Less than one week after the all-asphalt Rallye de France-Tour de Corse, the Suzuki drivers have another taste of sealed surfaces with the Catalunya Rally - run straight after the French classic. Suzuki Swift drivers Guy Wilks and P-G Andersson missed Corsica, in accordance with Junior World Rally Championship regulations, which require every crew to drop one score. But they are back in Spain, which is the final round of the Junior World Rally Championship, and they are joined as always by the regular contingent of Suzuki Ignis drivers.
Spain is also where this year's Junior World Rally Championship will be decided. Citroen driver Daniel Sordo currently leads the standings by eight points from Guy Wilks: they are the only two drivers who can win the title. However, as a win carries 10 points, Guy will need to win with Sordo finishing lower than seventh in order to claim the title.
This year's Catalunya Rally is very different to previous editions, as the headquarters has moved south to Tarragona after many years at Lloret de Mar. This means that the stages are all new, apart from some that were last used several seasons ago. In any case, they are all new for the Junior World Championship drivers.
The headquarters may be different, but the asphalt stages are largely similar in character to those that have been used in the past. The roads are generally wide, fast and flowing, with smooth asphalt that can however be abrasive in places. Spain is the quickest asphalt rally of them all so accurate pace notes are essential in order to describe the correct 'racing line' through all the fast corners.
The weather can change the character of the rally in an instant, as rain is a common occurrence in Catalunya at this time of year. Some of the stages are run in the mountains, and the probability of rain increases at high altitude. The asphalt roads can become very slippery when wet and the Junior World Rally Championship cars have only two-wheel drive, which means that traction and grip is a critical factor.
Both Suzuki Swift drivers completed a five-day test in Spain before the event, driving on roads similar to those they will encounter on the rally. Each driver drove for two and a half days, and Guy Wilks feels extremely confident of a good result on Spanish asphalt.
He said: "I’ll try not to think about the championship at all! I will just concentrate on trying to win the rally, and then we will see what happens. The test and recce went well: the roads seem very interesting and they flow nicely. I think it will be quite a technical rally, and it should suit our car. It is nice to drive on a completely new event: it will be exactly the same for everybody, and nobody will have an advantage in terms of experience."
Reigning Junior World Rally Champion P-G Andersson will not be able to retain his title this year, but he is targeting a win in Spain as the first step towards regaining the title in 2006. The Swede reported:
"I had a very good feeling with the car during the test. I completed about 150 kilometres, and the car felt better than it did on the last asphalt rally in Germany. I hope it stays dry so we can get a really good idea of our performance on dry asphalt."
As well as the two new Swifts, Suzuki Sport Europe will run a pair of Ignis Super 1600 cars for Kosti Katajamaki and Urmo Aava. Czech team JM Engineering will additionally run an Ignis for Czech Pavel Valousek. Finally, there will be another Ignis run by Czech team Jipocar for Martin Prokop.
Suzuki Sport President Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima stated: "So far the Swift has finished on the podium on every event it has entered. We had a very good test with the Swift in Spain, so we hope this will translate into another good result."
The Catalunya Rally gets underway with a ceremonial start in Salou on Thursday 27 October at 20:00 (CET). Crews then go on to tackle 15 special stages totalling 358 kilometres before the finish back in Salou on Sunday 30 October at 13:30 (CET).
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