WRC

Rallye Catalunya: Introduction

1999 Rallye Movistar Catalunya - Costa Brava Official Site: http://www.rallyecatalunya.com/99/indexi.htm Round 5 of the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship 19-21 April Introduction Welcome to the 5th Round of the FIA World Rally ...

1999 Rallye Movistar Catalunya - Costa Brava Official Site: http://www.rallyecatalunya.com/99/indexi.htm Round 5 of the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship 19-21 April

Introduction

Welcome to the 5th Round of the FIA World Rally Championship

The Rallye Catalunya is based in the tourist resort of Lloret de Mar on the Costa Brava. It begins on April 19 and covers 1,713 kilometres, including 19 special stages totalling 396 kilometres. The first leg is set around Vic and Girona on six stages that have long been part of the route, totalling 135 kilometres. The second leg heads south and west, with another six stages, including a 45 kilometre stage-the longest of the rally. Drivers face 169 kilometres of stages altogether before returning to Lloret de Mar for a night's rest. The final leg takes place on April 21 and consists of another five stages, covering 91 kilometres before the finish on Lloret de Mar's seafront.

The 35th Catalunya Rally hosts a round of the FIA World Rally Championship for only the ninth time - making in the youngest European round of the series. Since it first appeared on the calendar in 1991, it has won the 'Best Rally of the Year' award twice (in 1996 and '97).

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Ford Martini Team

Ford and McRae seek Spanish hat-trick in Focus

McRae, chasing a second drivers' crown, and Ford Martini lie second in the world championship standings, victory on the gravel roads of Portugal last month having earmarked both as serious championship challengers in what is still regarded by the team as a development year for the radical new Ford Focus.

"Catalunya will be the last tell-tale 'new' rally for the Focus," said McRae. "We've proved how quick it is on ice, snow, rocky tracks and gravel. Now the only question left is how good it will be on an all-asphalt rally. Catalunya will tell us. We tested in Spain earlier this month, concentrating on finding a good set-up and the results were positive, our times comparing favourably with testing on the same roads last year.

"Although the Focus is still heavier than our rivals, the team has reduced the weight significantly since Portugal and I'm confident we can finish in a podium position again. Additional weight is more important on this rally than on any so far because of the effect it has on tyres. They are the only point of contact with the road so extra weight puts more strain on the rubber, especially on the front," added 30-year-old McRae.

Simon Jean-Joseph will drive the second Focus, the Martinique-based asphalt expert making only his second championship appearance for the Ford Martini team (and only his third in total) following his debut in Monte Carlo. Fred Gallagher will co-drive.

------------------------------------------------------------ Toyota Castrol Team

Spanish hero and asphalt ace - the keys to victory

Two podium places in Portugal extended Toyota’s lead in the FIA World Rally Championship and now, heading to Spain, the Toyota Castrol Team has high hopes of a second consecutive one-two over the asphalt mountain roads of Vic, Girona and Tarragona. Rallye Catalunya (19-21 April) is home territory for double World Champions Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya, while team-mates Didier Auriol and Denis Giraudet hold the prized trophy from the 1998 event. The odds are tipped in favour of the Toyota Corolla WRC drivers following recent substantial test and development work.

"Of course, for me, it is one of the best places to score a victory," said Carlos. "I think Catalunya has always been very tight, the differences between the cars are very small but I'm certain we will be in the fight. An easy, agile, positive and well balanced car that you can trust and use to the last centimetre of the road is important on tarmac, this will help make the tyre wear evenly, but also the brakes, engine, suspension - everything has to be right. We will be also using a revised shock absorber here which, during testing, has been very good.

"This year we have done quite a lot during testing and there is a change in the car’s asphalt specification. It is maybe only for a small change in performance, but still significant. The differentials have been further developed, we have an evolution of the brakes, differences in the suspension, the engine. We will see what happens, but it is my aim to win again" says Didier.

------------------------------------------------------------ Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart

Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart is well equipped to renew its winning run on the fifth round of the 1999 FIA World Rally Championship, Spain’s Catalunya Rally. It has a formidable entry comprising of Tommi Makinen, bidding to increase his World Championship lead in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, and Belgian Freddy Loix in a Mitsubishi Carisma GT. Mitsubishi is also strongly represented in the Group N production class.

Tommi Makinen, paired with fellow Finn Risto Mannisenmaki, has been thrilled with the Michelin-shod Lancer’s performance in testing and reckons he has an excellent chance of scoring his third victory of the season. "I like these stages a lot and I am looking forward to the rally, but there are so many drivers who can win this rally. Picking the right tyres may be difficult in these cold conditions", Makinen said.

Freddy Loix, who is co-driven by Sven Smeets, is competing for the first time since his Safari Rally accident, but will be well prepared for one of his favourite rallies after a comprehensive fitness programme and a thorough test in his Carisma GT.

"We had a good recce and there are only two stages that are new for me. The car felt very good straight away and I feel much stronger, although I get some pain in my back when I am tired", Loix revealed.

------------------------------------------------------------ Subaru World Rally Team

After one of the most intensive periods of testing so far this season, the Subaru World Rally Team approaches the first clean asphalt rally of the season with renewed impetus and confidence running high

With Bruno Thiry alongside Richard Burns as one of the team’s nominated entries for the first time this season, the tactical approach to this sealed surface event is reinforced with the full debut of Subaru’s ‘fly-by-wire’ transmission on all three entered cars, including that of Juha Kankkunen

Continuing the tradition of leading technical advances in the World Rally Championship, the Subaru Impreza WRC99’s transmission is the latest in a line of semi-automatic gearboxes that were first introduced in 1991 - even before some Formula 1 teams had embraced this technology

Christian Loriaux, the team’s chief engineer explains. "When we originally debuted this concept in the early nineties, it was an adaptation of a manual gearbox to a semi-automatic system. Our new ‘fly-by-wire’ transmission has been designed from scratch, and incorporates all that we have learnt since. While other teams are using sequential gearshifts much like a motorbike, they have an inherent problem if a driver spins. It is difficult to locate first or reverse gear, and it was a key objective to ensure our system did not suffer the same handicap. This way we can have all of the benefits of a semi-automatic gearbox without any of the downsides."

------------------------------------------------------------ Seat Sport

"I really believe we can win this rally", said Liatti. "I have a very good feeling, because we have worked very hard to improve the SEAT WRC on asphalt. The engine and transmission have always been very good, the Pirelli tyres are working well and we have a fantastic suspension set-up.

"It is the first asphalt rally of the season, and I like to drive on asphalt very much", added Piero. "The Catalunya Rally is very well organised, and I like the stages although the surface can be very slippery. We have a good car with good power and balance and I'm sure the support we will have in Spain will be amazing. Everything is very positive, so why not win the Catalunya Rally?"

Team-mate Rovanperä has started the Catalunya Rally twice before, but failed to finish in both 1997 and 1998. "Each year I have more speed, so being one year older is no problem," joked Rovanperä. "We have made some very good tests on asphalt and the feeling with the SEAT WRC is very good. In Portugal we proved that the car is very competitive on gravel, and now in Spain we will show that it is also very good on asphalt."

------------------------------------------------------------ Skoda Sport

SKODA HEADS FOR SPAIN OCTAVIA WRC IN TOUGH TARMAC TEST

Skoda Motorsport enters two of its exciting new Octavia WRCs in the forthcoming Rally of Spain (19-21 April), round five of this year’s coveted FIA World Championship. The Catalunyan event is the third of seven 1999 WRC rounds being contested by Skoda Auto in the ambitious Czech company´s first season of rallying among the sport’s elite. It also marks the Octavia WRC´s debut appearance on a demanding all-asphalt event.

Armin Schwarz, a past winner in Spain, lines up with fellow German Manfred Hiemer in the leading entry while the experienced Pavel Sibera and Petr Gross join forces in the second of the two turbocharged, four-wheel-drive Octavia WRCs. Despite setting some impressive stage times last time out on the gravel stages in Portugal, both Octavias were sidelined at the end of the second day by a minor glitch within the transmission system. Subsequent inspection has revealed a faulty seal within the clutch release mechanism. “The problem with the clutch actuation has been thoroughly analysed,” reports Skoda Motorsport Manager Pavel Janeba. “Both the team and our transmission supplier are working together to ensure that it functions perfectly. We have conducted an exhaustive Tarmac test in the Czech Republic to ensure we have a reliable and competitive car in Catalunya - we want to reach the finish and gain as much information for the future as possible. This is the first year of a four year campaign, so we must remain focused on our long-term aims.”

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From: "Cynan 'Dusty' Rhodes" <cynan@harvestroad.com.au>

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