One of the latest and quite possibly best inovations to hit World Rally Championship is called Qualifying Stage and is thought to provide more open way in battling for starting positions on gravel rallies.
On many gravel rallies starting position is crucial in securing good results and the crews starting higher up the order are usually much slower due to the nature of the surface. Majority of gravel stages have a thin layer of soft and slippery sand on top of a harder surface and frontrunners are caught sweeping the track and losing time.
Drivers invented the system of deliberate slowdowns in the latter stages of each individual leg in order to ensure lower starting position, but this was rightfully frowned upon. This is where Qualifying Stage comes into picture.
We explained it on several occasions already, but readers still keep sending questions about it. So, here it is once more from the FIA’s official release.
On gravel rallies a Free Practice and Qualifying Stage will be organised for P1 and P2 drivers in order to establish the event start order until at least the first regroup following a 45 minute service. P1 and P2 drivers may complete a maximum of two passages for Free Practice within a two-hour time frame. Competitors will then choose their start position for the first day of a gravel rally according to the results of the Qualifying Stage. The fastest driver will choose position first, then the second, followed by the third etc.
The Qualifying Stage will be the same stage as the Free Practice stage and will be included in the programme of the event and the reconnaissance schedule. After the two passages allowed for Free Practice on gravel rallies, P1 and P2 drivers will start the Qualifying Stage according to the current FIA World Rally Championship classification for Drivers with a two minute interval between each car. The Stewards shall decide the order of drivers who have not been classified in the previous World Rally Championship for Drivers.
A competitor whose car is unable to complete the Free Practice, Qualifying Stage or following road section will be required to wait for the organiser to recover the car after the session has finished. Any driver who does not correctly complete the Qualifying Stage will choose position last. If more than one driver does not complete the stage, positions will be chosen according to the starting list for the Qualifying Stage. The competitor shall nevertheless be required to attend the ceremonial start.
On asphalt rallies, as in previous years, P1 and P2 drivers shall complete a minimum of four passages during Free Practice/Shakedown within a four-hour time frame and will start the event in the order of the provisional Championship classification.
On gravel rallies, P1 and P2 drivers will restart the first section on subsequent days as a merged group in reverse order according to their provisional overall classification at the finish of the final special stage on the previous day. On asphalt rallies, P1 and P2 drivers shall normally restart as a merged group in the order of their provisional overall classification. P3 and all other drivers shall normally restart as a merged group after the P1 and P2 drivers in the order of their provisional classification.
For the Qualifying Stage and the Power Stage, timing will be to a thousandth of a second. Stage times from the Qualifying Stage will not be counted towards the final results of the event.