WRC Calendar History IX: 2004-2008

By 2004 WRC had become very popular with new teams and event organizers. To fit more events, the calendar was expanded, resulting in the longest calendars in the history of the sport. Conversely, a new rule allowed scoing points without completing all stages. New rallies of this era include Mexico, Sardinia and Japan. High on the trend lists were indoor stadium super specials, while single-run stages started becoming rarities.

Cover image by oisa / Flickr

EventSurfaceDate
1Monte Carlo (Monaco)Tarmac/snowThu 22nd – Sun 25th Jan
2Swedish RallySnowThu 5th – Sun 8th Feb
3Rally MexicoGravelFri 12th – Sun 14th Mar
4Rally New ZealandGravelThu 15th – Sun 18th Apr
5Rally CyprusGravelThu 13th – Sun 16th May
6Rally AcropolisGravelThu 3rd – Sun 6th Jun
7Rally TurkeyGravelThu 24th – Sun 27th Jun
8Rally ArgentinaGravelThu 15th – Sun 18th Jul
9Rally FinlandGravelFri 6th – Sun 8th Aug
10Rally DeutschlandTarmacThu 19th – Sun 22nd Aug
11Rally JapanGravelFri 3rd – Sun 5th Sep
12Wales Rally GBGravelThu 16th – Sun 19th Sep
13Rally d’Italia SardegnaGravelFri 1st – Sun 3rd Oct
14Tour de Corse (France)TarmacFri 15th – Sun 17th Oct
15Rally Catalunya (Spain)TarmacFri 29th – Sun 31st Oct
16Rally AustraliaGravelThu 11th – Sun 14th Nov

Almost all WRC events after 2004 are mapped into rally-maps.com

The season started with unchanged Monte and Sweden, but Rally Mexico was a new addition to the calendar, being the first North American WRC event since Rally Olympus in 1988. Mexico’s gravel roads were technical, mostly wide, firm and smooth but sometimes surprisingly rough. The biggest challenge was the high altitude, which sucked the power of the engines, as well as the loose gravel on the road surface.

The event was based in the city of Leon and the stages were on the hills close to the city. Bits of road were driven three or even four times through overlapping routes of stages on separate days. The rally had no super specials at all (!).

This is Carlos Sainz on the Derramadero stage. It includes the iconic El Brinco jump at 12:30 into the video.

In New Zealand the iconic Whaanga Coast returned as the final stage. However, at the same time the Maramarua area stages were left off.

The three rough events of Cyprus, Acropolis and Turkey were ran back-to-back, resulting in a hot, rough and dusty two month period. All these rallies retained their routes quite largely from 2003. Cyprus had now all stages run twice while Acropolis and Turkey added twin-car super specials. This video from Cyprus gives an idea what the drivers had to go through for hours and hours.

A new rule experiment called Super Rally was introduced in Acropolis. It meant that retired crews could get their car towed into service and rejoin the rally. However, they would be out of the overall classification, meaning no points could be scored.

Argentina was again slotted back to July like it was a decade before. The Southern stages including Santa Rosa were now back on the calendar after two years of absence, with Mina Clavero and El Condor finalizing the rally. All servicing was now done from Villa Carlos Paz. The rally kept having a number of single-run stages on its itinerary.

The fastest stage of the season was Ouninpohja in Finland with Petter Solberg exceeding the 130 km/h limit set for gravel stages (110 km/h for tarmac). In addition to Finnish stages, one Japanese and two Swedish tests made up the season’s fastest top 10.

Rally Deutschland retained its route, with all stages run twice. A new addition was splitting Panzerplatte into two stages, a long proper stage and a shorter one which was more like a super special. The long version also came close to the super special version, so spectators could see two runs at the same area. The following year the stages were again merged, but the same idea remained

Rally Japan joined the series as a new gravel rally. Its base was in Obihiro, on the island of Hokkaido.

Stages have hard base covered by a loose gravel, at places quite soft with ruts forming even on first run and posing considerable difficulty in repeated stages. Even if it would not be outright rainy, weather is often wet making stages turn muddy and slippery. On top of that, fog makes occasional appearance. There also are numerous narrow bridges which, being of steel and concrete construction, allow no room for errors. Problems lurk in road sections too. Stages are quite a long way from service park, making road sections relatively long and at times very tightly timed due to low speed limits in Japan.

– juwra.com

The average speeds on the stages seemed to vary from 90 km/h of Penke to 127 km/h of Panke Nikorpet. Curiously these two stages were driven back to back! There was the usual twin-car super special, but also the 2.8 km Rikubetsu stage which was not really a super special, but still driven four times during the rally.

Wales Rally GB was now driven already in September. This change meant more daylight and drier conditions, although there was also plenty of mud and rain.

Within the previous ten years, the titles 1000 Lakes Rally and RAC Rally had been replaced with new ones, while Rally Portugal and Safari Rally had gotten dropped from the calendar. The next of the WRC originals to go was Rally Sanremo. However, Italy kept its WRC round in the form of Rally d’Italia Sardegna.

The Sardinian WRC event was based at the city of Olbia, on the North-East corner of the island. The stages were located West and South-West from the city, with relatively short road sections. The island of Sardinia had long hosted the Costa Smeralda rally, so the roads were familiar within rallying people.

The route offered similar stages as Acropolis, sometimes technical, sometimes fast, sometimes rough, sometimes paved. The main difference seemed to be that the Sardinian roads were a lot narrower. The stage win average speeds ranged from 65 km/h to 90 km/h. There were no super specials and the overall average speed was almost equal to that of Acropolis and only slightly faster than Turkey. The Sas Molas stage included the now-iconic Micky’s Jump.

Tour de Corse tightened its itinerary to have only two stages per day, each pair repeated. Thus the rally was completed with 12 stages, but in contrast the average stage length was 32 km. Even the shortest stage was 24 km long, and we can see it here on this video.

Catalunya had all its stages double-run in a modern format with the morning stages repeated on the afternoon. Saturday’s Sant Julia stage was driven in reversed direction as Viladrau on Sunday.

For the first time Australia became the closing round. It was also the first time since 1986 that the British round wasn’t the season finale (except for the 1996 rotation). A number of lengthy stages on Rally Australia’s Friday were still single-run, but the following year it was all double runs except for two short tests.

The season had packed in a total of 16 events, two more than the year before. The second half of the season was extremely busy with the last eight rallies run with only two-week gaps.

2005

In 2005 all the events were limited to 360 stage kilometres at most. The lengths of the events were closer to each other than ever, with Catalunya being the longest at 359 km and Cyprus the shortest at 327 km. However, already in 2004 only Rally Deutschland had exceeded the 400 km limit.

The Super Rally rule was now changed so that every missed stage gave a 5 minute penalty, but the driver was still included in the overall standings. This was one of the biggest changes on the sporting principle during the history of the WRC. Now the whole route wouldn’t have to be driven through completely in order to score points. Already on Monte Carlo Roman Kresta finished 8th and took one WRC point in Super Rally, having missed only the last stage of Saturday.

Monte Carlo was now serviced all from Monaco. This meant that the Gap area stages were removed, and in turn the nearby stages had to be reused well. The Lantosque – Col de Braus stage was driven twice on Friday, for the third time on Saturday in reversed direction, and then twice in the reversed direction on Sunday, split into two parts. So most of these roads were used five times in the rally!

Swedish rally had now only two single-run stages. The 2004 route had been fortified by the 52 km Granberget (which was the longest stage of the whole 2004 season) and the 39 km Vargåsen, but the longest stage of the 2005 rally was only 24 km long, again Vargåsen. Rallies with all stages under 25 km in length were rare in these days. In turn, there were ten stages with over 20 km in length, Frederiksberg being one of them.

The Sunday of Mexico consisted now only of single-run stages, featuring bits of road that had been already run twice on Friday or Saturday. This became a tradition in Rally Mexico which has lasted until the latest years. However, in the 2005 edition there was a bit of road that was used first twice on Friday on Ibarrilla – El Zauco, then twice on Saturday in the opposite direction as El Zauco – Mesa, and finally for the fifth time on Sunday on the 44 km Alfaro – El Establo.

Sardinia remained very similar to the previous year, but the event was run in late April. Now it essentially expanded the trio of hot and rough rallies into a quartet. Out of these, the 2005 Rally Cyprus is remarkable for being completely identical with the 2004 route, down to the length of every stage.

Rally Acropolis started again from Athens, with a twin-car super special on the Olympic Stadium. However, the rest of the rally was still run from Lamia, with nothing but a long liaison on the way there. All the Sunday stages were single-runs. However, this is one of the double-run stages on its first pass.

Argentina had its service moved from Villa Carlos Paz to the Pro-Racing circuit. The route itself changed very little, with just the Pro Racing super special now also concluding the rally.

In Rally Finland, Ouninpohja was split in two with the fastest bit in between removed, in order to cope with the average speed limit. The Western part of the stage was still only fractionally below the 130 km/h mark. Only one stage from Australia made it to the fastest stages top ten in addition to Finnish stages.

Seven stages were still ran only once. One of the double runs was a new stage, Vellipohja, being infamous for its rough jumps, but it also featured a bit of tarmac, as you can see at 15:58 into this video.

Rally Japan combined the Kunneywa and Niueo stages for a 50 km monster. It remained the longest stage of the season and the only one to exceed 50 km length in 2005.

Although Wales Rally GB 2005 bears a tragic memory, we must mention that it was also the year they introduced the new Cardiff super special which was located indoors and was only 1.1 km long.

Just like in 2003, Tour de Corse and Catalunya were run on consecutive weeks. This helped reduce the busyness of the end of the season with three-week gaps set between Finland and Germany as well as Japan and France.

As we remember, Rally Catalunya used to run back and forth between Lloret de Mar and Tarragona. The years 2003 and 2004 were run solely in Lloret de Mar, but in 2005 the event based itself into Tarragona for good. This meant saying goodbye to classic stages like St Julia with the iconic locations underneath the highway bridge.

Since the Tarragona area needed more kilometres to fill up a whole rally, stages used last in 1995 were brought in, namely Querol and El Montmell (known previously as El Pont d’Armentera and Can Ferrer). In addition, the Vilaplana stage was driven twice, and twice in the other direction as Capafonts. El Lloar – La Figuera was also back on the route after a few years of absence, as seen here.

Catalunya became a faster rally by this relocation. The winner’s average speed had been 97 km/h at most before, but now it jumped a few notches up to 102 km/h.

2006

Monte Carlo was still situated near Monaco, but now there were new stages which reduced excessive repetition. Only Col de Turini was driven three times, but then again only one stage was driven once.

Super Rally became a hot topic as Sebastien Loeb missed the last stage of the first leg but still managed to climb back to the runner-up position! Later, the penalty times were adjusted in a way that the first missed stage always gave 10 minutes of penalty, so this kind of achievements were no more possible.

Meanwhile in Sweden, the 39 km Vargåsen made a return. At the same time, Likenäs was the only single-run stage of the rally.

Rally Mexico introduced its first super special, The Autodromo de Leon twin-car stage, which concluded each of the three legs. Most of this rallycross track was driven on tarmac.

Rally Catalunya and Tour de Corse were now run in the spring, and again with two weeks between them. Both had their routes changed only marginally, likely because it was only five months since the previous runs! Catalunya added yet another stage last run in 1995, Margalef – La Palma d’Ebre, previously known as La Bisbal de Falset.

Argentina was also moved earlier into the year, now late April. The route was again unchanged except for the super special and service park. They were now located inside and outside the Cordoba stadium.

Rally Italia Sardegna had some new stages at the North-East corner of the island on Sunday. These six short stages making up 78 km in total were driven without a service. Elsewhere, the stage title Monte Lerno made its first appearance. This video is from 2008, but the route was almost similar already in 2006.

Rally Acropolis was now serviced from the Athens Olympic stadium. This meant that no route was shared with the previous year – even the Olympic stadium super special was reconfigured. The first proper stage of the rally, Imittos, was driven in Eastern Athens, being the first one to do so since 1990. The rest of the route was run on the North-West side of Athens, on areas not used since 2000. All stages of the rally were run twice.

In 2006 the drivers were finally given a proper two-month summer holiday between Acropolis and Deutschland. However, after that Deutschland and Finland were run on consecutive weeks. Rally Finland itself was run almost identically to 2005. This is remarkable since it’s rare that they have changed their itinerary so sparsely.

Rally Japan added a new twin-track super special Obihiro near the service park. It was driven five times during the rally and also served as the shakedown. In addition, a couple of single-run stages were spicing up the itinerary.

Cyprus and Turkey were now moved to autumn. Turkey remained largely unchanged but Cyprus had a couple of new stages, including a tarmac street stage on Sunday. The stage was set in a loop, with two laps completed and then the Finish near the start. This kind of super specials were still unusual to the sport at the time. However, having a stage on the narrow streets of the city, right at the doors of shops and cafes, is quite unique as well!

Rally New Zealand had a new base at Mystery Creek in the city of Hamilton. A street stage of the same title was also revived and restructured from 1994.

Now all rallying occurred South of Auckland, on the West coast. The Waitomo stage was retitled Te Koraha and became the longest of the season with barely under 44 km of length. Saturday consisted completely of single-run stages.

Furthermore, Rally New Zealand had been moved forwards to November, to be run after Rally Australia, which was now run already in October. This is the only time the two Australiasian events have been run back-to-back.

In turn, this led into Wales Rally GB becoming again the closing round of the season. In fact it was run in December, which was the first time any WRC round was run in December since Olympus Rally 1986!

2007

Remote servicing was again allowed for 2007. A remote service would last for no more than 15 minutes with four team personnel only allowed. In addition, all the spare parts would have to be carried in the car, with only base tools and new tyres allowed to be brought in by the service car.

The composition of the calendar was also changed for the first time in a few years with Cyprus, Turkey and Australia being dropped with two new events and a returning rally included instead.

Additionally, the route of Monte Carlo was overhauled dramatically with nothing shared with the previous year. The event was now based in Valence, where most of the stages were located with even a remote service on Friday helping to broaden the scope. This meant the comebacks of classics like St. Jean en Royans and Burzet, the latter seen here.

The St. Bonnet stage became one of the fastest stages ever driven in Monte Carlo with 124 km/h of average speed. It was even the eighth-fastest stage of the whole season and the only non-Finnish stage within the ten fastest stages.

The 2007 Monte Carlo was also exceptional to start already on Thursday with two stages. However, that balance was fixed with the rally concluding on Sunday with just a long liaison to Monaco and a short super special on the Monaco circuit. Thus, no stages at all were run on the Turini area.

Meanwhile in Sweden, Karlstad returned onto the competitive route of the rally for the first time since 2000. The Färjestad trotting track hosted once again a spectator stage, this time a modern twin-car track, which both opened and closed the rally. Saturday had four single-runs, although most of the route was run twice.

Rally Norway was the all-time second snow rally to join the championship after the Swedish Rally – not to replace it, but alongside it. These two events were located geographically relatively close to each other and were run on consecutive weeks.

The rally itself was based in the town of Hamar, South-Eastern Norway, a bit North from the capital of Oslo. Eight of the 18 stages were single-runs with also a remote service on Friday. Many of the stages seemed to include artificial sections, such as visit to skiing center (Lillehammer), trotting track (Kongsvinger), frozen fields (Kirkenær) and airfield (Haslemoen). However, this stage, called Mountain, has no such elements and is not much different to Rally Sweden.

In Mexico the amount of super specials was doubled by running the super special stage five times, with the last run with double laps. The rest of the route had barely changed since 2004.

Portugal made a return on the calendar in a new location. Now the rally was based in Faro, the South coast of the country. None of the stages had anything in common with the previous runs of the rally, although the characteristics of the roads were similar, as we can see on this onboard the stage Serra de Tavira.

The rally started and ended with a stadium twin-car super special. All stages of the rally were run twice, and the itinerary was modern with identical morning and afternoon loops.

Argentina had a flamboyant idea of running the super special on the soccer stadium in the country’s capital Buenos Aires, 700 km away from the rally base in Cordoba. The cars were transported on trucks from Buenos Aires to Cordoba while the drivers were supposed to take a plane. However, bad weather delayed the flights so all the proper stages of Friday had to be cancelled, leaving only the evening’s Cordoba stadium super special to be run. To compensate this, a second run of Mina Clavero was added to Sunday to scramble together more than two thirds of the planned itinerary, in order to get enough stage mileage for awarding complete WRC points.

Acropolis moved its base from the Olympic Stadium to Markopoulo, on the South-East side of Athens. Two super specials were driven close to the service park. The rest of the route was similar to the year before with a remote service deplyoed in Loutraki on Saturday after the 49 km Aghii Theodori stage, which was also the longest of the whole season.

Rally Finland had again the full Ouninpohja on the itinerary, but with three chicanes. Also the Ehikki stage – now driven without small roads – had one chicane. The Saturday afternoon included a remote service in the town of Jämsä. Meanwhile the marathon stages were now gone for good and after 2006 no other stage than Ouninpohja would be longer than 30 km.

The 2007 Rally Deutschland used a remote service on Saturday on the long-distance loop to the Saarland and Baumholder areas. However, there was also a midday service in Trier between the two runs of the loop.

The rally also introduced a new super special on the streets of Trier, replacing the one in St. Wendel. This one involved even more repeating of its route, by doing almost two complete laps of a circuit-structured stage.

Rally New Zealand also added a remote service in the middle of the Sunday leg instead of having to run the cars back to Mystery Creek. The route itself was otherwise almost identical with 2006, only a few stages were renamed – for example Te Koraha became again Waitomo.

Catalunya and Tour de Corse were again moved back to October, and were again run on consecutive weeks. Tour de Corse would become the fastest edition of the rally so far, with the overall winning average speed reaching 98 km/h and the fastest stage 108 km/h.

The last two events of the season were run in the British isles as a new tarmac event was added in the form of Rally Ireland. Previous tarmac rallies like Tour de Corse, Catalunya and Deutschland usually had their stage average speeds between 90 and 110 km/h, but Ireland offered faster stages with average speeds ranging from 103 to 120 km/h.

Local roads are narrow and vary vertically very much, constantly going up and down as they follow contours of the land.

juwra.com

The service park was in Sligo, but the rally started in Belfast, with a unique twin-car sweet stage. A portable bridge was constructed for switching lanes.

Eight of the twenty stages were single-runs. Friday and half of Sunday were driven on the Republic of Ireland’s side with Saturday returning again onto Northern Ireland’s side, as seen on this video.

2008

The newly added Ireland, Norway and Portugal were now off the calendar. Only two events were added to replace them, so the length of the calendar dropped to 15. Both replacements were gravel events, so the percentage of gravel rallies grew at the same time.

Monte Carlo was based in Valence like the year before. However, a visit to Turini was now made on Sunday alongside a pair of remote services in Gilette before concluding the rally at the Monaco Circuit.

The Swedish Rally had its main service park now in Karlstad. Each leg included a remote service, in Sunne on Friday, and in Hagfors on Saturday and Sunday. All stages were now driven twice.

The Friday stages had not been run since 2000. Out of them, Stensjön and Bjälverud made it to the top ten of fastest stages of the whole season, in addition to Finnish stages and Monte’s St. Bonnet.

The routes of Mexico and Argentina were familiar for the drivers, but Rally Jordan was a completely new event. Unlike you could have guessed, this was a rather smooth gravel rally, just in rough landscapes. Some of the stages were quite fast with average speeds up to 117 km/h, while slower ones at 76-89 km/h range. The longest stage Jordan River was also the longest of the whole season at 41 km, and the only one to exceed 40 km.

Desert, sand and eroding rock are landscape that has been familiar from rally raids but not in WRC since Morocco. Rally Jordan changes this but unlike rough tracks of Morocco, roads in Rally Jordan are generally so smooth that teams could – in theory at least – use tarmac specification cars. Lastly, there is the question of altitude as most of the stages are held as much as 400 meters below sea-level, though at times climbing up to 1000 meters above it.

juwra.com

All stages were run twice in modern morning-afternoon format, although there were no super specials. A part of the twice-run Friday stage Mahes was repeated as a part of the Sunday stage Kafrain. Similarly, the Suwayma stage – shown on the following video – was run twice on Friday, and then twice in the opposite direction as Baptism Site.

Sardinia had now its Sunday stages again West of Olbia, closer to the other days’ routes. Only the the last stage of the event – a 2 km seaside road – was run on the North side of Olbia.

Acropolis had yet another new base near Athens – this time Tatoi, North-East from the City. There was also a new twin-car super special near the service park. Remote services weren’t needed anymore.

Rally Turkey returned for the 2008 season with a similar compact route as in 2006. However, it would be the last time of the Antalyan event. Here’s a final look at how these rough roads looked like.

Rally Finland’s route was made once again slower with the usage of smaller roads. The fastest stage Urria was also the fastest of the whole season, but with only 126 km/h of average speed.

Half of the route were single-runs, and a number of stages somewhat new or returning from years back. One of the new stages was Kakaristo, which used slower parts of the Ouninpohja route. Meanwhile, the classic Väärinmaja stage returned for the first time since 1988, also augmented with smaller road sections.

Catalunya had added two new stages already in 2007, one of them being the 4 km Serra d’Almos. Now it had the honour of ending the rally. New stages included an extended version of Vilaplana, with the title La Mussara.

Rally Japan relocated to Sapporo. All the stages were new to the previous editions. Again, there was a twin-car super special, inside the Sapporo Dome. Just like the Rikubetsu stage in the earlier editions, there were three very short gravel stages on the route, the shortest ones 2.5 and 3.5 km long. As we can see the conditions were tricky at times.

Wales Rally GB returned to Mid-Wales for the first time since 2000 with an opening three-stage loop repeated and a remote service in Builth Wells. However, Hafren had to be canceled for very icy conditions. The Friday evening concluded with two runs of Walters Arena, a new super special which was actually a part of Rheola, run in darkness.

It’s also remarkable that the Cardiff super special was shortened and was now just under a whole kilometre long, being likely the first ever WRC stage to be this short.

These five years from 2004 to 2008 packed in 79 WRC events. The same amount took seven and a half years from 1973 to the middle of 1980 – and back then the drivers didn’t go to all rallies like they did now. However, a decline in world economy would have its effect on rallying as well. In addition to teams disappearing one by one, the calendar would also be tightened again. At the same time, new countries would join to help the regulars in arranging full seasons of rallying.

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