Catalunya Rally Preview

Sainz and Ford aim to make Spanish fans roar The short journey across the Iberian peninsula sees the Ford Martini World Rally Team turn its attentions from Portugal to Spain, from gravel to asphalt and from the Atlantic coast to the ...

Sainz and Ford aim to make Spanish fans roar

The short journey across the Iberian peninsula sees the Ford Martini World Rally Team turn its attentions from Portugal to Spain, from gravel to asphalt and from the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean. Just 12 days separate the end of the Rally of Portugal and the start of the Catalunya Rally (31 March - 2 April) as this hectic opening period to the FIA World Championship has drivers lining-up for their fifth event in 10 weeks.

The Spanish round of the series is the first pure asphalt rally of the year. Ford Martini drivers Carlos Sainz and co-driver Luis Moya and Colin McRae and co-driver Nicky Grist will aim to preserve the team's strong start to the campaign in which the Ford Focus World Rally Car has scored championship points on each of the first four rounds.

For Sainz and Moya, it will be their home event and their first all-asphalt rally in the Focus, although they have tested widely on the surface. Their latest test was in Catalunya this week and it provided Sainz with the first opportunity to try Cosworth Racing's new engine on asphalt.

"It confirmed the feeling I had on the gravel in Portugal that the engine is a significant improvement over the previous one," said 37-year-old Sainz. "We're making small improvements to the Focus all the time but it's difficult for me because as a newcomer to the team I'm still trying to learn about the car. This is my first asphalt rally in the Focus and although we've covered many kilometres in testing, it's still not the same as competition."

Madrid-based Sainz and Moya, from Barcelona, will have the backing of thousands of fanatical Spanish fans who would like to see nothing more than victory for their fellow countrymen. "It's fantastic to have all the people cheering me on and I hope they bring me better luck than I've had on this rally in recent years. Last year I retired after the final stage but I'm sure my luck will improve sooner or later," added Sainz, winner here in 1992 and 1995 and currently fourth in the championship standings.

McRae is also a former winner in Catalunya, the 31-year-old Scot tasting the winners' champagne in 1996. "This rally features quite highly on my favourites because of the nature of the stages. The stages to the north are quite slippery while those further south on the second leg are more abrasive. It's not a technically difficult event like Corsica because the corners are flowing, fast and quite forgiving. You can attack a bit harder than normal on those roads."

Ford Martini team director Malcolm Wilson admitted that the Catalunya event seemed to hold a jinx on him. "In the three years M Sport has run the Ford programme, we've never had a car finish in the points in Spain. So breaking that run is my first aim. We've proved this year that both drivers are capable of putting the Focus into points scoring positions during rallies. What we must do on a consistent basis is ensure both are there at the finish," he said.

"Although Carlos hasn't competed in the Focus on asphalt he'll be driving on roads he knows well so it shouldn't take him long to settle in. Colin has proven form on this event and so the potential is there for a really good result," added Wilson.

Technical Talk

In testing this week Sainz and McRae tried suspension modifications on their Focus cars which may be used on the rally while the engine problem which caused McRae's retirement in Portugal has been addressed and revisions incorporated into the Catalunya engines. Both drivers will also have brand new cars.

The second day stages are among the longest and most abrasive of the championship's asphalt rounds, putting a huge emphasis on tyre performance. The key is to ensure tyres quickly reach maximum grip and do not lose their effectiveness towards the end of the longer stages, a task complicated by ground temperatures which can climb to 45°C.

For the Ford Martini drivers to exploit to the full the qualities of their Michelin rubber, careful set-up work during testing this week with both Sainz and McRae helped fine-tune the Focus/Michelin package. A myriad of factors are taken into account, especially the suspension preferences of each driver, but driver sensitivity in tyre management during the longer stages remains crucial.

"Looking after tyres is vital on most events but it's especially the case in Spain where the nature of the surface changes frequently," said McRae. "On abrasive stages it's important to take care of the tyres to achieve the balance that drivers look for between performance and durability. It's as important as ever to drive carefully and not overheat the tyres."

Rally Route

The Costa Brava resort of Lloret de Mar provides the base for the rally, which is run during a weekend for the first time. The event has a reputation as one of the best in the series and organisers have revised the route significantly to cater for the anticipated increase in spectators. All but one of the seven stages are run twice, encouraging spectators to remain at the same location all day and ease congestion on the link roads. The format of the event remains the same however, with the first and final legs in the Girona region, around the mountain town of Vic, and the second day heading south to Tarragona. Indeed that second leg is incredibly demanding, drivers facing almost 17 hours behind the wheel and covering 926km, the longest single day in a European world championship rally since 1983. Two of the stages, which are repeated, are 45km and 36km long. Drivers pack in a total of 383km of competitive driving in just 15 stages in a total route of 1874km. <pre>


Friday 31 March: Leg 1 Lloret de Mar - Lloret de Mar

Start   Lloret de Mar                                   08.00   
SS1     La Trona                        12.88km         09.57
SS2     Alpens-Les Llosses              21.99km         10.32
SS3     Coll de Santigosa               10.66km         11.30
SS4     La Trona                        12.88km         14.03
SS5     Alpens-Les Llosses              21.99km         14.38
SS6     Coll de Santigosa               10.66km         15.36
Finish  Lloret de Mar                                   18.59
Total                                   91.06km           

Saturday 1 April: Leg 2 Lloret de Mar - Lloret de Mar

Start   Lloret de Mar                                    05.00
SS 7    Gratallops-Escaladei            45.88km          08.28
SS 8    La Riba                         36.16km          11.08
SS 9    Gratallops-Escaladei            45.88km          14.06
SS 10   Coll Roig                       17.57km          16.54
SS 11   La Riba                         36.16km          17.45
Finish  Lloret de Mar                                    21.55
Total                                  181.65km           

Sunday 2 April: Leg 3 Lloret de Mar - Lloret de Mar

Start   Lloret de Mar                                     06.15
SS 12   St Julià-Arbùcies               36.85km           08.18
SS 13   Coll de Bracons                 18.34km           10.11
SS 14   St Julià-Arbùcies               36.85km           12.13
SS 15   Coll de Bracons                 18.34km           14.06
Finish  Lloret de Mar                                     16.27
Total                                   110.38km                

Rally total 383.09km

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Luis Moya , Nicky Grist , Malcolm Wilson