Catalunya Rally preview

Rallye Catalunya - Costa Brava Round 4 of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship 22 - 25 March 2001 The world's top rally drivers are poised to enjoy a change of conditions on the fourth round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the ...

Rallye Catalunya - Costa Brava Round 4 of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship 22 - 25 March 2001

The world's top rally drivers are poised to enjoy a change of conditions on the fourth round of this year's FIA World Rally Championship, the Rallye Catalunya-Costa Brava, which starts from the Spanish seaside resort of Lloret de Mar tomorrow. After torrential rain turned the last round in Portugal into a struggle for organisers and crews alike, the first 'true' asphalt rally of the year looks set to be blessed with more favourable weather.

Four-time world champion Tommi Mäkinen starts the event narrowly ahead of Carlos Sainz in the drivers standings but both will have to fight hard to extend their advantage over their rivals. Ford and Subaru were both strong in Catalunya in 2000 while Peugeot won two asphalt rallies towards the end of last season. The event also marks the world championship debut of Citroen's World Rally Car, the Xsara WRC, which has been undefeated in any of its warm-up outings on national events.

Following discussions with local farmers and government officials over concerns about foot and mouth disease, the event organisers have elected to prevent spectators from attending one of tomorrow's stages, La Trona. Cars and motorhomes from France and Great Britain will also be asked to remain outside an exclusion zone.

MITSUBISHI (1st - 33 points)
Technical: The Lancer Evolution remains largely unchanged, but this is the first 'true' asphalt rally where the heavily-revised rear suspension - introduced in Monte Carlo - will be used.

Sporting: Four-time world champion and current series leader Tommi Mäkinen will be supported by Belgian Freddy Loix in the second Lancer as usual.

Tommi Mäkinen said: “This is a rally that I really like. The year's started pretty well for us but it's too early to say we're on our way to another championship. On dry asphalt, I'd expect drivers like Didier Auriol and Colin McRae to be fast but there are so many guys who could win here. It won't be easy.”

Freddy Loix said: “I like the asphalt rallies, so perhaps it isn't a surprise that I've had some of my best world championship results here. In testing, the car feels much improved since we last ran on asphalt, in Sanremo, on the old rear suspension. I'm optimistic we can score a good finish.”

FORD (2nd - 20 points)
Technical: Ford is continuing work on engine response and its fly-by wire throttle, and engineer Guenther Steiner insists that no major technical leaps will be made until the most recently-introduced technology can be made to work as effectively as possible.

Sporting: Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae are nominated for manufacturers' points, with Francois Delecour fighting for drivers' points only.

Carlos Sainz said: “It's good to be driving at home but the speed of the watches is the same here as anywhere else! The fans are great but they can't push my car any more quickly! The championship is still completely open - I don't think it'll be any clearer after this, regardless of what happens. We saw last year that Richard (Burns) led in mid-season and people said it was all decided, and then Marcus (Gronholm) won the title. Anything can still happen.”

HYUNDAI (3rd - 8 points)
Technical: After the debut of the Hyundai's Accent WRC2 in Portugal, the car appearing in Spain this weekend is more of an 'interim' version between it and the original example. Although they use the new-specification engine and much of its revised transmission technology, the two Accents for Catalunya will continue to feature asphalt suspension settings devised last year. The full asphalt-spec example of the WRC2 is not expected to appear until the final quarter of this season.

Sporting: Alister McRae will be joined by Hyundai's asphalt specialist Piero Liatti, who replaces Kenneth Eriksson for this event.

Alister McRae said: “I don't think we'll be able to accurately gauge where the new car is until the middle of the season. My testing for this event amounted to four runs over the shakedown stage, so you could hardly say that I've got a good feeling for it on asphalt yet. I think the likes of Carlos (Sainz), Richard (Burns) and Colin (McRae) will be in contention for victory, but the Peugeots and Citroens are likely to be strong.”

Piero Liatti said: “I feel the new car is definitely better but like Alister says, it's hard to predict where we can finish because we just don't know where we stand.”

SUBARU (4th 7 points)
Technical: Subaru has modified the anti-lag system on the Impreza's engines and drivers report much-improved response from the motor.

Sporting: Richard Burns and Petter Solberg are nominated to score manufacturers' points for Subaru in Spain, with Markko Martin aiming for drivers points only.

Richard Burns said: “We've made quite a big step forward with the engine now and it feels good. The new ALS system has transformed it, in fact. The response out of corners feels very good. Road position could make a difference here again, though. I remember from last year that running just one car behind Colin (McRae) on the final day was a disadvantage.”

Petter Solberg said: “I'm pleased to be nominated for manufacturers' points, even though it puts a bit more pressure on me. I don't necessarily think I'd be any better than Markko here, but it's the team's decision. This is only my fifth rally on asphalt but I like the surface, so we'll see. I want to show speed but also get more experience on asphalt.”

SKODA (5th - 6 points)
Technical: Skoda sends the same two Octavia WRCs that were used in Monte Carlo. The team recently tested a heavily-revised engine, but has elected not to risk using the still un-proven unit. It should appear on the next world championship round, Argentina, in early May.

Sporting: Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry will drive the team's two Octavia WRCs as usual.

Armin Schwarz said: “I'd prefer wet, maybe changeable conditions because I think that would give us a better chance. We set a fastest time in the damp last year. I'd have liked to use the revised engine because raw power is more important on dry asphalt, but the car ran well on shakedown anyway.”

Bruno Thiry said: “We changed the roll bars in the shakedown and it improved the car's handling a lot - it had been oversteering a bit too much up to that point. I've obviously got quite a good record on asphalt but with this quality of entry, it's going to be tough.”

PEUGEOT (6th - 4 points)
Technical: The 206 WRCs will start this event in essentially the same technical configuration used in Sanremo last year. The next substantial revisions to the car are not planned until the middle of the season.

Sporting: Reigning FIA World Rally Champion Marcus Grönholm is 'rested' from points nomination on this event, allowing him to concentrate on increasing his tally in the drivers' series. Peugeot will thus be relying on its two French drivers, Didier Auriol and Gilles Panizzi, to score manufacturers' points.

Marcus Grönholm said: “It's going to be a hard event for me. More than half of the stages are new to me and some of them are very technical. It will be easy to make a mistake here and come away with nothing. My aim has to be to score some points but with the number of manufacturer entries here that won't be easy.”

Didier Auriol said: “I hope that my championship can really start here, because we haven't had such good luck so far. But this is a rally where I've done well in the past and I have a good feeling for the car on asphalt. I think nine or ten drivers could win, so it's bound to be a good fight. There are quite a lot of new stages and I think the last day in particular will be difficult.”

CITROEN (0 points)
Technical: The Xsara WRC has already been set up extensively during Citroen's substantial test programme prior to this event. Engineer Jean-Claude Vaucard reports no major changes in technical specification over the car that dominated last year's French championship in the hands of Philippe Bugalski.

Sporting: For its debut as an official World Rally Car manufacturer, Citroen has nominated its two regular drivers - French title-holder Philippe Bugalski and multiple Spanish champion Jesus Puras. Team management has reacted angrily to speculation accusing Puras of illegally recceing stages. The matter was to be the subject of a Stewards meeting this afternoon.

Jesus Puras said: “This has happened every time Citroen comes to a rally like this with a new car. I would never make the mistake of practising illegally. What we did in practice was to use and modify old pacenotes, which we presented to officials at all of the checks during the recce. With this method, it means we can start with notes and modify them on each of our two passes instead of just the second run. I have nothing to hide and I have done nothing wrong. It is a pity that this situation has arisen during the debut of the Xsara WRC and for that, I apologise to Citroen, but it isn't my fault. I just hope we can forget about it now and do a good rally.

Team principal Guy Frequelin said: “Jesus is the subject of a concerted campaign to destabilise him. I want the entire situation to be clarified, even though I feel that the regulations on this issue are not necessarily suited to asphalt rallies. On the subject of a potential penalty for Jesus, it would first have to be proved that an illegal recce had taken place and that is simply not the case. I don't see how there can be any penalty. In a way, the whole thing is flattering for us because it proves people are scared.”

Other teams
This event marks the opening round of the FIA Super 1600 Championship, a cost-controlled series designed to introduce fresh, young talent to the World Championship. In total, 22 drivers (17 under the age of 27) will take the start in front-wheel drive, 1600cc cars from Peugeot, Ford, Fiat and Citroen. Reigning Group N World Champion Manfred Stohl, who has signed up to the new category, expects competition to be tough. “For me it's hard because I don't know front-wheel drive at all,” he said, “but the winner could come from anywhere. Nobody knows what to expect.” Frenchman Sebastian Loeb agrees. “Some people see me as one of the favourites because of my experience in the Saxo beforehand,” he says, “but I think knowledge of the events will ultimately be more important. There are only six events in the series calendar and they a ll count, so it's crucial to finish.”

Catalunya has attracted a large entry of privately-run World Rally Cars. Former works Ford and Skoda drivers Simon Jean-Joseph and Luis Climent switch to a Peugeot 206 WRC and Toyota Corolla WRC respectively. There are also private 206 WRCs for Adruzilo Lopes and Kris Princen.

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Leg 1, Friday 23 March (459.82 km) SS1 09:58 La Trona 12.90 km SS2 10:33 Alpens - Les Llosses 21.80 km SS3 11:33 Vallfogona 15.80 km SS4 13:51 La Trona 12.90 km SS5 14:26 Alpens - Les Llosses 21.80 km SS6 15:26 Vallfogona 15.80 km

Leg 2, Saturday 24 March (898.30 km) SS7 08:55 Pratdip 31.57 km SS8 10:06 Escaladei 14.43 km SS9 12:04 La Riba 35.89 km SS10 14:34 Pratdip 31.57 km SS11 15:45 Escaladei 14.43 km SS12 17:43 La Riba 35.89 km

Leg 3, Sunday 25 March (478.81 km) SS13 08:36 Coll de Bracons 19.66 km SS14 09:53 Osor 13.26 km SS15 10:27 Collsesplanes 14.76 km SS16 12:18 Coll de Bracons 19.66 km SS17 13:35 Osor 13.26 km SS18 14:09 Collsesplanes 14.76 km

www.worldrallychampionship.com www.fia.com

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Adruzilo Lopes , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Freddy Loix , Richard Burns , Gilles Panizzi , Didier Auriol , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , François Delecour , Alister McRae , Armin Schwarz , Philippe Bugalski , Jesus Puras , Kenneth Eriksson , Guy Frequelin , Manfred Stohl , Piero Liatti , Simon Jean-Joseph , Markko Martin
Teams Citroën World Rally Team