The eleventh and penultimate round of the 2021 World Rally Championship (WRC) gets underway tomorrow (Thursday) following a shakedown stage and the evening’s official start on the Salou seafront. The Rally RACC Catalunya-Rally de España should provide plenty of action as several teams fight for the title positions.
Since 2010, the Spanish round has been the only mixed surface rally on the calendar but this year it becomes an all sealed surface event, which could produce some big surprises.
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT (439 Points) holds a 61 point lead over Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT (378 points) in the constructor’s championship and field the normal line up.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia (190 points), with the chasing Elfyn Evans and co-driver Scott Martin (166 Points) fresh from victory in Finland and Ogier’s closest rival, along with Kalle Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen (129 Points). Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta (68 Points) will field a fourth Yaris with an, as yet, unknown co-driver.
Thierry Neuville (130 points) with Martijn Wydaeghe in the hot seat, and Ott Tänak (128 Points) flanked by Martin Järveoja will spearhead the Hyundai bid to close the gap in both championships.
Tänak and Neuville are in a three way fight for third spot in the driver’s title race with Toyota’s Rovanperä and are separated by just three points. The third member of the Hyundai line-up is local hero Spaniard Dani Sordo (43 points) with new co-driver Candido Carrera.
The team has proved to be very quick on asphalt and will be a very hard trio to beat, the i20 has demonstrated its sheer speed on many occasions this year.
Last but not least it is the M-Sport Ford WRT (171 points) duo of Gus Greensmith (52 points) with co-driver Chris Patterson, alongside team mate Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux (42 points) and Alexandre Coria.
The news that Breen and Paul Nagle will be joining the team for the next two seasons in the new Ford Puma WRC, must be applying pressure on the two incumbents, unless M-Sport is set to become a three car team.
Having fallen victim to Covid-19 last year, the rally now celebrates its 30th anniversary and returns for the 16th time to the Costa Daurada, which has proved to be a perfect location for a rally of this magnitude.
Based in Salou south of Barcelona, the fast, smooth roads in the Costa Daurada hills encourages attacking driving, where cutting corners saves precious tenths, but punctures on the road edge are a strong possibility as drivers regain the asphalt on the exit of bends.
If temperatures rise, the need for tyre management could become an issue. In fact it will be the first occasion Pirelli will use the new hard compound PZero RA HA as the primary option.
The rally proper gets underway on Friday when the 73 competitors face the first of 17 special stages, six on Friday, seven on Saturday and four on Sunday the final day. Special stage distance totals 280.46 km of the events 1 410.29 km full distance. The central service park is based on the edge of the holiday resort of Salou, next to the Port Aventura World theme park.
We can expect an event with high speeds and extremely close times, particularly from the Hyundai team as they desperately try to close the gaps in both championships.
However, do not underestimate the Toyota trio as Ogier and Evans have their own personal battle and Rovanperä is hungry, but the rally has certainly favoured French drivers as Ogier’s compatriot, Sébastien Loeb, dominated the rally, winning every year between 2005 and 2012.