They should be a bit of harmless fun for the drivers, ‘gimmicky’ demonstration runs designed with the sole purpose of attracting the wider public or new fans to the World Rally Championship.
‘Super specials’, as they have become known, are generally not much longer than a few kilometres in length. Access is made easy for spectators who can get up close while, for the drivers, it’s all about dodging cones, tyre stacks and temporary concrete barriers rather than trees, rocks and ravines.
Indeed they are a far cry from the daunting 30km-plus stages held on natural terrain that make up the vast majority of a rally’s distance. But while a driver isn’t going to win a rally on a super special he or she can certainly lose it.
Portugal’s all-asphalt 3.5km super special last weekend – a mixture of chicanes, hairpins, man-made jumps, paint markings and even tramlines – was a dramatically perfect example of how it can all go so wrong.
A highly embarrassed Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari crashed his Ford Fiesta sideways into a wall with such force that it stopped dead with broken suspension. Its following 300km journey to the central service area was on the back of a recovery truck. Seconds later fancied WRC2 runner Sepp Wiegand’s Skoda collided with the same barrier and smashed a wheel which then parted company and bounced into the start line gantry.
But it was WRC ace Michal Kosciuszko who grabbed the headlines when his MINI’s bonnet flew up into his car’s windscreen, severely restricting his view as he continued to the end of the stage.
Time, then, to look back at a few more classic cases of when it shouldn’t happen to a rally driver. But did.
Jari-Matti Latvala, Rally Poland, 2009
M-Sport’s factory Ford team is all set for a famous 1-2 result with Mikko Hirvonen and Latvala. It’s the final stage and team boss Malcolm Wilson is already opening the champagne when a somewhat stiffer drink is required.
Tommi Makkinen, Rally GB, 1998
Finnish legend Makkinen’s hopes of a third consecutive title look to be over when a wheel is torn from his Mitsubishi after it glances a concrete bollard. He determinedly keeps going on the road but is stopped by the police.
Carlos Sainz, Rally GB, 1998
Same rally, different driver. With Makkinen long gone, what should be a celebratory final stage at Margem country park for Carlos Sainz becomes a nightmare. Co-driver Luis Moya’s helmet-through-window moment is TV gold as are winners’ Richard Burns and Robert Reid’s haircuts.
Mads Ostberg, Rally Portugal, 2011
On the same Lisbon stage that caught out our unfortunate trio of Al-Kuwari, Wiegand and Kosciuszko above, Ostberg loses a wheel and has to complete the stage with his privateer Ford Fiesta’s rear dragging on the ground. As for the wheel…
Conrad Rautenbach, Monte Carlo, 2008
The German’s Citroen Xsara is up against Matthew Wilson’s Ford Focus on the two-lap stage. He’s on for a reasonable time until, just yards before the finish line, he enters the Grand Prix circuit’s famous swimming pool section…
Petter Solberg, Rally Portugal, 2010
A unique super special, held inside Faro’s Algarve football stadium (the base for 2013’s event), and a rather unique accident. In the end Solberg gets away without paying much of a penalty for climbing up and over a barrier made of water-filled bollards.