This week’s RallyRACC Catalunya - Costa Daurada in Spain places increased demands on drivers and teams as the only mixed surface fixture in the WRC season.
Drivers must undergo a complete mindset change after Friday’s predominantly gravel speed tests in preparation for two days of pure asphalt action.
And teams face a high-energy complex rebuild of their 300bhp World Rally Cars as they transform them from rugged gravel specification machines into sexy low-seated racers, suited for almost 200km of fast and smooth circuit-like roads.
Each surface calls for a different approach from drivers and Saturday morning’s opening asphalt stage will be unsettling as they acclimatise to different grip levels, driving lines and braking points.
“Last year we didn’t adapt much other than car set-up between the gravel and Tarmac and I drove the car in a similar way,” said Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon.
“But with lessons of recent events, we now have a different pace note system and different set-up of my controls in the car to adapt more to the Tarmac, so there’s certainly a lot more to take in.”
M-Sport’s Ott Tänak admitted it would take all Saturday’s opening test to get used to the changes.
“Going from one surface to another can be a little strange at the beginning. It’s something that is a little out of the ordinary for us as we’re used to driving on one surface for the entire weekend,” said the Ford Fiesta RS pilot.
But the challenge is more than just a driving one. Friday evening’s service is extended from the usual 45 minutes to a marathon 75 to allow mechanics to modify the cars.
Items on the rebuild list include stripping off underbody protection, fitting larger brakes, lower and harder suspension and replacing the gearbox and differentials. Volkswagen has calculated that mechanics must swap 13 modules consisting of 1,348 individual parts on each of its Polo R cars.
“We must ensure the Polo is ideally set up for both gravel and asphalt,” said motorsport director Jost Capito. “This not only means that the driver and co-driver must be wide awake and able to adapt well to the changing conditions, but also puts the entire team to the test – particularly the mechanics.”
The penultimate round is based in Salou and kicks off with a spectacular street stage in Barcelona on Thursday evening: Live from 18:00 (CEST) on WRC+ (currently one month trial for 0,99€, use Promocode RACC2015).