As the FIA World Rally Championship returns to action, there remains all to play for and M-Sport will be hoping to continue their success on the mixed-surface terrain of RallyRACC Catalyuna – Rally de España.
With the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC leading the way in both championships, the Spanish fixture could prove pivotal – the team having their first, albeit very slim, mathematical chance of clinching the manufacturers’ crown.
RALLY DE ESPAÑA: UNIQUE MIXED-SURFACE
RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España provides a unique challenge as the only mixed surface event on the calendar; a day of gravel followed by one and a half days of the smoothest, circuit-like asphalt.
The action kicks off on Friday with six gravels tests in the hills west of Salou. Fast and technical in nature, the crews will also have to tackle the daunting Terra Alta stage with close to 40 kilometres of gravel interspersed with long stretches of asphalt.
Then it’s over to the mechanics as they convert the competition cars from their gravel to asphalt specifications. What could take up to 12 hours on a standard road car, is done in a mere 75 minute service – the team expertly changing a whole host of components including the suspension, brakes, gearbox, rear differential, steering rack and cross members.
Over the weekend, the crews head north to tackle a further 13 speed tests on pure asphalt. Whereas Friday’s action remains unchanged, the weekend ushers in a host of new roads to test the crews through some of the season’s most famous Tarmac.
Having completed a total of 312.02 competitive kilometres come the end of the rally, the victor will have mastered the art of mixed-surface rallying and excelled through both the loose- and sealed-surface terrain.
M-Sport currently leads both the Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ FIA World Rally Championship but Team Principal Malcolm Wilson OBE remains acutely aware of how crucial the final three events will be.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“We’ve had a fantastic season to date, and we’re now entering the decisive final phase. The competition could not be closer and the next three rallies will be crucial – Rally Spain in particular.
“With its mix of gravel and asphalt, this event is truly unique and the teams will have to master both surfaces in their pursuit of victory. Having secured a podium on every event this season, the Fiesta has proven competitive on every surface and we hope to see that continue next week.
“Sébastien certainly knows what it takes to win here, and Ott and Elfyn will both be determined to settle a few scores. A strong result will be imperative to the outcome of the championship, and that is exactly what we aim to deliver.
“It won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination, and the competition will be extremely tough, but I have confidence in the team who are working their hardest to deliver our best.”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia know what it takes to master the mixed-surface terrain of Rally Spain. The Frenchmen have secured victory at the Spanish fixture on three separate occasions and will be determined to deliver another strong result next week.
Fully refreshed after the summer break, the World Champion has relaxed with family and friends whilst also hosting a meeting with his Fan Club in Lyon.
Currently holding a 17 point lead at the head of the driver and co-driver standings, Ogier and Ingrassia will be aiming to maintain and extend that lead ahead of the season showdown.
Previous starts: 9
Best result: 1st (2016, 2014 and 2013)
Sébastien Ogier said:
“We’re feeling fully refreshed after the break and ready to get back to business. Spain is always an enjoyable event. Its mixed surface makes it truly unique and the fans are so enthusiastic. I have a lot of special memories here, and it would be nice to add to them next week.
“Opening the road is a good thing in one sense as it means that we are back in the lead of the championship. But if it’s dry the championship lead also comes with its challenges and we’ll need to work hard to minimise the time loss through the opening gravel stages.
“Then, it’s onto the fast, smooth asphalt that this event is famed for. We had a one-day test to get used to this circuit-like asphalt and the car felt pretty good. We completed a lot of kilometres for a one-day test, and that sees us well prepared to deliver our best.
“With the championships so close, that’s exactly what we will have to deliver. We have a 17 point lead, but with 90 points still available there remains all to play for and we all need to work together to maximise our potential – starting with Rally Spain.”
TÄNAK AND JÄRVEOJA
Fresh from victory at the previous round in Germany, Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja have proven performance on both gravel and asphalt.
As such, next week’s dual-surface encounter poses no apprehension and the Estonians are keen to deliver their best performance at the Spanish fixture – extending both their and the team’s championship position.
During the summer break, Tänak hasn’t strayed too far from his Ford Fiesta WRC, and was behind the wheel at Rallyday in the UK – entertaining the thousands of fans as he delivered the debut public appearance of a new-generation World Rally Car on UK soil.
Previous starts: 4
Best result: 6th (2016)
Ott Tänak said:
“I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel. It was really nice to have some time at home with the family, but I have to admit that I was also starting to miss the thrill of competition!
“We’ve proved that we can be competitive on both gravel and asphalt, so I’m not daunted by the mixed surface of Spain. Going from one surface to the next in the same weekend can be a little strange at first, but we all get up to speed pretty quickly.
“The gravel roads are really nice with a mix of fast and technical sections and we had a Tarmac test in Spain last week which reminded me just how amazing those roads are. They’re so smooth and it really is like driving on a circuit in some places.
“With both championships so close at the moment, I think we’re in for an interesting weekend and we’ll certainly be aiming to deliver our best for both the manufacturers’ and the drivers’.”
EVANS AND BARRITT
Elfyn Evans hasn’t had the best of fortunes at Rally Spain, but the Welshman is eager to put that right next week. Just two points shy of the top-five in the drivers’ standings, there remains all to play for and a strong result could elevate all three M-Sport drivers into the overall top-five.
Armed with a new gravel tyre, Evans also has one of the championship’s most experienced co-drivers at his side as Dan Barritt celebrates his 100th WRC start in Spain.
During the summer break, Evans joined team mate Tänak at Rallyday before venturing to Red Bull Hardline – supporting his fellow Red Bull athletes at what is hailed one of the toughest downhill mountain bike races in the world.
Previous starts: 4
Best result: 14th (2014)
Elfyn Evans said:
“As the only mixed-surface event on the calendar, Rally Spain is really unique. I’ve not had the best of luck there in the past, but we’ll be hoping to put that right this year.
“The gravel stages can be quite technical and on the Terra Alta stage we have long sections of asphalt in amongst the gravel. That can make the car move around quite a lot and you have to drive with the whole stage in mind.
“It’s quite a strategic rally in that sense and you have to think about the long game with a day and a half of pure Tarmac to follow the gravel. The weather could also prove a deciding factor so it’ll be interesting to see what the Spanish forecasts have to offer us this year.
“With the championship so close, this event could be really crucial and we’re all determined to deliver our best.”