organisers moved stages 21 and 22 to start of Leg Three.

juwra.com

Acropolis was relocated to Lamia. All the Friday and Saturday were familiar from the previous years. Meanwhile, the rally hadn’t been North of Lamia since 1997 as it did on Sunday. Two of the stages were new, while New Tarzan was half familiar from the old classic Tarzan stage, last driven in 1994. A twin-car super special was also planned to be run in the city of Lilea, but cancelled.

Rally Cyprus 2003

Rally Deutschland shuffled its itinerary. Now the vineyard, countryside and military area stages were mixed within the legs, although mostly the same stages were used. All servicing was now in Bostalsee.

Throughout this era Rally Australia hadn’t really changed much apart from switching the order of the first and second legs in 2002. 2003 was the first single service park year, which was in Jarrahdale, outside Perth. At the same time the popular Langley Park Super Special was traded for a stadium stage called Perth Super Special. Again, Australia would be a trendsetter in super specials.

Half of the 2003 Rally Finland stages were single-run. They included Urria, which returned to the rally for the first time since 1987.

The tarmac rallies Sanremo, Tour de Corse and Catalunya were now run back-to back. The two latter were even run on consecutive weeks. This was the first time two WRC events were so close to each other in time. When Tour de Corse finished on Sunday, the recce of Catalunya was already starting just a day or two after!

Catalunya abandoned its Tarragona leg and the long liaison. To get more stage material, creative solutions were needed. The La Trona stage was driven twice on Friday, then twice in the opposed direction on Saturday as Sant Boi De Llucanes.

Rally of Great Britain was now named Wales Rally GB. The route itself didn’t change much. All stages but three were double-runs.

WRC seemed to be at the height of its popularity, but was it possible to keep growing? What kind of new rules could be thought up?

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