An FIA World Rally Championship season packed full of thrilling drama and excitement reaches its climax in Spain next week. And to add an extra twist, the event once again features a combination of asphalt and gravel stages set to provide a stern test for drivers and teams alike.
Based in the seaside resort of Salou on Spain’s Costa Daurada from 8-11 November, the event is one of the highlights of the WRC season with tens of thousands of fans flocking to the stages.
And they’ll be flocking to the Catalan capital Barcelona in similar number when the city hosts the ceremonial start and start order selection on the evening of Thursday 8 November following free practice and the Qualifying Stage in Salou earlier in the day.
Friday’s action begins with the single-use all-gravel Gandesa run shortly after sunrise at 07:45hrs local time. The next stage, Pesells, also runs entirely on gravel but will be used twice during the day. Stage three, Terra Alta, is also double use but includes a combination of asphalt and gravel. Measuring 44.02 kilometres in length, a tough challenge awaits.
Following service at Salou’s Porta Aventure theme park, crews head back to Pasells before the second run through Terra Alta and then back to Salou for a two-kilometre mixed-surface test at 17:00hrs.
While the drivers and co-drivers will take a hard-earned break, the mechanics and engineers have one hour and 15 minutes to convert their cars from gravel to asphalt specification for days two and three.
Saturday’s route marks a return to the sweeping race circuit-style asphalt roads that characterise the WRC season finale. To be quick, drivers must maximise their pace through the high-speed turns by taking the optimum line at all times. They also have to be very fit with the daunting 45.97-kilometre El Priorat stage - the longest of the rally - run twice during the day, which is made up of three repeated stages either side of service in Salou.
Sunday’s itinerary begins with the 16.35-kilometre Riudecanyes stage at 07:50hrs. On both runs crews will be required to complete a high-speed donut - a full lap of the roundabout located 4.21 kilometres into the test. The roundabout is better known as the finishing area of the Coll de la Teixeta Power Stage from last year’s rally.
In a further change for this year, the penultimate stage, the 26.51-kilometre Santa Marina run, will form the Power Stage, where bonus points will be awarded to the fastest three crews. The Power Stage traditionally runs as the final stage of world championship rallies but event organisers believe the extra length will pose more of a challenge to the competitors than the 4.11-kilometre La Serra d'Almos stage, the 18th and last of the 405.46-kilometre rally and the 2012 WRC season.
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