Red Bull Skoda Fabia driver Hanninen heads MM Motorsport Ford Fiesta pilot Ott Tanak by three points after a closely fought season between the pair.
“Our main task is to get to the finish ahead of Tanak,” said Finn Hanninen, 30. “This rally will be a tough one because I have never done the gravel stages in Spain before, only the recce. We are working hard to be prepared and the Tarmac stages on days two and three should be okay for us. We need more luck than we had in France but the good thing is the title is in my hands because I know what I have to do to be champion. I have to win and I will push hard.”
Tanak, a protégé of former Rally de Espana winner Markko Martin, has taken three wins this season compared to the two managed by Hanninen.
“For sure it will be a big battle in Spain,” said the 24-year-old from Estonia. “It’s very close but anyway we need to go there and fight for everything. There is nothing else we can do. Spain will be a new event for me so that will be difficult, but I am going there to do my best and I really want to win. We still have a lot to learn on asphalt but it is getting better all the time but I know it will be difficult.”
Czech Martin Prokop can also become SWRC champion in Spain but would need both Hanninen and Tanak to falter. Prokop, who like Tanak drives a Fiesta S2000, is 17 points behind Hanninen, 14 shy of Tanak.
“It is going to be very difficult for me to win the championship now,” said Prokop. “There is a small chance I could still win but something would need to happen to both Ott and Juho, and I don’t think that is very likely as they’ve been really strong on the last few rallies. For sure I will try my best and will push from the start, I have nothing to lose.”
Other drivers in action in Spain include Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah, Portugal’s Bernardo Sousa, Andorran Albert Llovera and Irishman Craig Breen, who has taken over Eyvind Brynildsen’s PS Engineering registration and will drive a Fiesta S2000.
“I have taken part in some recent international events in my Fiesta S2000, both on asphalt and gravel, with good results on each,” said Breen, a frontrunner in the WRC Academy Cup this season. “I hope to show some good speed to try and compare my pace with the SWRC regulars. It’s going to be a tough weekend.”
Hermann Gassner Jr is back in action following his sizable crash last time out in France. But with regular co-driver Katharina Wuestenhagen still recovering from her injuries, Timo Gottschalk will navigate the young German in his Skoda.
Hungarian Frigyes Turan had been set to take part in his Fiesta but will be a non-starter due to medical reasons.