M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs will be ready for a dual-surface duel when the FIA World Rally Championship ventures to the only mixed surface event of the year at next week’s RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España.
The battle to be crowned this year’s FIA World Rally Champion could not be closer, and three of the sport’s most talented crews will be going head-to-head on both gravel and asphalt – seven points is currently all that separates Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia from retaining their crown.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“The championship fight could not be closer as we head to Spain. It’s been a long time since we had a battle this intense and I know that the whole team will be working their absolute hardest to ensure Sébastien and Julien have everything they need to push for a sixth world title.
“With three Spanish victories to their name, they certainly know what it takes to master the mixed terrain and I’m confident that we have a strong package for both surfaces. It’s going to be such an exciting weekend, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.
“Elfyn and Teemu are also capable of fighting for the top results next weekend, and I’m keen to see what they can do as the season draws to a close.
“Luck has most definitely not been on Elfyn’s side this year, but the speed is there and I know he’ll want to bring the season to a close with some strong results. Teemu too will want to showcase everything he’s learnt on what will be the last familiar event of the year for him.”
RALLY DE ESPAÑA: A MIXED-SURFACE EVENT
As the only mixed-surface event on the calendar, RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España provides a unique challenge which tests the world’s best drivers on gravel as well as asphalt.
The EcoBoost-powered Ford Fiesta WRCs start the event in gravel specification – an opening stage through the streets of Barcelona on Thursday evening followed on Friday by six narrow, twisty gravel tests in the mountains west of the rally base in Salou.
The Fiestas are then transformed into their asphalt guise during an extended service that evening. A number of components including the suspension, brakes, gearbox, rear differential, steering rack and cross members are all changed in less than 75 minutes – a task which could take up to 12 hours on a standard road car.
To ensure a perfect set-up, the team spent this week building the competition Fiestas first in their asphalt trim and then again in their gravel guise.
Attention to detail is imperative and our mechanics took precise measurements and geometry in the workshop to ensure everything is millimetre-perfect when they come to make the change competitively in Spain.
The weekend competition then ushers in circuit-like asphalt that the crews can attack as they would a racetrack – 11 stages over the championship’s smoothest and fastest Tarmac roads.
SÉBASTIEN OGIER AND JULIEN INGRASSIA
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia will be hunting another strong result when the FIA World Rally Championship returns to Spain. Victory at the previous round saw the pairing close in on the championship lead, and they’ll be looking for further gains next week – at an event they have won on three previous occasions.
Previous starts: 10
Best result: 1st (2013, 2014 and 2016)
Sébastien Ogier said:
“We go to Spain on a high after securing victory in Wales, and reducing the gap at the head of the championship standings to seven points. With just two events left to contest, the title race is really hotting up, and we’ll need to deliver another strong result if we want to defend our crown.
“The competition is really exciting and I’m looking forward to this event which I enjoy a lot. The dual surface element of this rally makes it a unique fixture on the calendar and you need to adapt quickly to each change in terrain.
“The support we get in Salou every year also provides extra motivation and everyone can count on Julien and I giving everything to bring home another strong result for the championship.”
ELFYN EVANS AND DANIEL BARRITT
Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt have had the speed but not the luck this year – and that’s something the British pairing will be determined to change next week. Their season may have been marred by a series of unfortunate events, but they’re determined to end the year on a high – starting with a strong result in Spain.
Previous starts: 5
Best result: 7th (2017)
Elfyn Evans said:
“We go to the Spain determined to secure a good result. Luck hasn’t been on our side this year, but the speed is there and we’ll be looking to close the season with some strong results.
“As the only mixed-surface encounter on the calendar, there’s no other event quite like this one. We start the rally in gravel specification before everything is lowered and stiffened for Catalunya’s circuit-like asphalt.
“It’s quite a strategic rally and our plan will be to give it a big push through the gravel on Friday, before seeing where we are for the weekend’s asphalt – which really is like driving on a racetrack in places!”
TEEMU SUNINEN AND MIKKO MARKKULA
Teemu Suninen and Mikko Markkula are already winners in Spain having piloted their Ford Fiesta R5 to victory in the WRC 2 category last year. Attacking the mixed-surface stages for the first time with the power and performance of the top-specification Fiesta next week, Suninen will be aiming to put all he has learnt into practice by challenging for a strong result.
Previous starts: 3
Best result: 8th (2017)
Teemu Suninen said:
"I have contested Rally Spain every year since my debut season in 2015 and it’s an event I like a lot. I’m looking forward to heading back there this year and attacking the stages for the first time in a world rally car.
“We had a test on the Spanish asphalt last week and the car felt good immediately. The set-up for this sort of asphalt is pretty unique and you can really attack the stages like you would on a circuit. The gravel stages are quite narrow and similar to those in Portugal.
“This is a rally that demands commitment if you want to challenge for a good result, and we plan to deliver that and challenge for a positive result next week.”
ELSEWHERE IN THE TEAM
Elsewhere in the team, Ken Block will be making his debut behind the wheel of a new-generation world rally car. Piloting the Ford Fiesta WRC for the first time in competition, Block returns to the FIA World Rally Championship for the first time since 2014. The popular American completed two days of testing in the lead-up to the event – on both gravel and asphalt – and will be joined, as always, by Alex Gelsomino calling the notes.