Qualifying is a new format that has been introduced this year to deal with the problem of road position. In the past, drivers have deliberately stopped on stages and conceded positions to other drivers in order to get a better starting position the next day. That might sound silly, but being one of the first on the road has long been considered a disadvantage, because the drivers were “road sweeping”, pushing the loose top layer of the road away, so that the harder and faster road base was exposed for subsequent cars. So the drivers would stop and concede positions so that when the rally started again the next day, they could drive in better conditions.
The FIA have tried several methods to deal with the problem, but none have really worked until the introduction of qualifying. At the start of the rally, there is a shakedown stage that gives the drivers the chance to test their cars out on a short stage. These were timed, but nobody ever did anything with the times until now. Under the qualifying system, the top ten drivers have the right to choose their starting position for the first day. If you qualify fastest, you get the first pick of starting position. Second-fastest gets second choice, and so on and so forth, all the way down to tenth, who has to take whatever is left over.