Route Preview: Rally Estonia 2021

Rally Estonia joined the WRC last year amid a storm of COVID-cancelled events. However, they had already arranged a pair of candidate events so the place was well deserved, and the continuation of the deal was no surprise. Thus we will see the fast but soft gravel roads of Rally Estonia again. This year’s route is now up to full length and has a lot of changes from last year, with only one stage remaining as it was.

Rally Estonia @ rally-maps.com | Cover image by Tapio Lehtonen (C)

All screenshots from rally-maps.com with OpenTopoMaps base map.

Thursday

The Abissaare shakedown is the same as last year, a string of four roads. The two first roads are narrow, the two last wider. The third road has jumps and the fourth one a couple of bends where you need to shift down from top gear, otherwise just flat out between the junctions.

I would say it’s not a good representation of everything the rally has to offer. This does not give an insight into the more technical and twisty sections, be it wide or narrow.

SSS1+18 Raadi is a familiar park stage from last year, but its route has been revised. The character, however, has remained – medium wide gravel roads flowing over crests in a park, with no artificial elements (although most of the roads were likely built for the rally). A very nice super special.

Tartu 2021 (red) and 2020 (green).

Friday

All the Friday stages are similar in length, 12 to 18 km of length. All these stages were driven last year, but in different configurations, with only little completely new sections. They will include the fastest sections of the rally, but also some very slow and technical ones.

SS2+6 Arula starts like last year’s stage, on a tarmac start like in Portugal. The first road is wide and very fast with big jumps, including the one where Elfyn Evans injured his back in 2019. The next short bit of road at 3.5 km is similar but a bit softer. A tarmac junction takes onto the third wide road which is more Finland-like, turning and going over crests all the time. Last year’s Arula turned away onto a small road, but now we proceed along the Mäeküla stage route.

Arula 2021 (red), 2020 (turquoise) and Mäeküla 2020 (green).

At 6.2 km the stage enters very small roads used as a base for cross-country skiing in the winter (and named after the former Finnish president Urho Kekkonen!). At 8 km the stage deviates from previous year route’s onto a soft and narrow road not even present on maps, likely built by the organizers. The stage emerges a kilometre later onto a wide and fast-flowing road, from last year’s Mäeküla but in the opposite direction. A pair of junctions later the stage concludes on a technical small road, but with a firmer surface.

SS3+7 Otepää starts like last year, on a medium wide fast road with several jumps. The following road is partly narrower and more technical, and the next one even more so, but both have their share of speed and jumps. The Truuta spectator area at 6.5 km is wide with jumps but slow and technical.

Otepää 2021 (red), 2020 (green) and Kaagvere 2020 (purple).

Now stage proceeds with a string of fast roads from last year’s Kaagvere stage, punctuated by 90° junction turns and a chicane. The stage finally ends on a very fast but narrow road, last used partly in 2016. This road can be seen on this video from 13:52 until 15:40 where it will proceed straight through a chicane as the 2016 stage turned right.

At the junction the road becomes wider for a while, then again very narrow, but constantly fast. Finally the stage concludes with a turn onto a wider road. It’s worth mentioning that the forest road where Takamoto Katsuta rolled last year at the end of the Kaagvere stage is not included in this year’s rally.

SS4+8 Kanepi is reversed from last year, when it caused a puncture for Kalle Rovanperä. In fact, this reversed direction was used in 2019 when the stage was called Aiaste and had different small road sections.

Kanepi starts now on a narrow and technical but relatively fast road for 5 km. Next up is a wide and very fast road with only a handful of 90° turns breaking the flow. At 12 km the stage turns onto a slightly narrower but still very fast road with big jumps. Finally there is a narrow and technical small road loop including tight junction turns and a return onto the previous road just before the flying finish.

SS5+9 Kambja was last year’s power stage. It starts on a medium wide and technical road with jumps. The next section is narrower and more technical, with partly very soft surface. At 2.3 km the stage joins a quite wide road which is very fast and has big jumps. After the junction at 4.6 km it’s more technical for a while.

The endings of Kambja 2021 (red) and 2020 (turquoise).

At 9.9 km the stage goes onto a spectator area and a string of small roads with varying narrowness and softness, mostly quite technical. Coming out there’s another small link on a wider road. Upon turning onto the last small road, there’s a small detour added for this year, resulting in three more tight turns. The last road is narrow but very fast. However, the ending is earlier than last year.

Saturday

The forest stage section of Saturday is equally long as Friday – 130 km – but the stage lengths are more varying and two of the stages are completely new. Three of the stages contain tarmac sections.

SS10+14 Peipsiääre is a completely new stage. It is also the longest of the whole rally with 23.56 km of length. There’s many rhythm and surface changes.

The start is on a wide road but soon the route turns onto a gravel pit for a spectator area with very tight turns and steep hills. Then it proceeds onto a fast small road which is becomes wider at 2.1 km. A narrower technical section follows at 3 km, followed by again a wider one at 4.3 km.

At 4.9 km the stage turns onto a wide tarmac road with bends and crests. 1.6 km later there’s a turn onto a narrow and angular gravel road. On a part of the road there’s a ditch on the right hand side – a rare sight in this rally – but also lots of vegetation hanging over the road. Another small road follows at 12.2km, being similar but more bumpy and technical.

A tight hairpin at 15.8 km takes onto a wide and fast gravel link before a turn to a small road, varying from very narrow to medium wide, rough to smooth and straight to twisty. Yet another short link on a wide gravel road at 19.5 km leads into the last small road section, which alternates between fast-flowing and technical, including a short detour through a loop which is used for trucks to turn around.

SS11+15 Mustvee is also a completely new stage and it doesn’t have a single jump on it. It starts on a quite narrow soft-looking road, likely prepared by the organizers. It is mostly fast but has a couple of twisty passages. 1.6 km into the stage it turns onto a coarser gravel road.

A tarmac section is reached at 3.3 km. There’s two detours off the tarmac, first a triangular junction detour and then a slightly longer small road detour.

At 5 km the stage goes back to a quite narrow fast-flowing gravel road with ditches. Another very small road at 7 km leads the stage back onto the second road of the stage, but now into the other direction. This is a very fast section until a chicane-like truck-turn-detour at 10 km where the road also narrows but remains quite fast. A link on a wide gravel road and a bit of soft and narrow small road concludes the stage.

SS12+16 Raanitsa is essentially last year’s Prangli stage, but with a short bit of new in the beginning and a similar amount cut from the end. Last year Prangli was one of the fastest stages of the rally despite eight chicanes (one less this year!), reaching average speeds of 128 km/h. It could be again one of the fastest stages of the rally.

Raanitsa 2021 (red) and Prangli 2020 (turquoise).

The new beginning is on a wide and fast road, but after just 900 m it turns onto a narrow and technical road. Upon joining last year’s Prangli start at 3 km it’s again wider and very fast, only slowed down by two chicanes, the latter going onto tarmac with a junction turn also with sealed surface. The following gravel road 6.9 km into the stage is very wide and extremely fast with the cars reaching their top speed. It also contains a spectacular corner where last year Nikolay Gryazin had a spin and Teemu Suninen a hot moment.

After a few tighter bends on the same road – at the 13.3 km mark – there’s a turn onto a narrower and more technical section including big jumps and a chicane. This is where Thierry Neuville broke his rear suspension last year. After another short wide tarmac section at 19 km the stage joins another narrow and technical gravel road. This year the ending will be already upon rejoining the tarmac road. This means the section where Elfyn Evans’s tire exploded last year, is not included anymore.

SS13+17 Vastsemõisa is the shortest forest stage of the rally at 6.72 km. It’s also one of the most technical and likely the slowest forest stage of the rally. It combines last year’s Kaagvere beginning and Otepää finish. The beginning is narrow and technical with a number of junction turns. This is where Pierre-Louis Loubet hit a stone last year, ending his rally. The Truuta spectator area – repeated from Friday’s Otepää stage – is wide with jumps but slow and technical. After that the road is medium wide and technical with constant power slides. The stage concludes on a bit of very small and soft road.

Sunday

Sunday packs in six short stages, making up 54 km. They are mostly slow and technical stages.

SS19+22 Neeruti is another completely new stage. It’s the simplest stage of the rally – all quite narrow small roads except for a short blast on a wider road at 5.5 km. It’s mostly technical with some fast passages and jumps in between. It’s almost interesting how they’ve managed to find many roads with so similar character.

SS20+23 Elva is the only stage to be run similarly to 2020. It begins medium wide and angular and goes through a tarmac link at 2.8 km onto a narrower and more technical section with a string of big jumps. Then a tight junction 7.9 km into the stage takes onto a quite wide and very fast road. Soon it turns onto a narrower and more technical gravel road which leads onto a wide rallycross track on tarmac with tight turns. The stage then returns onto the gravel road for the flying finish.

SS21+24 Tartu Vald is a new stage which acts as the power stage on the second run. It ends with a run through the super special, right at the service park. This is a familiar idea from Torsby in Rally Sweden. The artificial ending as a rally finale has also been used in Himos and Ruuhimäki in Finland. However, those stages are mostly proper forest tests, while this one will be essentially like a 6 km super special. It will be something quite different to the whole rally, and likely one of the slowest stages of the rally.

The start is on the old concrete runway of the Raadi Airfield, but soon turns onto gravel. The organizers have built or improved narrow gravel roads around the runway. The route also crosses the runway several times. There’s a number of tight turns and some artificial jumps. Once the stage reaches the super special, the road becomes firmer and wider.

Tartu Vald power stage (red) and super special (turquoise).

Start order and road conditions

It seems the soft roads of Estonia don’t always clean like in rallies with harder road bases. Sebastien Ogier was even able to win the Mäeküla stage being first on the road last year, and finished fourth after the first leg. However, he also mentioned low grip on some stages, where he lost some time.

Ogier will be again first on the road, but this time also for second runs of the Friday stages (last year the start order was changed between the two Saturday legs since no forest stages were run on Friday).

If the road cleaning gives an advantage, Kalle Rovanperä and Craig Breen could be the ones to collect it. However, there could even be ruts on some of the smaller roads.

UPDATE 13.7. Added information about Kanepi and photos from the stages

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