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Federico Villagra is preparing to bow out of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship in style as he tackles the final event of his eight-rally campaign at the Rally de España next week.  The Argentine champion will be joined in the Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team by Briton Paul Bird contesting his first WRC round of the year as the championship returns to Tarmac for the first time since the opening round in Ireland.
After the excitement of a completely new rally in Australia last month, Spain provides an entirely different challenge for Villagra and co-driver Jorge Perez Companc as they face their first full Tarmac rally of the season.
With the route remaining unchanged from last year’s event, Rally HQ is again based at Salou’s PortAventura theme park.  The fast, sweeping roads of the Tarragona region, south-west of Barcelona, play host to 353.62kms of stages to challenge the 80 entrants in the rally.
The closest that the WRC comes to racing on a circuit all year, the smooth, flowing roads of the region can quickly become slippery as the drivers cut corners and drag gravel onto some sections of the rally route.  Rain can also be a concern for the drivers as they look for grip on the sealed-surface roads.
Villagra has already surpassed his best-ever points total for a WRC season, taking 15 points from the seven events that he has contested so far.  But he will be looking to maximise his tally in Spain in order to remain in ninth place overall in the drivers’ standings ahead of Zimbabwe’s Conrad Rautenbach when the season concludes in Wales next month.
Last time out in Australia, Villagra produced another confident and measured performance, to earn eighth place overall, the fifth time this season that he has finished in the points.  The seven-time Argentine champion will have a short pre-rally test on Monday to get his Ford Focus RS WRC set-up for the challenge of Tarmac.
Meanwhile Bird, and co-driver Ian Windress, will be contesting his first WRC event since 2001.  The duo took victory on the Manx Telecom Rally earlier this year on the Isle of Man in their Focus RS WRC so have good Tarmac experience to draw on but, unlike other crews who will benefit from the experience of an unchanged route, the British pair will be relying on a strong recce to make good pacenotes.
Bird, who runs the Kawasaki World Superbike Team, will be coming straight to Spain from Imola where the team will be contesting Round 12 of the World Superbike Championship.
Following the Ceremonial Start on the seafront in Salou the rally begins on Friday morning with two passes over a three-stage loop to the north and east of Service Park.  With each stage on the winding inland roads totalling over 20kms, Day One is the longest of the rally.
Day Two takes the crews north-west of Salou to the wine-producing region of Montsant, where they will face two passes over the longest test of the rally, the epic 38.27km El Pirorat/La Ribera d’Ebre, the opening challenge of another three-stage loop.
At just 93.88kms, Sunday is the shortest day of the rally concluding with a sprint over the 4.11km final stage of the rally SS18 La Serra d’Almos.
Munchi’s Ford WRT driver Federico Villagra said:
“We have had a great season so far and it would be really good to end with a strong result in our last rally of the year.  I have never finished inside the top ten in Spain so I am aiming for another good points finish which will help me to stay ahead of my rivals in the drivers’ standings.  This will be the first time this year that we have tackled an all-asphalt rally, so it is going to be a big challenge for us.  But the route has not changed from last year so we have a good chance in the recce to make sure that our pacenotes are perfect.”
Munchi’s Ford WRT driver Paul Bird said:
“I am really looking forward to the rally and can’t wait for it to get started.  We have a great car in the Focus and the M-Sport team will do a fantastic job running it, so it’s really all down to the driver now.  I’m feeling pretty confident and I am comfortable on Tarmac so I am setting myself some ambitious targets for the rally.  We have got some pre-rally testing on Monday just to make final preparations, but the car is that good I don’t think we have anything to worry about.”
Event Information
Date: 2-4 October 2009
Round: 11 of 12 FIA World Rally Championship
Based: Salou, Spain
Stage surface: Tarmac
Total stage distance: 353.62kms
Number of stages: 18
Longest stage: 38.27kms (SS7/SS10) El Priorate/La Ribera d’Ebre
Service Park: PortAventura, Salou
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