Fighting Talk: 72nd LOTOS Rally Poland
A round-up of pre-event comments from the WRC stars
1) It's not another Finland
The stages in Poland are often likened to those at Neste Oil Rally Finland - but from what we saw this year they don't have a huge amount in common. Okay, both events are high-speed and feature smooth gravel stages, but that's about it. The Poland route runs largely through open countryside, not forests, and Poland's gently undulating landscape - seen below on Saturday's Swietajno stage (SS12/SS16) - is no match for Finland's roller coaster crests and jumps. We counted only one or two jumps in this year's route.
2) A pace note challenger
The Polish stages are narrow, unforgiving and a stern test for the new pace notes crews will make here. Almost 75 per cent of this year's route is new, and when you factor in older stages run in reverse, crews will write fresh notes for 88 per cent of the distance. Get a note wrong and drivers are likely to find themselves in a roadside ditch, or trying to navigate their way out of a cornfield. The picture below is of Friday's Goldap test (SS3/SS8).
3) Sand, gravel and sometimes both
Where does sand end and gravel begin? It's a question we asked ourselves a lot on the recce as the road surface flicked from one to the other - often in the same stage. Unlike Sardinia there is no bedrock here and the sandy sections will quickly become rutted, especially for the second passes. The hard-packed gravel should stand up better on the high-speed sections, but expect this to cut up too in braking zones and slower corners where the cars scrabble for traction. The picture below shows one of the gravel sections in Friday's Babki stage (SS4/SS6).
4) Close to the Polish edge
This year's route does not cross into Lithuania like it did in 2014, but it does get within sight of a couple of neighbouring countries. Friday's Goldap stage (SS3/SS8) passes one kilometre from the border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad Oblast (that's the check-point below), while the finish of Stanczyki (SS5/SS7) is a stone's throw from Lithuania.
5) A road position conundrum
The weather forecast suggests a dry rally ahead, and on a gravel event that gets people talking about road sweeping and the relative merits of different positions in the start order. After this recce however we're not sure where the optimum place would be. Road opener on Friday and Saturday Sébastien Ogier will face the worst of the loose gravel and sand, but should benefit from the smoothest roads on the first passes. Those drivers behind might have a swept line in places, but they're also likely to be driving on increasingly rutted tracks. On mixed surface roads like Friday's SS2 Gorklo (shown below) it's hard to know who will have the advantage.
Photo credit: Omar Avila