The third edition of WRC Rally Estonia is held on familiar stages but with modifications on almost all of them. There will be fast sections and big (artificial) jumps, but also very technical and soft small roads.
Cover image by Toyota Gazoo Racing (C)
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The Thursday program is almost identical to last year. The shakedown test is at Abissaare. The stage is mostly fast, but is punctuated by several tight junction turns, and holds one big jump. It’s not completely representative of the whole rally with more jumps and technical sections on the actual route.
The rally kicks off with SSS1 Tartu, which is a familiar all-gravel park stage from last year. It’s a very nice super special with proper gravel sliding, but still a chance to see the cars easily and for a long time at once. The route is the same as last year, but now run in the opposite direction!
The Friday loop is essentially last year’s Saturday loop. The first two stages are driven North-East from Tartu, while most of the rally is located on the South side of the city.
SS2+6 Peipsiääre was new for last year and it’s remembered well for being the one where Kalle Rovanperä made a big stage win and practically decided the rally against Craig Breen. It’s a difficult and technical stage with many rhythm changes, both at junctions and between them.
Essentially most of the stage connects small forest roads together through short links on wide main roads. There are many junction turns and small rhythm changes. Many of the small roads have so much trees and vegetation next to the road that it creates walls, almost a tunnel for the road.
The very beginning of the stage has been changed from last year. Now there’s 900 metres of new small road leading into the gravel pit which acted already last year as a spectator area. This article shows a video on the new beginning on the stage, including some huge jumps – although they are the only jumps on this stage.
Next up the stage proceeds on narrow forest roads. First it’s very fast with long straights, then more technical. Finally there’s a turn onto a wider gravel road before a tarmac section with several bends.
The next gravel road is medium wide but narrowed by the dense “tunnel” vegetation and alternates between fast and technical. There’s junction turns onto other small roads with occasional surface or width changes but overall the characteristics remain until the junction at 16 km. Now a fast, almost straight link on a wide gravel road begins, leading onto a similar small road section as the previous one.
The next short wider link at 19.7 km actually has some fast corners. Meanwhile the last small road section is the narrowest and most technical of the stage, including going through a truck turning circle.
SS3+7 Mustvee was also a new stage for last year. This year it has been extended slightly.
The beginning is now earlier, on a different road, but last year’s start is reached at 600 metres, after just two accelerations and the junction turn between them. The stage proceeds then on a quite narrow forest road. In comparison to the previous stage, now there’s ditches so the trees and vegetation don’t grow next to the road. Additionally, most of the trees are tall pines so there’s more visibility. First the road is straightforward, then technical.
The next road is a bit more like Finland, with crests. There’s yet a third road which is more typically Estonia with the walls of vegetation, but it’s only a short link onto a short bit of straightforward tarmac road.
At 4.8 km the stage leaves the tarmac for a new section. It’s a narrow road in a dry pine forest where the road has been ploughed into the ground so there’s small banks on either side of the road. There seems to be both fast and technical passages and one junction turn.
The stage returns onto the tarmac road at 8.5 km. There is a chicane on it before going back to gravel – another Finland-like medium wide fast-flowing forest road with crests. A very narrow forest detour is taken at 11.7 km to avoid going back to the first junction. Next up is a more typical Rally Estonia small road – angular character and no more crests – but still with ditches. A spectator area on a truck turning circle is tackled at 14.7 km and after that the road proceeds with no more ditches. There’s still a short link on a wider gravel road at 15.8 km and a turn to a smaller road just before the finish.
SS4+8 Raanitsa has been the fastest stage of the rally for the two last years. It was known previously as Prangli. The ending of the stage has been modified, removing tarmac sections, but adding new small road sections. The beginning also has a new loop of small roads.
The stage starts wide but turns soon narrow and technical, including the new section which involves three junction turns and going through another spectator area / truck turning circle. After that the stage is again straightforward but punctuated by chicanes, and also a bit of tarmac.
At 8.9 km there’s a very wide and very very fast section. The corners start becoming tighter at 13 km and finally the stage turns onto a small and technical road at 15.2 km. Next up is the second new section, with a junction turn just before the finish (on the street view from right to left)
The corner where Thierry Neuville broke his suspension in 2020 is not included this year.
SS5+9 Vastsemõisa is the shortest forest stage of the rally, and it’s first of the two to be run exactly like last year. In contrast to the previous one, this is one of the most technical and slow forest stages of the whole rally. In 2020 the beginning was on the Kaagvere stage and the ending on the Otepää stage.
The beginning is narrow and technical. This is where Pierre-Louis Loubet hit a stone in 2020, ending his rally. After a string of junction turns the stage enters a spectator area – wide with jumps but slow and technical. Subsequently the road is medium wide and technical with constant power slides. The stage concludes on a bit of very small and soft road.
Saturday kicks off with SS10+14 Elva, which has been reversed. Thus the start is now on a paved rallycross track. It’s wide but the corners are tight. The rest of the stage is mostly angular with several junction turns and tight corners but also long straights. The road width varies from narrow to wide and there’s also a tarmac link. A string of big jumps features in the middle of the stage.
SS11+15 Mäekülä wasn’t run last year with the title, although a good part of the route was included on the Arula stage in the opposite direction. In comparison to the 2020 Mäekülä route, it’s now altered by using the same ending as the 2020 Arula stage.
Again there’s a string of road types and constant rhythm changes: tarmac, technical and narrow, a wide gravel link, medium wide and fast-flowing, very narrow and technical, Finland-like wide, and finally narrow and semi-technical but fast.
SS12+16 Otepää utilizes the same spectator area as Vastsemõisa. The stage has been modified slightly from its last year configuration near the end, using an alternate route on the last small road section.
The start is familiar, 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. After the slow spectator area there’s a string of straightforwardly fast roads, junctions and chicanes before the last small roads which are actually very fast at times.
SS13+17 Neeruti was yet another new stage for last year, and like the two previous ones, this one’s also changed slightly. The beginning is new for this year. Last year it was driven on Sunday. Basically all of this stage is narrow and technical with just a few longer straights, one of them on a wider gravel road – the same one where the stage start was. There’s also some jumps from 1.2 to 3.3 km.
Saturday concludes with yet another run of SSS18 Tartu.
Last year’s power stage SS19+22 Tartu Vald is now run as the Sunday opener – now in the opposite direction similarly as the super special, whose route it shares again. Many people – including myself – didn’t think it was worth the power stage status last year for being such slow, technical, artificial and different to the forest stages. The newly created roads also rutted up pretty badly.
The stage begins on the route of the tight and technical super special park stage, by this point driven already twice in the rally. After crossing a tarmac road it proceeds onto a narrow gravel road. This section has been straightened a bit for this year, removing two “loops”. The stage approaches the old Raadi airfield going in and out of the concrete-paved runway, also ending on it finally. Meanwhile, the gravel roads weave both sides with hairpins and square turns and some artificial jumps as well.
SS20+23 Kanepi is the second stage of the rally to be run just like last year. It’s a stage of extremes, with very fast and very slow sections. Last year it caused drama in the form of Ott Tänak’s off-road excursion and subsequent puncture resulting in early retirement.
The start is on a narrow road which is first very fast, then more technical. It also has some jumps. Aforementioned Tänak’s corner is just at the end of this road at 4.7 km.
Next up is a tight junction turn onto a medium wide road. It’s very very fast for the next 7 km apart from a handful of tight corners. After that there’s a turn onto a narrower road but still completely flat out with a string of heavy jumps. Finally at the end there’s a loop of very narrow and technical roads with three tight junction turns.
SS21+24 Kambja served as the power stage in 2020 and has now taken that role again, deservedly. For this year the configuration of the stage has been changed. The start is the same, but halfway through there’s a new small road taking a shortcut to last year’s finish, where the route is then run in the opposite direction towards the spectator area in the middle of last year’s stage, which will now serve as the finish arena.
Kambja 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 a bit more technical passage the stage turns onto the new small road section and proceeds onto last year’s route in reverse direction at 8.2 km, first on a fast but narrow road. Sean Johnston crashed here heavily last year.
A sort of chicane through a houseyard is tackled at 10.2 km before a short link on a wide gravel road. The rest of the stage is then driven on smaller roads, mostly quite technical but occasionally faster with varying surfaces and widths, ending on a spectator area.
UPDATE 14.7.2022: Updated SS1+18 and SS19+22 stage titles.