SPAIN SERVES UP A MIXED PLATTER OF GRAVEL AND TARMAC
After a long break, the World Rally Championship resumes with the eleventh round in Catalonia. The C3 WRC crews will attempt to show their potential on gravel and tarmac. Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle, Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau and Khalid Al Qassimi/Chris Patterson form the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT's driver line-up at this rally.
BACK TO SCHOOL FOR THE WRC
This year, the WRC teams had to wait until the end of August before getting a breather. Following rounds in Poland, Finland and Germany, the six-week break was very welcome after a busy summer!
The championship therefore returns to action in Catalonia, at a round that is special in more ways than one. Based in Salou, right next to the PortAventura theme park, Rally de España is the only mixed-surface event on the WRC calendar.
On Friday, the opening leg will be mainly contested on mountainous gravel roads, although the long Terra Alta stage includes sections on tarmac. At the end of day one, the teams will have an hour and a quarter in which to convert the cars to tarmac configuration. The longest service of the year is always a bit special, for mechanics and fans alike! The main alterations made during service involve changing the transmission and suspension systems, and reducing the level of chassis protection.
The final two legs are then contested on tarmac. The Catalan event is famous for its wide, smooth, circuit-style roads. The aerodynamic efficiency and engine power of the 2017 World Rally Cars should be something to behold on this surface! Since cutting the corners is common here, the drivers will nonetheless need to keep an eye out to avoid hitting loose rocks and picking up a puncture.
THE CHALLENGE: BE QUICK ON BOTH SURFACES
As it is held on two surfaces with radically different requirements, Rally de España puts greater emphasis on the versatility of the drivers and their cars. In order to prepare for this round, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team held three days of tests in Catalonia, only on gravel. Stéphane Lefebvre, Kris Meeke and Sébastien Loeb took turns behind the wheel, managing to come up with a set-up that suited all three of them. On tarmac, the team will be capitalising on the qualities of the Citroën C3 WRC, which were clearly demonstrated at the Tour de Corse and the ADAC Rallye Deutschland.
This year will mark Kris Meeke's tenth appearance at RallyRACC Catalunya – Rally de España. To date, the Briton has not enjoyed a great deal of success in Spain. However, he had a more positive rally in 2016, which he ended with the feeling of having found the right pace at this event. As he looks to put his recent disappointments behind him, the winner of this year's Rally Mexico will be aiming to be among the frontrunners.
After missing rounds in Finland and Germany, Stéphane Lefebvre returns to the wheel of the C3 WRC in Spain. Unlike his team-mate, the young Frenchman only has very limited experience of the event. But that won't stop him from seizing the challenge! Looking to build on his fine race at Rally Poland – where he finished fifth overall – he will be aiming to keep learning about competing among the elite of the World Rallying.
Khalid Al Qassimi will also be celebrating his tenth outing in Spain. After appearances in Portugal and Finland, the Abu Dhabi driver will be pursuing his partial programme at one of his favourite rallies.
YVES MATTON, CITROËN RACING TEAM PRINCIPAL: "For the last three rallies of the season, our aim is to get good results, building on the podium secured in Germany. In Spain, the situation is quite specific, with the opening leg on gravel. Depending on what happens with the weather, our crews' positions in the running order may be an advantage or an insurmountable handicap. If we can manage to be well placed by Friday evening, then we'll be able to make full use of the potential of the C3 WRC on tarmac to keep fighting at the front of the field. During the tests we held last week, we tried out a number of set-ups and some of them will be applied next weekend. We are continuing to work hard to meet the challenge of competing with our rivals."
KRIS MEEKE: "We had a good test session and it was interesting to work with Seb [Loeb]. There is always room for improvement, but I think we are moving in the right direction. I'm looking forward to being back in a competitive environment again after a frustrating Rallye Deutschland and this long break. I have to say, though, that I can't quite believe that this is going to be my tenth appearance in Catalonia! Potentially, we have a good starting position, but that'll depend on the level of dust or whether it rains. For the last two legs, we know all about performance level of the C3 on tarmac. The main thing is that I want to enjoy myself in the car. If I do that, then we can aim for a good result and that'd be good news for the entire team."
Number of appearances at the event: 9
Best result: 5th (2011 & 2015)
STÉPHANE LEFEBVRE: "I'm very pleased to be back behind the wheel of the Citroën C3 WRC. It has been three months since we finished fifth overall in Poland and I'm going to have to find the right pace on stages that I am relatively unfamiliar with. We have to bear in mind that I am undoubtedly the least experienced driver in the field at this event. I'm pleased with how testing went last week. I had the opportunity to try the new front-to-rear wheel torque distribution for the first time. This upgrade matches my driving style really well and it was therefore a very positive experience. If the conditions are favourable, we'll try to make the most of our position in the running order on day one."
Number of appearances at the event: 2
Best result: 50th (2015)
KHALID AL QASSIMI: "This will be my tenth appearance in Spain! This round is one of my favourites on the WRC calendar. I love the challenge provided by the mixed surface route, and especially the fact that switching from gravel to tarmac during a stage encourages you to drive more quickly. I really like the atmosphere here; the supporters are incredible and the organisation is absolutely fantastic. That's why I like to keep coming back to compete in Catalonia every year. We'll try to find a good pace depending on the stages, pushing whenever I feel comfortable. I wish Kris and Stéphane all the best."
Number of appearances at the event: 9
Best result: 7th (2010)
- 19 timed stages covering a total of 312.02 km.
- 32 Michelin tyres per driver for the rally. On Friday, there is a choice between the Latitude Cross H4 (hard compound) and S5 (soft). On Saturday and Sunday, crews will choose between Pilot Sport H5 (hard), S5 (soft) and FW3 (full wet).
- 9 wins for Citroën in Spain: 1 for Bugalski (1999 in Xsara Kit-Car) and 8 consecutive wins for Loeb (2005-2006 in Xsara WRC, 2007/2010 in C4 WRC and 2011-2012 in DS 3 WRC).
FLASHBACK: 1999 RALLY DE ESPAÑA
On their first appearance of the season in the World Championship, the Citroën Xsara Kit-Cars were in formidable form! On the rally's sweeping circuit-style roads, the car's low weight and its feisty, two-litre normally-aspirated engine meant it could challenge the four-wheel drive, turbo-powered World Rally Cars. On the opening stage of the rally, Jesús Puras grabbed the lead. Citroën's Spanish driver managed to establish a small lead, whilst the late Philippe Bugalski clashed with Sainz, Auriol, Mäkinen and McRae for second place. But Puras' hopes of a home win evaporated early on day two when a mechanical issue meant he had to retire. ‘Bug’ moved up into first place and then extended his lead over Auriol. He went on to secure Citroën's first ever win in the WRC!
THE TOTAL QUESTION: WHAT ARE THE RELATIONS BETWEEN TOTAL AND CITROËN IN SPAIN?
Bernard Anselmi, Managing Director of Total España: "Total has had operations in Spain for more than fifty years, which means that we have been working alongside Citroën since the start of our global partnership. There are very strong ties between Total and Citroën in Spain, which have been strengthened by the competitive success of Spanish drivers such as Carlos Sainz and Dani Sordo. In the last few years, the country has experienced a very tough economic crisis, which has also affected the automotive sector. The economy has picked up again recently and Total has been one of the driving forces of this recovery. To support the Citroën dealership, we have a sales force and teams dedicated to support and training in the field of petroleum products. We also work in conjunction with dealerships, providing financial support to those interested in investing, especially in re-branding."
VISIT ABU DHABI: THE CORNICHE
The Corniche Road spreads across an impressive eight kilometres of waterfront. The lengthy Corniche includes children’s play areas, cycle and pedestrian pathways, as well as many cafés and restaurants. Monitored by a team of trained lifeguards, the Corniche beach has been awarded the coveted Blue Flag status, the internationally renowned eco-label that guarantees clean and safe bathing water.
RALLY DE ESPAÑA SCHEDULE (GMT+2)
THURSDAY 5 OCTOBER
8.00am: Shakedown – Salou (2.97km)
8.00pm: Ceremonial start (Salou)
FRIDAY 6 OCTOBER
9.53am: SS1 – Caseres 1 (12.50km)
10.21am: SS2 – Bot 1 (6.50km)
10.56am: SS3 – Terra Alta 1 (38.95km)
1.11pm: Service A (PortAventura – 30 mins)
3.19pm: SS4 – Caseres 2 (12.50km)
3.47pm: SS5 – Bot 2 (6.50km)
4.22pm: SS6 – Terra Alta 2 (38.95km)
6.32pm: Flexi Service B (PortAventura – 75 mins)
SATURDAY 7 OCTOBER
6.45am: Service C (PortAventura – 15 mins)
8.00am: SS7 – El Montmell 1 (24.40km)
9.07am: SS8 – El Pont d’Armentera 1 (21.29km)
9.54am: SS9 – Savalla 1 (14.12km)
11.35am: Service D (PortAventura – 30 mins)
1.08pm: SS10 – El Montmell 2 (24.40km)
2.15pm: SS11 – El Pont d’Armentera 2 (21.29km)
3.02pm: SS12 – Savalla 2 (14.12km)
5.00pm: SS13 – Salou (2.24km)
5.30pm: Flexi Service E (PortAventura – 45 mins)
SUNDAY 8 OCTOBER
6.00am: Service F (PortAventura – 15 mins)
7.00am: SS14 – L’Albiol 1 (6.28km)
7.38am: SS15 – Riudecanyes 1 (16.35km)
8.38am: SS16 – Santa Marina 1 (14.50km)
10.14am: SS17 – L’Albiol 2 (6.28km)
10.53am: SS18 – Riudecanyes 2 (16.35km)
12.18pm: SS19 – Santa Marina 2 – Power Stage (14.50km)
1.41pm: Service G (PortAventura – 10 mins)
3.00pm: Podium (Salou)