Catalunya Rally - preview

Ford anticipates Spanish calm after the storm Just 12 days after the finish, the Ford Martini World Rally Team switches from the mudbath that was the Rally of Portugal to the Catalunya Rally, hoping the bad weather which blitzed the Atlantic...

Ford anticipates Spanish calm after the storm

Just 12 days after the finish, the Ford Martini World Rally Team switches from the mudbath that was the Rally of Portugal to the Catalunya Rally, hoping the bad weather which blitzed the Atlantic coast does not cross the Iberian peninsula to the Spanish Mediterranean for the first all-asphalt event of the season.

This fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, based in the resort of Lloret de Mar, provides the perfect opportunity for the Ford Martini team to strengthen its position, currently second, in the manufacturers' standings. The Ford Focus RS World Rally Car has scored points on each round to date in the hands of nominated drivers Carlos Sainz and Luis Moya and team-mates Colin McRae and Nicky Grist.

The consistency of Sainz has earned three podium finishes and second in the drivers' series while third pairing François Delecour and Daniel Grataloup have also scored on each round.

The Spanish asphalt is fast, flowing and forgiving and the nature of the speed tests allows drivers to shave vital tenths of a second from their times by cutting corners and taking a smoother and straighter, and therefore faster, line through curves. It is a tactic that all three Ford Martini drivers have used with success, Sainz and McRae both boasting two wins each in Catalunya and Delecour one.

Sainz, third last year, will have the fervent backing of thousands of fanatical Spanish fans, who would like nothing better than a third victory for the Madrid-based pilot.

"It will be a hard rally because there are many new stages which we don't know but every event has its own complexities and that's what makes the sport so varied," said 38-year-old Sainz. "Ensuring we choose the correct driving line and take the opportunity to cut corners where we can is important here. But we have to be aware that when we cut across the gravel or the grass on the inside it's easy to damage the suspension or tyres on the 'step' where the asphalt ends at the side of the road." McRae was the winner for the Ford Martini team in 2000 after a thrilling final stage showdown with fellow Briton Richard Burns, and would relish a repeat result. "We haven't enjoyed the best of luck so far this year. Portugal is usually seen as the first 'proper' rally of the season but given our problems and the awful conditions, I hope our year starts in Spain and we can get an idea of where we are in comparison to the opposition," he said.

"Catalunya is a rally I enjoy, its well organised and the stages are good. All we need is for our luck to change and a good result will kick-start our season," added McRae.

The recce for the event will be tougher than usual. "Almost 50 per cent of the route will be different this year, either new stages or old stages run in the opposite direction," said co-driver Grist. "We have more than 90km of new pace notes to make which is a lot given only two passages over the stages during the recce."

Delecour, in his debut season with the Focus is quickly gaining in confidence. "After competing on gravel in Portugal I've now driven the car in all conditions and feel confident with it," said the 38-year-old Frenchman. "In testing for Catalunya we drove the same road used for the shakedown test before last year's rally and our times were better which is encouraging although I need more time on Pirelli rubber to understand its characteristics.

"We've made big progress with the new shock absorbers. On this rally you cut the corners a lot and it's important that when the car comes back onto the road it doesn't jump. The Focus feels stable in those circumstances and there's no need to lift off the power," he said.

Challenge of the Catalunya Rally

The performance and durability of Pirelli's tyres will be crucial, especially on the longer and more abrasive roads of the second leg. Several weeks before the start, teams nominate two tread patterns and the usual choice is a dry weather tyre and an intermediate option for wet conditions, with no restrictions on compounds or additional cuts. However, Ford Martini has bucked the trend by choosing two dry weather tyres which can be converted for wet weather simply by making additional hand cuts onto the existing pattern.

"The roads to the north where the first and last legs are based are smooth but the asphalt down in Tarragona is abrasive and so harder on tyres," explained team director Malcolm Wilson. "We studied data from testing and previous rallies and felt that in the dry Pirelli's RS tyre worked well on the northern stages while the RP type worked better in Tarragona.

"We decided to nominate those two dry weather tyres and Pirelli has worked very hard to produce a special construction and compound of these to which we can add hand cuts to convert them into wet tyres if it rains. It's a calculated gamble but one we think could give us that vital advantage if it's dry and one which shouldn't cost us time if it's wet," he added.

FIA Super 1600 Cup

The rally marks the opening round of the FIA Super 1600 Cup, a new six-round series within the world championship exclusively for drivers. Effectively it is a Junior World Championship and the front-wheel drive cars, which must be 1600cc or less, are restricted in power outputs and costs. Twenty-three drivers have registered and seven will be behind the wheel of a Ford Puma - François Duval (B), Alejandro Galanti (PY), Patrick Magaud (F), Saladin Mazlan (MAL), Niall McShea (GB), Benoit Rousselot (F) and Martin Stenshorne (N). The series forms a key step in Ford's Ladder of Opportunity, a structured route for novice drivers to reach the sport's top level with a car to take them each step of the way.

Rally Route

The format of the rally is unchanged with the first and last legs in the hills above Lloret de Mar on the Costa Brava coastline. The middle leg heads south-west beyond Barcelona for Tarragona. Each leg comprises three stages run twice, the second leg by the far the longest and most difficult with four of the six tests over 31km. Although the stages are familiar ones, four on the second day and all six on the final leg will be run in the reverse direction to usual. In all drivers face 383.18km of stages in a total route of 1815.02km.



Friday 23 March: Leg 1 Lloret de Mar - Lloret de Mar Start Lloret de Mar 08.00 SS1 La Trona 12.90km 09.58 SS2 Alpens-Les Llosses 21.80km 10.33 SS3 Vallfogona 15.80km 11.33 SS4 La Trona 12.90km 13.51 SS5 Alpens-Les Llosses 21.80km 14.26 SS6 Vallfogona 15.80km 15.26 Finish Lloret de Mar 18.48 Total 101.00km

Saturday 24 March: Leg 2 Lloret de Mar - Lloret de Mar Start Lloret de Mar 05.45 SS7 Pratdip 31.57km 08.55 SS8 Escaladei 14.43km 10.06 SS9 La Riba 35.89km 12.04 SS10 Pratdip 31.57km 14.34 SS11 Escaladei 14.43km 15.45 SS12 La Riba 35.89km 17.43 Finish Lloret de Mar 21.48 Total 163.78km

Sunday 25 March: Leg 3 Lloret de Mar - Lloret de Mar Start Lloret de Mar 06.45 SS13 Coll de Bracons 19.66km 08.36 SS14 Osor 13.26km 09.53 SS15 Collsesplanes 26.28km 10.27 SS16 Coll de Bracons 19.66km 12.18 SS17 Osor 13.26km 13.35 SS18 Collsesplanes 26.28km 14.09 Finish Lloret de Mar 16.56 Total 118.40km

Rally Total 383.18km

-Ford Martini World Rally Team

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