Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith carry M-Sport Ford’s hopes in a pair of Fiesta World Rally Cars, and despite not testing prior to the event, Shakedown times just 1.3s and 1.4s off Ogier’s pace, respectively, gave cause for some optimism.
Completing the World Rally Car entry, 20-year-old Oliver Solberg makes his top-flight asphalt debut in an i20 for Hyundai 2C Competition. The French squad has also called up Spain’s Nil Solans to replace Pierre-Louis Loubet, whose season is over after breaking his hip in a collision with a car. And making it 11 full-on WRC cars in the field, Toyota fields a fourth Yaris for Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta, who continues to gain experience and speed.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, the title’s still in play, too. But a quirk of the series’ format means the two protagonists, points leader Andreas Mikkelsen and closest rival Mats Ostberg, won’t be going head to head in either of the final two rounds.
With WRC2 drivers limited to seven WRC rounds, Ostberg completes his hand in Spain, while Mikkelsen will fulfill his quota on Rally Monza.
Mikkelsen heads his fellow Norwegian on total points scored and when dropped scores are applied, so reigning WRC2 champ Ostberg needs a win in his TRT World Rally Team Citroen C3 this weekend for any chance of retaining his title.
Others vying for a WRC2 win in Spain include Mikkelsen’s Toksport teammate, rapid Bolivian Marco Bulacia, and Russia’s Nikolay Gryazin, both in Skoda Fabia Evos, plus an all-Finnish Hyundai attack from Jari Huttunen and Teemu Suninen. The latter is fresh from a WRC2 win on Rally Finland in a VW Polo GTi, so it will be interesting to see how quickly he gets to grips with his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 in the Catalunyan hills.
But for a WRC2 wild card, how about the all-American crew of Sean Johnston and co-driver Alex Kihurani. Johnston’s told RACER he’s not going all-out for a podium this weekend, but could his sports car racing background be a decisive factor for a potential upset?
Gryazin’s 2m41.8s pass was fastest of the WRC2 runners at Skakedown, 0.4s quicker than Ostberg, with Johnston 2.9s off the Russian’s benchmark. But as the Californian gets dialed in on his first fully-dry asphalt WRC round, expect to see some promising stage times from his Sainteloc Junior Team-run Citroen C3.
For the first time since 2009, when it was still known as Rally Catalunya, the event is pure asphalt. The roads in the hills are fast and flowing, but high-grip abrasive surfaces and plenty of hard braking will make it tough for Pirelli’s tires.
After a Thursday ceremonial start in the holiday resort of Salou, the real action begins on Friday with six special stages and 69.61 competitive miles. Another seven stages and 73.04 competitive miles make up Saturday, before four stages and 31.63 competitive miles, including the bonus points-paying 10.16-mile Riudecaynes Power Stage, wrap things up on Sunday.
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