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GP Week : Issue 138
WRC PREVIEW >> Neck and neck for the title! Three drivers (Sebastien Loeb equal with Mikko Hirvonen, then closely behind Sebastien Ogier) are racing for the world rally championship with just three points separating them. Rally Catalunya is the penultimate round, and the last asphalt rally, of the season, and because some gravel sections have been included, like last year, it will be the end of a special style of rallying. This will be the last time a so-called asphalt WRC rally will be allowed to include some gravel sections, although so-called all-gravel events may continue to include a few stretches of asphalt within special stages. On this event the first day is given over to gravel, with two loops of three stages, in which the first stage of each loop is all-gravel, and the second and third have both gravel and asphalt. Days 2 and 3 will be 100% asphalt. The main novelty among the WRC competitors is expected to be a new car for number two Mini driver Kris Meeke to replace the car badly damaged in the Rallye de France. Otherwise the five-car Prodrive team has the same drivers as in France, but with a change of co-driver for the Brazilian Daniel Oliveira – the Argentine Fernando Mussano replaces the recuperating Carlos Magalhaes. Notwithstanding the recent accident for Peter Van Mersteijn in Rallye de France, the Citroen teams expect to be at full five-car strength, including a car for Evgeniy Novikov, who has usually competed this year in a Fiesta. Fords are again present with nine cars without Novikov but back again is Villagra. Of the three support series, this event qualifies for the SWRC (as the final round) and the PCWRC as the penultimate round with only the Academy category missing on this occasion. The race for the Super 2000 title comes to a climax with the series leader Skoda driver Juho Hanninen nervously hoping to beat his closest rival Ott Tanak. Three points also separate these two contenders. A faraway outsider still in the running is Ford driver Martin Prokop, 17 points behind Hanninen. All points Count – there is no dropped-score situation. These are nail-biting days for Skoda, with the race for the IRC title even more intense. Fiesta driver Craig Breen has taken over the PS Engineering SWRC entry which has been driven previously by Brynildsen in a Skoda while Hermann Gassner is to be codriven by Timo Gottschalk instead of the recuperating Katharina Wustenhagen The PCWRC has already been won by Hayden Paddon, subject to appearing in Spain and then Britain, as has the subsidiary two-wheel drive series by Harry Hunt. The Bilbutikken AS team entry of Anders Grondal has been taken over by little-known Spanish driver Carles Llinas, while both Gianluca Linari has his third different co-driver in five events and the Mentos team driver Valeriy Gorban his fourth out of five! Non-championship drivers ‘Priority 2’ entries are headed by Pierre Campana in a Mini WRC entered this time by his team Drive -Pro instead of the French federation, while Christian Reidemann has his second appearance in the VW Motorsport Skoda S2000 team, this time alongside Yeray Lemes. Xavier Pons is due to compete in a Mitsubishi R4 from the Spanish RMC Motorsport team. There are many route changes this year. On Day 1 SS1 is all new, SS3 mostly new while the asphalt part of SS2 doubles-up as the same road, albeit in the opposite direction as will later be used in SS8. All of the asphalt SS9 (done twice) is new as well. The final stage of Day 1 (the re-run of the mixed surfaced SS3) will be done at night. So of the nine stage venues, two are completely new and two are substantially new. The first stage is the furthest away from the service park, 100km, and partly runs right alongside the River Algars which is the border between Catalunya and the neighbouring region of Aragon. The Power Stage uses a short stretch of the traditional Riudecanyes stage, easily accessible for spectators alongside the main Reus to Falset road. It was 20 years ago that Spain, through Rally Catalunya, first entered the world rally championship, after a long and respected background of events in the European championship, aided for many years by the Rallye Costa Brava with whom Rally Catalunya merged. The winner of the 1991 WRC Catalunya Rally was 28 year-old Armin Schwarz, winning his first and only world championship rally. Once again this was a mixed surface event but based at the Costa Brava resort town of Lloret de Mar with stages run in the hinterland and to the north of Barcelona. This event saw co-driver, 52 year-old Arne Hertz’s 18th and final WC victory, the highest age for any winner of a world championship rally before or since. The event 10 years later, in 2001 but run earlier in the season, saw the final victory in the long and successful career of Didier Auriol. It also saw the start of Citroen’s world rally car programme, when the Xsara WRC cars of Jesus Puras and Philippe Bugalski took turns in leading the event for most of the way. Cliff-hanger 47