Rallye Catalunya 1998 Preview

WRC 1998 - Catalunya Rally Rally Network News Wire =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-==-=-=-=-==- XXXIV Rallye Catalunya 1998 - Cost Brava April 20-22 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- Event Background Surface Type:...

WRC 1998 - Catalunya Rally Rally Network News Wire

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-==-=-=-=-==- XXXIV Rallye Catalunya 1998 - Cost Brava April 20-22 =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Event Background

Surface Type: Asphalt Conditions: Cool and dry

The 1998 World Rally Championship heads away from the dust and gravel of Portugal and onto the asphalt of Catalunya, Spain. Round 5 promises to be one of the most hotly contested rounds of the year, Catalunya's asphalt surface contributes to lightning fast times and often only a handful of seconds covers the top 10 drivers.

The 1998 Catalunya Rally, one of the most popular in the WRC, both with teams and spectators, starts on Monday 20th April from its base in the seaside resort of Lloret de Mar, north of Barcelona. On the first and third days, it heads inland towards Vic and Girona. However, the second day's leg heads south of Barcelona and inland of Tarragona before returning to Lloret. The rally covers 19 special stages amd a total of 401 competitive kilometers. Although the rally always attracts massive spectator crowds, encouraged by excellent TV coverage, marshalling of the special stages' is good. For the last two years the Rally of Catalunya has been voted as the best in the WRC.

------------------------------------------------ Latest News From Catalunya! *Stage seven and nine will both be run along the top of the Costa Brava Cliffs. This stage has not been in use for a number of years. *Stage 11 is a completely new stage to the event. *MoviStar, a Spanish telecomunications company, are the new main sponsor of the event. ------------------------------------------------

Team Comments

Toyota Team Europe

Toyota head into the fifth round of the 1998 World Rally Championship leading both the Drivers' and Manufacturers' competitions. "We have the lead of the World Championship now and I am sure that we will have a good performance in Spain. We have tested there a couple of times and, although it will be our first event this year on dry sphalt, I think we already have a good set-up with the car. Between a Didier, Freddy and myself we will be quite competitive, but the opposition in Spain will be very strong. Perhaps the battle will be even closer than it was in Portugal," says Carlos.

Team-mate Auriol is keen to put behind him much of the bad luck he has encountered this year. A fourth place finish in Kenya followed a sixth in Sweden, but Didier hopes that the Spanish event will set his season back on track. "Sometimes I wonder about my luck but it is important to look forward now, not back. This will be my first time in Catalunya for three years so I want a good result here in preparation for the Tour de Corse rally, which is next, and one that I have won before. There are no restrictions on me so I want to go for victory in Spain," admited Auriol.

As part of his 1998 rally programme, Belgian Freddy Loix enters Catalunya for the first time since finishing fourth in '96. However, his impressive showing in Portugal, where he finished in a fine third place in his first rally for four months, proves that he and co-driver Sven Smeets will be a force to be reckoned with. "People always say that I am a specialist on the asphalt rallies such as Sanremo or my home events in Belgium. But I think Portugal showed that I can drive on gravel as well. It was great to come back and be competitive," he says. "I've also tested with Carlos and Didier in Spain and we all reached the same basis for the set-up and the Michelin tyres. It's good to share our ideas because we can now be a strong force for the whole team."

A fourth Toyota Castrol Corolla WRC will also contest the rally in the hands of Finns Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen. They will pursue FIA Teams' Cup points for HF Grifone, the Italian team for whom they currently lead the Cup points table.

-------------------------------------------------- 555 Subaru-Prodrive World Rally Team

Spain has historically been an event where the 555 Subaru World Rally Team has excelled, as the abrasive all-asphalt surface favours the Pirelli-shod Imprezas. The team have competed in Spain since 1995 and, with two victories in the history books, have one of the most enviable records of the current manufacturers.

Colin McRae has competed three times in Spain and, but for stopping to change a puncture on Leg two of the 1997 event, could well have notched his second consecutive victory on the Costa Brava. "We've always been competitive in places like Spain and Corsica but the level of competition is a bit of an unknown quantity this year," said Colin. "Mitsubishi will have a new car in the Evolution V and the Toyota is still fairly new so we'll have to wait for a few stages before we can really judge how everyone is faring. The weather in Spain is generally warm and dry, but the surface is very abrasive which requires a different kind of tyre to say, Monte Carlo, where we had to cope with cold and icy road conditions. If it stays dry the Formula 2 cars will be quick again, but they don't seem to be as consistent so I'm confident that the World Rally Cars will be leading at the finish of the event."

Like Colin, Piero Liatti has had three outings in Spain and although he has an enviable record, victory has always eluded him. The Italian finished third in 1995, and in 1996 and 1997 finished second with co-driver Fabrizia Pons, twice missing victory by a mere seven seconds. "This year it is my turn to win!" said a determined Piero. "The stages can be very tough on tyres so it is important to find a balance between looking after them and being competitive. I enjoy competing in Spain because I have good memories and know the stages, but this year I must win!"

---------------------------------------------------- Team Mitsubishi Ralliart

Team Mitsubishi Ralliart stands an excellent chance of winning the fifth round of the 1998 World Rally Championship for the second year running. World Rally Champion Tommi Makinen, the 1996-7 victor, drives a new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution V, while Richard Burns will drive the latest version of the Carisma GT (a re-badged Evo V) and Uwe Nittel will drive the well-proven previous version of the Carisma GT. With such a strong team, Mitsubishi will be aiming to extend its lead in the World Championship for Manufacturers.

Makinen has led three of this year's four World Championship rallies so far and, somewhat unusually for a Finn, loves driving on asphalt. He and co-driver Risto Mannisenmaki are looking forward to getting their hands on the latest Michelin-shod Lancer Evolution and are brimming with confidence after an encouraging test session in France at the beginning of March. "Catalunya is always a good rally and I think we can do very well this year. My new Mitsubishi Lancer seems very good on asphalt roads. There is a lot of opposition of course and I think it will be a big battle all through the rally !" said the Finn.

British team-mate Burns, co-driven by Robert Reid, is also looking forward to the event, for he sees it as one of his best chances of a good result this year. Although he has only contested the rally once before, the winner of this year's Safari Rally sees it as the perfect opportunity to prove his worth on asphalt - and believes that the new Carisma GT gives him every chance of doing so. "Catalunya is good, because the stages are tough, but I don't think they need too much previous knowledge. I really want to prove that I can be as fast on asphalt as on loose surface rallies. I think Mitsubishi has a good chance of winning here anyway," Burns stated.

Team Mitsubishi Ralliart will be present in force, with a second Carisma GT for German star Uwe Nittel and Swedish co-driver Tina Thorner. Nittel has plenty of experience of Spain's World Championship rally and will be doubly keen to score points on one of the most hotly fought rallies of the season. "This will be a good rally for the Carisma and I think it can be a good rally for us. I had good experience here in a Group N and Group A Mitsubishi Lancer and I have always enjoyed these stages a lot," Nittel declared.

"Catalunya is always a difficult rally, but we are confident this year after testing with the new Lancer and Carisma GT in France and in Spain itself," said Team Manager Phil Short. "Tyres will be important, particularly on the long stages of the second leg, but we're as well prepared as we can be." "Uwe is gaining confidence in the Carisma GT as he drives it in more rallies. I feel that this can be one of our best rallies this year," said Team Manager Ingolf Raiss.

Check out Rally Network's Latest News page for the latest on the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution V!

---------------------------------------------------- Valvoline/Ford World Rally Team

Bruno Thiry returns to the World Rally Championship scene in Spain following an absence from the series for the last two events. Recovered from his reconnaissance accident in Kenya, the Belgian has finished third (1996) and seventh (1993) in four Spanish outings and doubtless will be happy to be back behind the wheel of the Escort World Rally Car. Teamed up with four-time World Champion Juha Kankkunen, Thiry and Ford World Rally will seek to continue their impressive record of having both cars finish each round so far this year.

'We're testing immediately after this rally ahead of the next round in Spain and I'm looking forward to using the new and improved engine which will be in the Escort for that event," added 38-year-old Kankkunen, who still lies second in the drivers' championship.

---------------------------------------------------- 1997 Catalunya Rally Review

Makinen scored the first tarmac win for himself and Mitsubishi and the first tarmac win for over 10 years by a Finnish Driver. Subaru's tarmac specialist Pierro Liatti took second place while the sensation of the rally was the speed of the Formula Two Puegeot 306's. In dry, clear asphalt conditions, the two Puegeot cars were faster than even the World Rally Cars. The rally was disastrous for Ford, when exhaust damage wrecked propshafts on both its WRCars, Seat with all three cars retiring and Skoda (both cars abondoned) scoring no points. This left Makinen with more than one rally worth of points in the Championship lead.

Overall Placings 1. Tommi Makinen/ Seppo Harjanne 4:08:46 2. Pierro Liatti/ Fabrizia Pons 4:08:53 3. Gilles Panizzi/ Herve Panizzi ** 4:11:55 4. Colin McRae/ Nicky Grist 4:12:20 5. Angelo Medeghini/ Medeghini 4:13:51 6. Rui Madeira/ Nuno Da Silva 4:15:12 7. Jaime Azcona/ Julius Billmaier 4:16:28 8. Uwe Nittel/ Tina Thorner 4:17:25 9. Raphael Sperrer/ Per Carlsson 4:18:32 13. Gustavo Trelles/ Jorge Del Buono* 4:31:15

** Formula 2 * Group N.

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Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Freddy Loix , Richard Burns , Gilles Panizzi , Marcus Gronholm , Hervé Panizzi , Timo Rautiainen , Juha Kankkunen , Risto Mannisenmaki , Gustavo Trelles , Robert Reid , Nicky Grist , Fabrizia Pons , Tina Thorner , Piero Liatti , Angelo Medeghini , Raphael Sperrer , Rui Madeira , Uwe Nittel