It’s been four-and-a-bit years since the World Rally Championship landed in Chile. A lot’s changed. DirtFish sought the word from one man who’s been at the heart of those changes: Alain Penasse.
Famous for working alongside Andrea Adamo to mastermind back-to-back world titles for Hyundai, Penasse is possibly even more famous as the man behind one of the world’s best events: Ypres Rally.
He knows the sport from all sides. Would he be interested in helping out in Chile? Yes. Definitely.
“I’ve been involved since January,” Penasse told DirtFish. “We worked initially on the route and, like you know, you can see some fairly big changes to the itinerary for this week. Friday and Sunday’s stages are completely new.”
Why? There’s a pause. Maybe he’s slightly surprised at the question. Maybe DirtFish doesn’t remember…
“To be honest,” he said, “this is one of the easiest rallies in the world to work on the route; you come to a junction and do you want to go left or do you want to go right? Whichever way you go, the roads are fantastic – some of the best in the world. You have to look really hard to find a bad section of road around here.
“I would say Friday’s stages are maybe a little bit more reminiscent of New Zealand-style roads. And it looks quite like New Zealand in some of the route – we are going out of the forests and through some of the beautiful landscapes.”
Some of the forested landscapes have changed significantly in the last four years, mainly due to the wildfires which ravaged the area around Concepcion at the start of the year.
“There were big fires around February time,” said Penasse. “The look of some stages is quite different now, with the leaves gone from the trees and in a lot of places all the trees chopped down and replanted. The stages look a lot more open. The fires did a lot of damage across a huge number of hectares.”
You have to look really hard to find a bad section of road around hereAlain Penasse
But, similar to the story from round 10 in Greece, after the fire came the rain.
“There has been a lot of rain recently,” he said. “I know the team was working in one of the Saturday stages last week. There was a four or five-kilometer section of road that needed some repair – the mud was kind of Kenyan-spec, around 10cm deep or something like that.
“You will see when you get here, some of the fields are still under water where the river has come outside of its boundary. There was a lot of rain.
“The forecast is for a dry run into the rally and then dry weather through the event – but don’t forget, we are sitting by the Pacific Ocean, the Biobio river and, of course, the Andes mountains. There is a bit conflict of climate and the weather can change very quickly.
“Being close to the sea, there can also be a lot of wind which can dry the roads quickly, and we’re less under the trees this time.
“One thing won’t change: the fog.”
Kalle Rovanperä has a question… Friday: how much will it clean?
“Obviously it depends on the weather,” reasoned Penasse. “If it is wet, not so much. But there is some loose and there will be some cleaning if it’s dry. Friday and Sunday – the new roads – are probably less abrasive than Saturday.”
The other change is the decision to shift Thursday’s ceremonial start to Los Angeles, a 90-minute drive south of the service park in Concepcion.
“That’s about spreading the visibility of the event,” said Penasse. “I know the start in 2019 was really spectacular – I think we can expect the same thing this week.”
As a sporting contest and for visual appeal, Chile was a winner first time around four years ago. Here’s to more of the same next week.