Round 11 of the 2016 World Rally Championship takes the crews to Spain for the only fully mixed surfaced event of the series. Essentially Day 1 will be run on gravel roads in the far south-west corner of Catalunya, close to the border with the province of Valencia.
Day 2 is run on asphalt roads around Tarragona, and Day 3 on asphalt roads close to Salou. On the Thursday evening there is an asphalt stage in Barcelona around the Magic Fountain of Montjuich, which cars tackle on gravel tyres and suspensions.
There is an extended time for service on the Friday evening so that cars can safely be converted from gravel suspension to asphalt suspension settings. On the Saturday evening there is the annual special stage on the sea front in Salou.
There are a total of 19 stages, 11 of which are familiar, but with slight changes from last year. One has not been used in the same direction, another not for 10 years. This will be the final time that the WRC uses asphalt roads before the new vehicle regulations come into force next year, and the final appearance in this year’s championship of the supporting safety (“gravel note”) cars.
In the category for World Rally Cars, the attention is on the race to the world championship, which could be secured on this event by Sebastier Ogier, though the battle for the manufacturers will get closer on the two more rounds to follow after Spain.
This time there are no fewer than 17 World Rally Cars of five types (including the Mini JCW of the Ukraine Eurolamp team), with Hyundai Motors bringing four cars and Abu Dhabi Total three cars.
Curiosity is likely to focus on WRC2 where statistically no fewer than five drivers can still win the title. Fiesta driver, Elfyn Evans, leads the series but has already completed the maximum number of points-scoring starts he is allowed. The other four are Fabia drvers, three of them official team drivers with Skoda Motorsport, but the highest curently placed is the private team driver Teemu Suninen.
Suninen, Kopecky and Tidemand are entered in Spain, Lappi stays behind. Decisions on which future events Skoda drivers complete their allocated allowance of entries will doubtless rest upon the championship standings after Catalaunya.
Four drivers are still able to win the WRC3 title, in which only two eligible drivers will start in Spain. The attention will focus on the 61-year old Citroen driver Michel Fabre, whose season has seen him avoiding confrontation with the Junior championship drivers.
This event does not qualify for the Junior series. Series leader Simon Tempestini has already clinched the Junior series and is absent, as is Ole Christian Veiby, who on this occasion drives a Skoda R5. The other eligible competitor to be seen in Spain is the Italian federation Peugeot R2 driver Fabio Andolfi.
In the Drive DMack Fiesta Trophy, only Osian Pryce, Max Vatanen and Jon Armstrong can win the overall championship. As for the opportunity to win the various Fiesta R5 prize drives, Pryce and Vatanen have each won two prize drives (two events each) so far. Mathematically, with a maximum of 44 points (25 + 19 stage points) available in Spain, any of the 10 drivers (including de Mevius and Nordgren) can take the final pair of prize drives for this final sector. However, Pryce (30 points on Deutschland), Armstrong (21) and Vatanen (21) are the most likely.
There are 70 entries in total for the 52nd Rally RACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada Rally, including 18 R5 cars, 19 entries in WRC2, including two Mitsubishis (but no Hyundai R5 cars), while there are only six entries in WRC3 – three Citroen DS3 R3Ts and three Peugeot 208 R2s.
Team by Team
Abu Dhabi Total has entered three cars, for Kris Meeke, Craig Breen (in chassis 18 and 17, their Corsica cars) and the patron Khalid Al Qassimi in chassis 16 used by Marcos Ligato in Argentina and Finland. There was no time for pre-event testing, but Khalid had a one day shakedown on Monday. Al Qassimi says he has not competed on asphalt for a year, since Catalunya past year.
Plans for Citroen Racing to make an official return to the WRC next year were announced last week and no difficulty with the FIA is expected when the team seeks approval for them to drive 2017 specification cars next year!
The Shell team had the same cars as in Corsica (Neuville chassis 6, Sordo 8) while the Mobis team entered Paddon again in chassis 7. Also entered by the Mobis team was Kevin Abbring in the 2015 car chassis 14. The team cars had four days being prepared at Alzenau after Corsica.
Hyundai Motorsport’s plans for their three regular drivers were announced last week, and talks are continuing for a programme with Abbring.
Conditions for the asphalt roads in Catalunya are very different, being smother and almost racetrack-like roads compared with those used in Corsica and require different settings. No entries for R5 cars on this event.
Same cars as the M-Sport cars used through the year for the regular drivers and were sent back to Dovenby for four days preparation work. The team has identified the cause of the failure of the hydraulic brake cooling pumps that badly affected Ostberg’s performance in Corsica.
No team plans for 2017 have been decided and no schedule for an announcement has been decided. M-Sport is unsure how to arrange the promised prize drive in a World Rally Car for Elfyn Evans, which depends on availability of cars after Catalunya.
Pre-event testing in Spain was confined to work with the 2017 car, which now appears with new bodywork. Details of FIA’s plans for approving drivers of 2017 WRCs is anxiously awaited.
The only WRC team to run different cars on this event to those used in Corsica and run the same cars as used in Germany. In addition to the pressure to prepare for this rally, the team ran a WRC car for Marcus Gronholm at the Rally Legends, an event that is supported by the company.
No comments have been made about the brake problems which both Mikkelsen and Latvala suffered in Corsica. No announcement about team line-up for 2017 is scheduled, as the drivers will be unchanged from this year.
The team calculate that a total of 1348 components have to be changed in the 75 minutes service on Friday evening, in order to convert the gravel into asphalt specification cars.