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Preview: Loeb and Solberg return for Rally Catalunya

The 2018 Rally Catalunya (25-28 October) is the penultimate WRC (round 12), unashamedly the only fully mixed surfaced rally in the championship.

Among the delights in the entry list is the return of Volkswagen Motorsport, now competing with R5 cars and present in the WRC after a two year gap, 2003 world champion Petter Solberg (six years absent) and the four years’ absent driver Ken Block.

As a further treat, seeded with adjacent starting numbers are the famous brothers Petter and Henning Solberg. Sebastien Loeb, makes his fourth appearance on a WRC round in four years.

There are 14 World Rally Cars among the 76 entries for this event, 21 in WRC2, once more four in WRC3 and four entries also admitted under national car rules with local N5 cars. The entry includes 22 Peugeot 208 R2 cars, entered for the Peugeot Rally Cup Iberica, but this championship only covers the first seven stages of the rally.

 

Run three weeks before the final round in Australia and with expectations of the impending team line-up changes for 2019, Catalunya will be the final chance for fans in Europe to see many drivers in their current teams.

Catalunya is expected to be a major turning point in three major championships – the Drivers, the Manufacturers and the WRC2 Drivers.

Skoda Motorsport has aligned their trainee driver Kalle Rovanpera against their championship contender Jan Kopecky. This will be Kopecky’s sixth entry in the 2018 WRC2 series in which he has won all five rounds he has entered, the number of events equalling those entered by their other official contender Pontus Tidemand.

It is not yet known if any of Skoda’s official WRC2 drivers will enter the final WRC event, in Australia. Although contenders will count six of their seven scores, it is not known if Skoda will be content to let their team-mate rivalry be finally settled in Spain.

The four Group N5 cars entered represent the latest manifestation of the global rallying trend to circumvent the traditional Appendix J regulations which govern the eligibility of cars which can be driven on World Championship rallies.

 

This follows the Maxi Rally movement pioneered in Argentina and the AP4 formula in Australasia, the cars running without scoring FIA championship points. These rules allow locally homologated sets of components, including the engine and transmission units, to be installed in production cars, a concept which has also been accepted by the FIA for global international championship use in 2019 under the new R4-Kit regulations.

The route of the Salou based event is similar to recent years. After the start in Salou at 13h15 Thursday the downtown asphalt stage in the Montjuich area of Barcelona is run on gravel tyres and suspensions before returning to Salou.

The gravel stages run Friday with asphalt stages on Saturday and then on Sunday morning. The Friday stages have been changed in their previous order, so that the 38km long stage, which includes a stretch of asphalt, will be run as the last stage on each loop. Unusually there will be a midday service halt on the Sunday morning.

There are many detailed changes to the stages, often run in opposite directions to before. The total length of gravel stages this year is an increased percentage of the total competitive route. On the final day the route is shortened to two laps of two stages.

Championship leader Thierry Neuville is to be first car on the road on the gravel stages, followed by Sebastien Ogier and Ott Tanak.

Team by Team

Citroen

No unforeseen problems were experienced at Wales Rally GB. When Ostberg reported a loss of feeling with his car, it was a consequence of an unplanned change in set-up. Looking back to Breen’s fire in Turkey the latest belief is that there was an oil or an exhaust leak in the transmission tunnel.

Three car team in Catalunya with chassis 4 for Loeb, chassis 11 for Breen and chassis 7 for Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi.

The team used chassis 15 for pre-event testing. Possibility for Ostberg to drive an R5 in Spain did not happen. Two day test for Loeb on asphalt and gravel, one day for Breen and for Al Qassimi. No technical novelties on this rally.

 

Hyundai

Reason for the disappointing performance in Wales Rally GB assigned to failure to select the right set-up for the event. Mikkelsen’s times were only competitive later during the rally. A difficult weekend!

Testing for Catalunya was one day per each driver on asphalt, while Sordo and Neuville shared one day on gravel. Neuville has his Turkey car, Mikkelsen has his WRGB car and Sordo has Paddon’s WRGB car.

Spanish driver Sordo is the most experienced WRC team competitor on this event. This is his 16th Catalunya Rally, one more than Latvala. Sordo has never won his home WRC event, but finished second four times between 2006 and 2009.

Mikkelsen has only once finished this event on the podium – when he won outright on the dramatic final stage in 2015 after Ogier crashed. Neuville has only once had a podium result on this event.

 

M-Sport

Elfyn Evans’ car stopped in WRGB because of a sensor fault, and the team confirmed that Ogier’s gearbox issue was caused when he overshot a junction. Suninen went off the road after cutting an earlier corner and damaging the steering.

One day test for Ogier and Block on asphalt, one day for Block on gravel. Ogier has his Corsica car with the new aero and with Sachs dampers for gravel, Evans and Suninen have their WRGB cars with old aero design, all three use Reiger dampers on gravel.

The team will run Ken Block in chassis 3, last used by Serderidis in Germany. No top six finishes on this event yet for Evans and Suninen, three wins and three engine failures here for Ogier!

Toyota

Tanak’s trouble at Sweet Lamb Hafren stage was unexpected. It is thought that there had already been damage to the under car protection which led to its subsequent loss and consequential damage to the cooling systems. Understeering problems were due to prevailing conditions and experienced by other teams as well.

Catalunya testing was carried out the week after Wales Rally GB on both gravel and asphalt. No technical novelties for this event. Each driver has the same cars as in Rallye Deutschland.

None of the Toyota drivers have won this event before. Latvala has only retired once in 14 starts (last year) and had a run of five podiums from 2011 to 2015. Tanak had one podium (last year), while Lappi has only started twice, both times crashing.

Related news:

Toyota has a history of old drivers winning WRC events ….

Martin Holmes is widely considered as world rallying's most experienced, and most respected journalist. Martin covers the WRC, ERC and all major rally championships around the world.

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