The world championship's Spanish round is essentially two rallies in one - with a largely gravel opener on Friday followed by two days on tarmac. We drove the whole route during the pre-event recce. Here are some of the things that caught our attention:
A new gravel starter
Friday's opening 9.62km Móra d'Ebre-Ascó stage is new for this year. After a 500 metre strip of asphalt at the start, the surface switches to gravel for a long climb to a mountain summit. The picture below, taken 1.2km from the start, shows the hard-packed surface covered with loose-stones the drivers will face. It stays pretty much the same all the way to the end.
A Spanish classic
Measuring 35.68km, Friday's Terra Alta is the longest and toughest stage of the rally and one that will put the drivers' tyre preservation skills to the test. Shown below is the ancient chapel the stage passes at 9.8km. The stage is mostly gravel but there are five surface changes including the twisty and undulating 6km asphalt section near the midpoint shown in the second picture.
And onto asphalt
After a car set-up change on Friday night, the action resumes on the Tarmac of Saturday's opening Porrera test. New to the rally this year, the stage is short, wide, twisty and a fantastic example of the race track roads the event is famed for. The section below is 400 metres from the start and shows a typical sequence of gently cambered corners the drivers will try to flow together.
There are plenty of opportunities for drivers to cut corners in Spain, but doing so risks punctures on the rough ground or the sharp shoulder of the asphalt. The corner below, 5.1km into SS18, is an example of one that drivers have already had a nibble at on the recce.
A roundabout finale
The rally concludes with a second run through the 12.10km Duesaigues test which also counts as the event's Power Stage. Run in previous years in the opposite direction as Riudecanyes, the stage is now best known for the final junction below - a roundabout at Coll de la Teixeta - which drivers must spin their cars around in a 360˚ donut. Gymkhana star Ken Block did two loops here last year. Will anyone beat him this time?
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