Long stages were a trend in rallying some years ago, although decades ago they were even banned! Nowadays it seems it’s increasingly rare to see a stage over 30 km, let alone over 40 km. What is affecting this and what benefits do we get from short or long stages?
Cover image by Hyundai Motorsport (C)
The 2022 season
First let’s look at what kind of stages the 2022 season had. We can see that more than half of the season’s mileage consists of 10-20 km stages but there’s more 20-30 km stages than 0-10 km stages.
|Rally||0-10 km||10-20 km||20-30 km||30+ km|
There were five double-run stages over 30 km in length, and only one of them more than 34 km.
|New Zealand||Te Akau South||31.48 km|
|Safari||Sleeping Warrior||31.04 km|
As of writing this article, three 2023 rallies have been run. Only Mexico had a 30+ km stage, and that was run just once. Meanwhile out of the upcoming rallies Sardinia surprised us with a 49 km stage, while Portugal and Safari are retaining the same 30+ km stages.
30+ km stages were outright banned in 1987 after Henri Toivonen’s accident, but started returning in the early 90’s. Long stages were a trend in the early 00’s and again in mid 2010’s, but in the recent years they have vanished.
In addition to over 30 km stages being less frequent, marathon stages have disappeared altogether. The last stages to be over 40 km long were run in Corsica and Deutschland 2019.
Why is this happening? What makes long stages less appealing? Let’s look at them from a number of perspectives. Just like in the previous Stage Repeats vs. Single Runs article, we’re going to keep a score. A thumb up means long stages are good, thumb down short stages are good, and shrug means we cannot decide.
Regulations do not state anything about individual stage length. The only rule is that no more than 80 km of special stages is run between two services or tyre changes. So essentially the maximum length of a stage is 80 km, as proven by Rally Mexico in 2016.
In more realistic terms, we want to divide the loop into more stages than just one – typically three or four. Thus for example a 50 km stage could be combined with a 20 and 10 km stage. Or then the loop could consist of four 20 km stages.
Also, the maximum length of a whole rally is 350 km but that rarely interferes with the length of individual stages, there are other regulations which make it difficult to arrange longer stages.
There are several occasions in the history where a long stage has been cut in two or two stages have been merged for a long stage. Thus we can compare the time differences by summing the two short stages and comparing it to the long one.
El Chocolate is the most recent example of this. The 54 km stages from 2016 and 2017 was split into El Chocolate (31 km) and Ortega (17 km) for the following years.
|El Chocolate 1||2016||54.21 km||0.89 s/km|
|El Chocolate 2||2016||54.21 km||0.79 s/km|
|El Chocolate 2||2017||54.90 km||0.58 s/km|
|El Chocolate 1 + Ortega 1 (sum)||2018||48.67 km||0.50 s/km|
|El Chocolate 2 + Ortega 2 (sum)||2018||48.67 km||0.48 s/km|
|El Chocolate 1 + Ortega 1 (sum)||2019||48.85 km||0.19 s/km|
|El Chocolate 2 + Ortega 2 (sum)||2019||48.85 km||0.32 s/km|
This example seems to suggest that long stages create longer time differences. However, in 2016 Jari-Matti Latvala made big stage wins with a great road position and in 2017 almost all of the cars had some sort of technical issues apart from the stage winner Kris Meeke.
Ouninpohja was cut in half to slow it down in 2005, by removing a very fast section in the middle. The resulting stages were Ouninpohja Länsi (14 km) and Ouninpohja Itä (16 km) – East and West, respectively. In 2007 the stage was back in the long form but with three chicanes.
|Ouninpohja 1||2004||33.24 km||0.56 s/km|
|Ouninpohja 2||2004||33.24 km||0.54 s/km|
|Ouninpohja Länsi 1 + Ouninpohja Itä 1 (sum)||2005||30.53 km||0.53 s/km|
|Ouninpohja Länsi 2 + Ouninpohja Itä 2 (sum)||2005||30.53 km||0.63 s/km|
|Ouninpohja Länsi 1 + Ouninpohja Itä 1 (sum)||2006||30.53 km||1.13 s/km|
|Ouninpohja Länsi 2 + Ouninpohja Itä 2 (sum)||2006||30.53 km||0.52 s/km|
|Ouninpohja 1||2007||33.01 km||0.66 s/km|
|Ouninpohja 2||2007||33.01 km||0.45 s/km|
In here the difference doesn’t seem to change much from long to short versions. 2006 first run has an exceptionally big difference, but Marcus Grönholm’s stage win appears bigger because Sebastien Loeb had a puncture and Petter Solberg went off.
Parahi – Ararua
The Parahi and Ararua stages in New Zealand were merged from 2000 to 2003 for a 59 km monster, but driven separately before that. In 2003 the stage was also driven both as long and separated version.
|Ararua + Parahi (sum)||1998||55.95 km||0.64 s/km|
|Ararua + Parahi (sum)||1999||55.95 km||0.32 s/km|
|Parahi – Ararua||2000||59.00 km||0.65 s/km|
|Parahi – Ararua||2001||59.00 km||0.48 s/km|
|Parahi – Ararua||2002||59.00 km||0.67 s/km|
|Parahi – Ararua||2003||59.00 km||0.57 s/km|
|Ararua + Parahi (sum)||2003||56.93 km||0.47 s/km|
Just like in Ouninpohja, we can’t make any conclusions. The difference seems to change on two shorter stages as much as on one long stage.
All in all, it seems that long stages don’t cause more differences per kilometre than short stages.
When we drive 40 km as one stage, we get only one result for each driver and one stage end interview. Meanwhile, two 20 km stages make up twice the amount of content for media outlets. This was echoed by Jarmo Mahonen in an interview back in 2017.
“My personal thoughts about this are that you have [more] 10km stages then you have lots of stages generating lots of news for social media. You remember we talked about the 80km stage in Mexico last year. What happened in that stage? Nothing and the people switched off because they were bored.”– Jarmo Mahonen, Motorsport.com
A long stage is a bigger challenge – both for the drivers and for the cars. The driver must have good physical and mental capabilities for an extended performance, while the car’s endurance is tested by continuous heating and beating. When the same mileage is run in shorter tests, the drivers can rest and the car cool down, tyres rotated etc.
Furthermore, in long stages the drivers will not have information about their pace because split times are not allowed in the car. In shorter stages the driver will know sooner how they were doing.
To measure stage difficulty, I have counted all crashes/spins/offs from 2022, put the crash stages into length categories and compared to how many stages of that length category was run during the year.
|Driver||Rally||0-10 km||10-20 km||20-30 km||30+ km|
|Solberg (Sunday 1)||Estonia||x|
|Solberg (Sunday 2)||Estonia||x|
|Solberg (Sunday 3)||Estonia||x|
|Katsuta (Friday)||New Zealand||x|
|Evans (Saturday 1)||New Zealand||x|
|Evans (Saturday 2)||New Zealand||x|
|Katsuta (Saturday)||New Zealand||x|
When we combine this data with the earlier table of all 2022 stages, we can make up the percentages
|0-10 km||10-20 km||20-30 km||30+ km|
|Crashes in 2022||7||31||18||5|
|Stages run in 2022||43||140||52||10|
This study does suggest that the longer the stage is, the more crashes happen, but it’s straightforwardly relative to the increase of the length of the stage. It’s clearly logical that eg. a 20 km makes up double more crashes than a 10 km stage because there’s double the length of road to drive. Thus, two short stages would be equally difficult as one long stage, if the kilometres are equal.
Stage running cost
Stages of different lengths have different costs. Some cost of the stage is relative to the length, such as road repair costs or stage marshalls. These we don’t need to consider.
Some personnel are always needed per stage not regarding the length, such as personnel for start and finish controls and certain managers and organizers of a stage. Theoretically it would be most economical to just run long stages, but practically it’s not always so simple to arrange.
Sometimes the cost also increases step by step when the stage becomes longer. Every stage must have a medical point at the start, but once the stage length increases over 15 km, intermediate medical points must be added to make sure medical rescue crews can access any point of the stage in less than 10 minutes. Thus longer stages must have more intermediate medical points.
Finally there’s the aspect of having a single motorsport club or other organization put up the stage alone. In those cases there could be limits to how many stage marshalls the club can get or how many kilometres of roads they can afford to repair after the rally. In that sense it’s
For WRC+/Rally.TV All Live, it’s difficult to broadcast very long stages because the signal from the cars can be received only for a part of the stage. There is a transmitter aeroplane flying over the stage and if there is for example a mountain or thick forest between the plane and the cars or if the plane is just simply too far from some cars, the camera signal can not be transmitted from the cars. Usually the plane begins the stage near the start of the stage and follows the top cars to the finish and stays there, thus not allowing us to get footage from the start of the stage anymore with the later cars. In this sense short stages work better.
Stage cancellation risk
When a stage is cancelled, it causes a bigger damage if it is longer. The drivers lose more kilometres and more spectators are disappointed.
In the worst case the rally ends up losing points it can award. Full points can be attributed only when 75% of the route is run. For example canceling two 38 km stages from a 300 km rally would mean running less than 75% of the length.
In the end we got 1 thumb for long stages and 3 thumbs for short stages and also many aspects which don’t make any difference. In this sense we can understand why long stages are not run anymore.
I believe these results but in my personal opinion I would like to see one 30+ km stage in every rally, although maybe 50+ km stages are excessively long. However, there’s also something unique about events like Rally Finland who run stages no longer than 20 km.
Oh, one more thing, that 80 km stage in Mexico is here in its entirety (almost, due to a few minutes not being saved to the camera). Drop a comment if you watched it all through!
2 thoughts on “Long stages vs. Short stages”
Planning to do a similar post about the total length of rallies? That would obviously allow longer stages more easily. As one can expect it’s more expensive but many costs also stay the same regardless of the length of the event.
Personally I’d like like to see more single runs as well as longer stages and rallies (like everyone I guess). To reduce costs I would limit the service park structures, make the calendar 10-12 events long and maybe cancel the gravel crews from tarmac rallies (although it probably isn’t so costly).
And of course it would make sense to cut costs from where they come from: the high-tech cars. Something close to rally2 with a sustaineable fuel/hydrogen engine and/or electric. Not sure about full electric though.
Not going to write about rally lengths because it’s not really comparable, I wouldn’t have same data about a rally being run short or long.
Banning gravel crews from four tarmac rallies a year wouldn’t be a big saving, especially considering the high benefit on safety.