This week the Subaru World Rally Team will travel to Spain for the penultimate round of the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Catalunya. Beginning on 28 October with a ceremonial start in the coastal resort of Lloret de Mar, the event...
This week the Subaru World Rally Team will travel to Spain for the penultimate round of the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Catalunya. Beginning on 28 October with a ceremonial start in the coastal resort of Lloret de Mar, the event follows the Tour De Corse as the second consecutive Mediterranean asphalt rally.
Unlike the narrow, twisty stages of Corsica, Catalunya's roads are wider, faster and more flowing with a smooth surface that makes them like a racetrack in places. The width of the stages and lack of roadside obstructions encourages 'cutting' where drivers clip the apex of corners in search of the straightest route and fastest racing line. This aggressive style calls for super accurate pace notes and can mean those cars further down the running order encounter slippery conditions as gravel and dirt is dragged onto the road.
An October date in the WRC calendar means autumnal weather for Rally Catalunya, and this usually means unsettled conditions with a good possibility of rain. With many stages run at altitude on mountain roads, weather forecasting and tyre choices are hard to call. Starting on Friday 29 October, the three-day event includes ten stages, all of which are repeated, and is based around a single service area in the town of Vic. The longest test is the Viladrau stage at 35.18km, while the shortest will be the La Roca stage at 5.05km. The event will conclude when the winning car crosses the finish ramp in Lloret de Mar at 1526hrs on Sunday.
Although both the 2004 manufacturers' and drivers' titles were decided in Corsica, the battle is still on for second place in the drivers' Championship with three individuals able to take the runner-up position. Subaru's Petter Solberg leads the fight with a current total of 78 championship points, while Ford's Markko Martin has 69 points and Carlos Sainz 67.
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two cars in Spain, driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Mikko Hirvonen (co-driven by Jarmo Lehtinen).
Petter Solberg has contested the event three times before and finished in the points twice. His young Finnish team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen, has taken part once before and finished fourteenth.
Rally Catalunya is a good event. It's really well organised, with good crowds, a good atmosphere and nice wide, flowing roads. We'll go there and try to do the best we can. Despite the Championship having been decided, I'm still motivated and want to get the highest result possible. I'm still in the fight for second place in the overall driver standings and am looking forward to defending my position. However, having seen Markko Martin's performance in Corsica, I know he'll be pushing hard for a good result in Spain too and I think he'll be the man to beat.
I learned a lot about the car and tyres on asphalt in Corsica and picked up my pace as the event went on. I think that will help for Spain, the surface is much consistent there, and although that is perhaps not so good for us, we've definitely learned things that we can take forward and use here. I understand more about which tyres suit which conditions now and think it will be a good rally. It's more fun when the roads are a little wider and you can cut the corners, and you have to ensure that you have a perfect racing line through every bend so you don't lose too much time. I'm looking forward to it.
The Car / The Challenge
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth
The roads in Spain are smoother and wider than those in Corsica and there are lots of opportunities for the drivers to take a driving line through all the bends. Without such cuts, you would probably run the car closer to a race-car set-up, making it lower and a little bit stiffer, but you have to compromise. Drivers sometimes drop half a car off the road as they go through corners. The set-up therefore ends up being fairly similar to the one that's used for Corsica. Road position is not as important on this rally as on others, but as the stages can get dirty for those further down the order, the trend is for cars to become a little slower. However, it doesn't change massively between one car and the next, so assuming that you're 13th on the road and are fighting with the guys who are 11th to 15th, it's not so much to worry about.
Weather wise, there can be a wide variation at this time of year. It could be cold and frosty early in the morning on the high stages, but by mid-afternoon it could be 25C with warm sunshine. There's also a tendency for it to be a bit foggy and there were massive storms before the event last year, so you never know quite what to expect. The changeable weather can also mean that different cars face different conditions on the same stage. There's 30 minutes between the first and fifteenth car on the road, so you could have a situation where the first car goes through in the dry and the 15th goes through in the wet. That's when you see people start to leap up the overall leaderboard.
We learned a lot in Corsica, but in two weeks there's only a certain amount that you can do. We can certainly make the best of what we've got and have already made some changes to the set-up. We also learned about which tyres to choose for different conditions and how the new tyres and car work together. All those lessons will be applied in Spain and we'll go there to do our best. I think a lot will hang on the first day and how the weather works out.
Between the Rallies
A star-studded couple of days for Petter Solberg. After attending the launch of his eagerly anticipated biography in Norway, he's off to present an award at a prestigious Scandinavian Music Awards Ceremony. Meanwhile, on Friday Mikko Hirvonen will be attending a promotional drive day at Tommi Makinen's Rally Centre in Jyvaskyla.
Norway's largest food company signs partnership deal with SWRT
Capitalising on the Norwegian population's enthusiasm for the WRC, and in particular their local hero Petter Solberg, the country's largest food manufacturer, Orkla foods, has signed a promotional partnership deal with the Subaru World Rally Team.
Starting from Rally Catalunya, Orkla will use the Subaru team and Petter to help promote one of its best selling products, the 'Big One' range of frozen pizzas, as well as other Orkla food brands in the future.
As part of the new deal, the distinctive 'Big One' logo will appear on Petter and Mikko's race suits and the front bumper of their rally cars. The company will also introduce a variety of rally-related sales promotions in Norway.
"We're delighted to welcome Orkla foods, to our growing family of commercial partners," said Subaru team commercial manager Colin Clark. "We've put particular effort into securing support from Norwegian brands to make best use of the team's, and of course Petters, profile in the Nordic region. This is an important first step for our team to secure additional sponsorship from a region where rallying is enjoying an explosion in popularity."