The finale of the 2020 World Rally Championship season enters unfamiliar territory for many of the crews. For the first full day of the Monza Rally, the famous grand prix circuit is the battleground for what could prove to be one of the most pivotal opening loops of the year as four drivers duke it out this weekend to be crowned champion.
But what lies ahead on Friday? Five stages across three configurations of the “Temple of Speed” are on the itinerary. DirtFish senior staff writer David Evans does his best to explain the complex intricacies of each test.
SS2/3 Scorpion (8.25 miles)
Consider the original loop track (first built in 1922 but revamped into its current form in 1954) as an oddly shaped spaghetti bowl.
Now take a piece of spaghetti and drop it into the bowl. That’s a fairly accurate description of what the first stage ‘proper’ looks like. The cars start from the middle-ish of the bowl and then head out to run clockwise around the old track. This stage is as close as they get to running a complete lap of what was originally built 98 years ago.
Advance warning, anybody teeing off at Golf Club Milano around eight in the morning better be ready to take cover… with the anti-lag turned up to full machine gun mode, these Rally1 cars will be waking the dead (and those taking a snooze between par threes) as they go through two chicanes.
Just after crossing the third bridge on the circuit (not that you’d really notice the bridge), there’s a k-right onto a gravel road that takes the cars through the trees and back onto the old circuit before a hairpin right runs them the wrong way up the modern-day Grand Prix track and into Parabolica.
A mid-corner junction square-left means more of the infield fiddly bits from SS1 and shakedown. Back onto the GP track and it’s the wrong way through Ascari before diving back onto the gravel (via a particularly narrow gate) at the apex of Curva del Serraglio (where F1 cars are usually knocking on the door of 190mph in eighth gear coming the other way).
Skipping the second Lesmo, they’re back on track to take the first Lesmo (still going to wrong way) before exiting the track just before the second chicane (which, technically, going in the direction SS2/3 is should be called the first chicane…) and heading back towards that narrow gatey bit I just mentioned.
This is one section where the cars will be coming close to each other going in opposite directions.
After that it’s back down to a seemingly never-ending left-hander at Curva Grande, which has never been a left-hander before, into the first (second) chicane and up the start/finish straight for some handbrake action.
At the end of the straight (normally the exit of Parabolica) the cars will again be coming in opposite directions. Coming towards the crews headed for the finish will be the cars who have just come off the old track for the hairpin before the infield fiddly bits – still with me?
The road to the finish includes a handful of 90s, some on asphalt, some on dirt, grass, cobbles – there are more surface changes in here than any other stage – and whatever else the Monza park consists of before a 90-right into hairpin left for the finish.
Crikey! The concentration in writing that (and probably reading it!) is enormous. With all that detail, the co-drivers could probably just ditch the pacenote book and take DirtFish with them.
SS4/5 Cinturato (9.96 miles)
If you thought the first stage was confusing, you should see the second stage on Friday. It’s bonkers. But it’s faster with more straights and fewer surface changes. Marginally.
OK, let’s give this one a go. Basically (basically… who am I kidding?), it starts close to where SS2/3 finished and then does a bunch of 90s in the other direction. This takes the crews onto the start/finish straight in the right way.
After a load of hairpins and skids, they do the first chicane properly, then use a link road through the trees into an infield section that has the potential for cars going absolutely everywhere (all very much in a concrete-controlled manner).
It’s anti-clockwise (I think, I’m so confused I’m not even sure which way it clockwise anymore…) down the northern end of the old loop circuit before a hairpin left takes them back in the opposite direction – continuing out of the banked loop then turning in towards the paddock (let’s call it what it is – a service area), doing a load of infield fiddles in what looks like more carpark spaghetti before a bit of Parabolica, a smidge of southern end banked loop, a dash down the golf course and more square corners lead the cars to the first apex of Parabolica.
Instead of turning left and caning it through the world-famous right-hander, the cars will hairpin right and go the wrong way towards Ascari and onto both Lesmos (two is really one and one is better described as two on this stage).
A square left just after the second chicane (which is really… you know what I mean) means a combo of more cobbles, dirt, grass, gravel and tarmac before the finish halfway down the start-finish straight.
SS6 PZero Grand Prix 1 (6.41 miles)
After the complications of infields and fiddly bits, the final stage on Friday is much more straightforward and involves a run around the old circuit loop (clockwise) for the first ‘lap’. Back onto the start-finish straight and the crews then move into the Grand Prix track and, get, this, they do the whole lap in the right direction. The first chicane is just that!
The potential for big long snowy, sleety drifts around Parabolica is spoiled by the need to negotiate a couple of chicanes, but otherwise this one is comfortably the clearest of the day’s stages from a navigational and stage description perspective.