Motoring

World Rally Championship: All you need to know

© Aurelien Vialatte / Red Bull Content Pool
Written by Phil Barker
The World Rally Championship (WRC) kicks off in Monte-Carlo this week. New to the sport? Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the new season.
Even if you’re new to the WRC, chances are you’ve heard of the Rallye Monte-Carlo, a rally that’s taken place on the roads around Monaco and the French Riviera for more than 100 years. Competitors for the 2020 WRC will be taking on the famous switchback roads later this week, kicking off the championship in style.
It can seem like a daunting sport to get to grips with at first – why do the drivers set off at different times, how can they remember routes and stages that are hundreds of kilometres long and why do they have passengers? These are just a few of the questions that may spring to mind, but it’s all part of a high-octane, high-stakes series that’s steeped in history. Want to know more? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is the WRC?

The WRC is the pinnacle of rallying, bringing the world’s best drivers and machines together and pitting them against the toughest routes around the world. Each race sees the action head out onto both open and closed roads, across country and taking in multiple stages throughout the weekend.
Competitors are timed driving the stage individually, along with a ‘co-driver’, and aim to complete the stage within the fastest time possible. The co-driver is there to help direct and navigate the driver, as entire rallies comprise routes that are hundreds of kilometres in length.

Where can I watch it?

You can watch the action from the Monte Carlo rally, along with every other WRC stop, right here on RBTV.
And if you can’t keep up with the action over the weekend? Don’t worry, we’ll be bringing you a full run-down of each rally after the event with a brand new show called Rally Rewind every Monday evening.
Preview the action from Monte Carlo right here:
Rally · 3 min
Fast facts – Monte-Carlo

Where are they racing in 2020?

For the first time in the series' 48-year history the WRC will stop in six continents in 2020. New to the 13-stop schedule this season are races in New Zealand, Japan and Kenya, so plenty of drama awaits in the coming months.
VENUEDATE
MonacoJan 23-26
SwedenFeb 13-16
MexicoMar 12-15
ArgentinaApr 23-26
PortugalMay 21-24
ItalyJune 4-7
KenyaJuly 16-19
FinlandAug 6-9
TurkeySep 24-27
New ZealandSep 3-7
GermanyOct 15-18
Great BritainOct 29-Nov 1
JapanNov 19-22
Ott Tanak (EST) Martin Jarveoja (EST) of team Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT are seen racing on day 1 during the World Rally Championship Portugal in Porto, Portugal on May 30, 2019
Ott Tänak sliding in the sand in Porto

Who are the big players?

Last year’s championship was won by Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja, racing for Toyota Gazoo Racing. It was the duo’s maiden championship, taking the spoils from Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul, with defending champions Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia finishing in third.
In a bid to reclaim his title (Ogier dominated the championship between 2013 and 2018, winning six in a row), Ogier has shaken things up, bidding adieu to the Citroën World Rally Team and partnering with Toyota Gazoo Racing. The swap also saw defending champion Tänak leaving for pastures new, joining Hyundai Motorsport and opening up the 2020 season for some fantastic racing.

Who has an outside shot?

It’s a brave person who bets against Ogier or Tänak for WRC success, but there’s definitely momentum with Thierry Neuville, who’s finished runner-up in the WRC Championship for four years running, finishing second five times in total and winning twelve WRC rallies along the way. With the other big shots finding their feet in new teams, will 2020 finally be Neuville’s year?
Thierry Neuville (BEL) of team Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT celebrate on the podium in first place after winning the World Rally Championship Spain in Salou on October 27 2019.
Thierry Neuville

How many stages are there and how long is each stage?

Each rally comprises around 15-25 ‘Special Stages’, which can be anywhere between 2km (known as Super Special Stages) and up to 50km. There are also non-competitive stages linking the Special Stages, held on open roads where regular road laws must be obeyed, with drivers covering around 400km in total by the end of an average day.
With timed runs taking place, drivers generally set off around every two minutes, with the top drivers starting first on the Friday. Come Saturday and Sunday, overall placements determine the starting order, with the car in last place starting first, the leader going last and so on.
Things change for Super Special Stages, which are shorter and often held in stadiums, with a head-to-head format allowing drivers to battle their rivals in a race to the line. There are also Power Stages, which is the final stage of a rally, with extra World Championship points on offer for the five fastest crews.

How fast are the cars?

WRC cars are very much a product of the terrain they race on, geared for ultimate acceleration out of tight bends, along with near-instant responses, over top speed. As you’d expect, a WRC car is not short on power, with their turbocharged engines putting out close to 400bhp, with top speeds hovering around 200kmh, but it’s the fact they can hit 100kph in under four seconds that really impresses. Throw in the ability to do that time and time again, on gravel, ice and snow, and you really start to see how unique a WRC rally car actually is.
Sebastien Ogier testing the Toyota Yaris WRC before the Monte-Carlo rally in Col du Noyer, France on January 16, 2020.
Sébastien Ogier on the limit

What makes the WRC special?

It’s fast. Amazingly fast, but unlike most other motorsports there’s literally no room for error. The wide open circuits and gravel pits of track racing look like runways in comparison to the brutally narrow roads that WRC drivers do battle on and just take a look at the Monte Carlo route for an example of what awaits if somebody does make a mistake. The snaking roads generally feature rock walls on one side and vertical drops – often spanning hundreds of feet – on the other. Make a mistake and it’s a long way down.
And that’s just for starters. With WRC heading all over the world, drivers have to get to grips with all manner of terrain, from snow and ice in Finland, to arid deserts in Kenya and every destination is certain to push man and machine to the very limit.
A photo of snow-filled roads around Monte Carlo
The Monte Carlo is anything but easy...