With the top three drivers separated by just three points and a local hero intent on grabbing the limelight on a demanding mixed surface event, the penultimate round of the 2011 World Rally Championship is set to be an epic.
The 47th RallyRACC-Rally de Espana, based in the holiday town of Salou south of Barcelona, is unique in that it’s the only true mixed surface round on this year’s WRC with one day taking place on gravel and two days run on asphalt.
Along with Neste Oil Rally Finland, it’s also the only other event on the 2011 calendar to host rounds of both the Super 2000 and Production Car world championships as well as the main WRC.
The use of asphalt and gravel stages on the same rally not only increases the challenge facing the crews due to the different driving style requirements, it also adds to the workload placed on the mechanics and engineers, who have to convert their cars from gravel to asphalt specification in a restricted timeframe.
While the opening day in Spain is in theory a gravel-only leg, just one repeated stage takes place entirely on gravel with two repeated stages using a mixture of gravel and asphalt as a means of further testing the drivers and raising the spectacle for the thousands of fans following the action.
But it’s the sweeping race circuit-style asphalt roads that characterise this event that will once again dominate the competitive route. To be quick, drivers must maximise their pace through the high-speed turns by taking the optimum line at all times.
Several changes have been made for this year’s rally, starting with an all-new test, Pesells, to kick off the action on day one. Measuring 25.74 kilometres, the fast and twisty stage boasts an excellent compact gravel surface. Terra Alta is unchanged from 2010 but with five changes of surfaces, it will provide a tough early test for the crews.
Friday’s itinerary also features the Les Garrigues stage, which features a new gravel section of 12.52 kilometres. The start and finish are only a few metres apart, while the second run will take place under the cover of darkness.
Changes have also been made to Saturday’s route with El Priorat extended by 3.93 kilometres in length, while two new stages, Riba-roja d’Ebre and Punta de les Torres will also feature. The main change for Sunday is the inclusion of the Power Stage, a 4.32-kilometre run called Coll de la Teixeta.
In total the event consists of 18 special stages over a competitive distance of 406.52 in Spain’s Tarragona region. The PortAventura theme park will once again host the permanent service park and headquarters.
As well as counting as round 12 of the 13-event WRC season, RallyRACC-Rally de Espana is the final event of the Super 2000 World Rally Championship and the penultimate round of the Production Car World Rally Championship. Previews for both support championships will appear on Wrc.com next week.
Next page: So who’s going to win?