RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España #WRC Preview

Last time out on asphalt, Ford Fiesta RS WRC driver Ott Tänak won Rally Germany, while his team mate Sebastien Ogier reinforced his championship lead. But next weekend’s round in Spain (5-8 October) is unique as the only rally to feature both gravel and asphalt stages. And there’s going to be plenty of challenges from their rivals at Hyundai, Citroën and Toyota. With just three rounds left to go, it’s mano a mano!

The battle between four-time world champion Ogier and the pretender to his throne, Thierry Neuville, resumes – with just 17 points separating them at the top. Ott Tänak is also in real championship contention: third overall, just 16 points behind Neuville. So, will it be Fiesta time in Catalonia? Or will Hyundai strike back?

The rally is based in the holiday resort of Salou on the Costa Daurada, with soft and sandy gravel stages on Friday before a long service halt on Friday evening, when the cars are switched to asphalt specification for a weekend of flat-out sealed-surface action close to the seaside. It’s the closest that rallying gets to a race circuit.

What’s new in Spain?

Andreas Mikkelsen in a Hyundai. Having last appeared in a Citroen C3 WRC, the Norwegian has switched to the i20 Coupe WRC from the Korean manufacturer in a newly-announced deal that covers the rest of this season as well as 2018 and 2019.

Meeke in the C3 on gravel, engineered by Loeb. Nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb had his first taste of the Citroen C3 on gravel recently (above) and his suggestions could play a big part in how it performs next weekend. He’s tested it on asphalt as well and is a record-holder on Rally Spain, having won it eight times in a row from 2005.

Saturday’s first day on asphalt includes two new stages in the afternoon, while all six stages on Sunday (run consecutively, without a service halt) are new as well. The Santa Marina Power Stage returns for the first time in five years.

Mads Ostberg and Khalid Al Qassimi both return to competition in a Ford Fiesta WRC and a Citroen C3 WRC respectively, having taken time out recently.

Route

  • Spain is unique as the WRC’s only mixed surface encounter. Medium-speed gravel roads contrast with smooth, fast, circuit-like asphalt.
  • Costa Daurada holiday resort of Salou, south of Barcelona, is the host town with the action covering familiar roads in the Tarragona hills.
  • After Thursday night’s Salou start, Friday’s ‘dirt day’ heads west and is identical to 2016. However, the long Terra Alta test includes several asphalt sections and many surface changes. Three morning stages are repeated in the afternoon.
  • The second and third legs are entirely asphalt. Saturday journeys north-east and includes two new stages, one of which is driven in the reverse direction to 2016. Two loops of three stages are followed by a fan favourite test on Salou seafront.
  • Sunday’s tough finale contains six stages without service. All the tests are new but the roads are well-known and the rally ends with the Santa Marina Power Stage.

Challenge

  • Only mixed surface round of the season as two days of asphalt are blended with a day of primarily gravel.
  • After the first full day teams convert their cars from gravel to asphalt specification in a longer than usual evening service to accommodate the surface change.
  • Drivers must quickly adapt their driving style to an overnight change in road surface.
  • Fast, smooth, sweeping asphalt is comparable to a race circuit in its characteristics.

Car spec

  • Both asphalt and gravel set-up required for the mixed roads.
  • Different tyres are needed for the two surfaces.
  • Asphalt is abrasive and if temperatures are hot, drivers must manage tyre wear carefully.

History

  • First run in 1957 and included in the European Championship from 1975.
  • Entered the WRC in 1991 when it was based on the Costa Brava in Lloret de Mar.
  • Relocated to Salou in 2002 and after being a pure asphalt event, it developed into a mixed surface event in 2010.
  • Sébastien Loeb dominated the rally, winning every year between 2005 and 2012.