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Spain (J) - 22-24 Oct 10

Posted: October 27, 2010 8:44 AM - 5125 Hits

Round 12 - 2010 World Rally Championship
J – Junior Championship


Photo: Patrick Doyle

Photos

Posted: October 27, 2010 8:44 AM

Loeb and Elena make the C4 WRC part of rallying legend

Posted: October 25, 2010 4:48 PM

Three weeks after bagging the 2010 World Rally Championship titles*, Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and the Citroën Total World Rally Team again showed their superiority by winning Rally Spain. Seb and Daniel led from start to finish scoring their 61st World Championship victory as well as making the C4 WRC part of rallying legend. This car has never been beaten on asphalt since its debut in 2007. Citroën scored its fifth triple of the season thanks to Petter Solberg / Chris Patterson and Dani Sordo / Diego Vallejo.

With a lead of over 40 seconds, Loeb tackled the third leg of Rally Spain full of confidence. On the other hand, second place was up for grabs as Petter Solberg and Dani Sordo were separated by only 16.9s. Sordo was determined to take the fight to the Norwegian for second spot, and he started the day with the bit between his teeth setting the fastest time in El Priorat (42,04 km), which he followed up with another first place in the short Serra d’Almos (4,11 km) stage. These performances helped the Spaniard to reduce the gap to 10.8s.
“As Seb is way out in front, Petter and I are injecting a bit of excitement into the event,” laughed Sordo at the midday service halt.
“We know that we’ll find it difficult to pull back much time on him in the long stage, as we can’t go flat out because we have to look after tyre wear. In the short stage, I went pedal to the metal from start to finish. We’ve pulled back six seconds in the two stages, which means that we’ll have problems taking second place unless outside circumstances intervene. We’re going to continue to keep up the pressure.”

Thanks to his comfortable lead, Loeb was able to drop a few seconds: “I’m driving to make it to the finish, and I adapt my pace according to the split times of my pursuers. Like the other drivers, I had to look after my tyres that were overheating in El Priorat.”

After a 30-minute service stop, the drivers set off again to tackle the same stages. Sordo kept up the pace and set another fastest time in El Priorat. Despite reducing the gap to 5.1s, the Spaniard did not manage to pass Petter Solberg in the last stage:
“It was a great scrap. I’m a bit disappointed not to be able to help the Citroën Total World Rally Team to score another double, but it’s still a triple for the make. What I’ll remember about this rally is a couple of good days on asphalt, and I’d like to thank the crowd for its unflagging support.”

Loeb, who has been unbeaten on asphalt in the C4 WRC since 2007, was full of praise for his car :
“It gives the heartstrings a little tug as ths car has given us a lot of happy moments on all kinds of surfaces. Counting Monte Carlo, we’ve won the fifteen asphalt rallies run over the last four years. This weekend we didn’t have to do any calculations, so it was much easier than in the previous rallies.”

“What Sébastien and Daniel have done is really quite incredible,” underlined Frédéric Banzet, the Citroën Brand Manager.
“Three weeks after the craziness of Rally France, they were able to keep up their motivation and performance level to score a victory full of panache. As Spain is Citroën’s second-biggest market, this win is very important for the marque. I’d like to congratulate the whole team, and say how much I admire their professionalism and their conscientiousness in a relaxed ambience after winning the two titles in Alsace.”

* Subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA.

A precious point for Ogier and Ingrassia

Posted: October 25, 2010 4:47 PM

Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia are holding onto their second place in the World Rally Championship at the end of the 12th event of the season, held in Spain. By finishing 10th in Salou, they will head into the final rally of the year in Great Britain with an 11-point advantage over their closest pursuers.

After finishing 14th at the end of day two of the Rally de España, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia were aiming to get back into the top 10 in order to consolidate their second position in the World Rally Championship. During the first run through El Priorat alone, the longest stage of the rally at 42.04 kilometres, the French crew made up three places to claim 11th overall.

“It’s obviously not the same type of rally for us since we went off yesterday,” explained Sébastien. “I’m trying to find the motivation to continue to drive at a good pace. We just need to carry on now and gain more experience for the future.”

Despite breaking a front-right damper top mount at the end of La Serra d’Almos (SS14), the two Frenchmen continued their path towards the top 10. “It was a similar problem to the one we had on the Rallye de France,” recounted Sébastien. “I touched a small rock in the middle of a cut just before the end of the stage. The top of the suspension gave way, but we were able to continue to service without any problems.”

At the end of 16 special stages Sébastien and Julien were 10th, scoring an additional World Championship point. “We missed a good opportunity, but I don’t regret at all having tried to take the fight to Sébastien Loeb,” said the Citroën Junior Team driver. “I feel that I’m getting quicker and quicker on asphalt. Now I need to concentrate on the final round of the season in Great Britain in order to finish second in the World Rally Championship.

That remains a realistic objective.” Citroën Junior Team Manager Benoit Nogier concluded: “The raw result from Spain is not a positive one for the Citroën Junior Team. But once again our Citroën C4 WRC was reliable and the team did a solid job throughout the rally. These are the principal points to remember about this weekend. We had the chance to consolidate our position before heading to Great Britain, but we didn’t manage to. Now we need to concentrate on the last rally of the year so that we finish the season well. Still, everything is relative. The objective of seeing Sébastien Ogier take second in the drivers’ World Championship is one that has created itself over the course of the season. It’s the result of a strong and consistent performance from our team throughout the year.”

The Citroën Junior Team is currently third in the World Rally Championship for manufacturers with 196 points: 41 more than its nearest rival. Sébastien Ogier will start the final round of the year placed second in the drivers’ standings, with 11 points over Jari-Matti Latvala and 16 points over Petter Solberg.

GASSNER JR REIGNS IN SPAIN!

Posted: October 25, 2010 4:44 PM

Up-and-coming German driver Hermann Gassner Jr, who benefits from Red Bull backing, has come close to equalling his best-ever World Rally Championship result, after a masterful drive on the mixed gravel and asphalt surfaces of the Rallye de Espana.

Gassner Jr, co-driven by his fellow German Kathi Wustenhagen, was 13th overall in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, which is run by the Baumschlager Rally Racing team. Gassner Jr also finished first of the 'conventional' Group N cars, which are based on standard production models.

Most importantly of all, the 21-year-old made no mistakes at all throughout the tough three-day event, based around Salou on Spain's Costa Daurada south of Barcelona.

For the first time, the opening day of Spain's round of the World Rally Championship was run on both gravel and asphalt surfaces, with the cars operating in gravel configuration. On Friday night, all the teams had a specially-extended service halt to convert their cars into asphalt specification for the second and third days of the Rallye de Espana, run on sealed surfaces.

This mixed format is common on Austrian rallies, which meant that the BRR team was able to quickly give Gassner Jr a perfect car for the final two days of the rally.

Gassner Jr drove on the Rally de Espana last year, but this time it was quite different, as the Red Bull-supported youngster explained:

"It was so much easier for us now as we have improved a lot from last year," said Gassner Jr. "It's like a night and day difference. We've had more experience and we've also changed our pace note system, so now we can drive with a lot more confidence. This rally was a great result for us, but really it was all about learning. I'm particularly pleased with our performance on the first day, as those were stages that I did not know at all."

Despite his inexperience, Gassner Jr set times that were regularly in the top 15 overall, which also pleased his team boss: multiple Austrian Champion Raimund Bauschlager.

"Hermann has been very good all weekend," said Baumschlager. "It's been a fantastic performance with no mistakes, but I cannot say that I am particularly surprised because I never had any doubts about Hermann's talent. He's very young and he's still learning, so the most important thing now is that he continues this good way that he has started. One of the many great things about Hermann is that he is always ready to listen and absorb information, so I feel confident about the future."

Gassner Jr will contest one more World Championship rally before the end of the year: the season-closing Rally Great Britain from November 12-14. Characterised by mud and rain, Great Britain will present a stark challenge to Spain while presenting Gassner Jr and Red Bull with another opportunity to end the season on a high.

Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) - Riedemann wins on the Costa but Hunt holds onto championship lead

Posted: October 25, 2010 4:41 PM

Nine Ford Fiesta R2 cars were entered in this year’s Rally de España where four crews were registered for the penultimate round of the Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) series. Christian Riedemann won the championship’s penultimate round by over three minutes from Bader Al Jabri and the young German secured his second victory of the year. Riedemann’s strong result has launched him into third position in the overall standings and his 16th finish overall is the highest recorded position for a Ford Fiesta R2 in the FSTi series

Riedemann is not scheduled to contest the final FSTi round of the season at Wales Rally GB next month so the title-fight will resume between Harry Hunt who remains championship leader and Bader Al Jabri who is now only four points behind his British rival.

Britain’s Harry Hunt completed the podium line-up this weekend whilst also finishing fifth in the Junior World Rally Championship (J-WRC). Majed Al Shamsi finished fourth.

The three-day rally featured 16 special stages covering 355.30 km and began with a popular ceremonial start in central Salou on Thursday 21 October. Friday’s stages provided an interesting challenge for the FSTi crews as they consisted of of a mix of gravel and asphalt road surfaces, but Saturday and Sunday’s route featured the traditional asphalt tests only.

The first full day of action began on Friday 22 October with two passes over a three stage loop in the wine-producing region of Montsant. The 35.94 km Terra Alta mixed gravel and asphalt stage started the morning and afternoon loop and was followed by a 14.97 km all-gravel test. A 17.28 km mixed gravel and asphalt test rounded off the loop.

Saturday consisted of asphalt stages only and took the FSTi crews north-west of Salou to complete another repeat loop of three stages totalling 126.62 km. At just 92.30 km, Sunday was the shortest day but included a repeat pass of El Priorat, the longest test of the rally at 42.04 km which wound its way rounds the cherry orchards high in the hills above Gratallops. The rally concluded with a sprint over the 4.11 km La Serra d’Almos stage [SS16].

Christian Riedemann won the Muc-Off Best Presented Car Award at this weekend’s Rally de España.

73 - Christian Riedemann (23) & Josefine Beinke (18) – Fiesta R2 FSTi position: 1
Christian Riedemann and Josefine Beinke had a good run through Friday’s opening stage and produced the quickest time out of the FSTi entries. Stage 2 was littered with big stones so the young German drove more cautiously but he pulled into Service A leading the series with a good feeling on the tarmac using the gravel set-up. Riedemann had no issues on Friday afternoon and pulled into the end of day service on exactly the same time as Britain’s Harry Hunt - a remarkable feat after 136.38 kms of special stages.

Saturday morning fared well for Riedemann as he produced three fastest stage stages and took the lead over Hunt. However, after Hunt retired on Stage 9 the young driver decided he no longer needed to push as he was leading the championship by over three minutes. Saturday afternoon provided no problems for Riedemann as he set a further two fastest stage times and reporting the car was running perfectly.

Day 3 started well for Riedemann as he was more than three minutes ahead of Bader Al Jabri and had no pressure from behind. The German driver reported that Stage 14 was rough due to the amount of gravel that had been dragged onto the road from the cars ahead but he still set two fastest stage times. This was then followed by another fastest stage time on the event’s penultimate stage and apart from an intermittent problem with the gear cut on the gearbox he had no other problems. Riedemann’s strong performance over the weekend has launched the young German into the top three but as he is not planning to contest Wales Rally GB, he is unable to fight for the title.

FSTi winner Christian Riedemann said:
“We were more than three minutes ahead of Bader [Al Jabri] going into the final day so we knew that if we could drive safely we did not need to push to ensure a win. I was a bit nervous this morning because in the past we’ve been very unlucky on the final day. We were cautious driving on the final stages to the finish and apart from a small problem with the gearbox we had no other problems. I’ve been impressed with the improvement that have been made to the brakes after the other tarmac rounds and it’s been a really good event. I’ve really enjoyed myself and the car has been working very well. It’s been a perfect finish to a great event.”

75 - Bader Al Jabri (25) & Stephen McAuley FSTi position: 2
Bader Al Jabri and Stephen McAuley adopted a cautious driving approach on the opening morning of Rally de España as they felt the set up they had adopted promoted a lot of oversteer at the rear end of their Fiesta R2. Al Jabri’s confidence had improved by Stage 3 and he was third as he pulled into Service A. The rear ride height of the car was lowered during service on Friday afternoon and the Emirate driver was keen to improve on his times for the afternoon pass. On SS5, Al Jabri had a spin and on SS7 he found it hard to judge the correct pace on the tarmac sections but reported that he was looking forward to driving on pure asphalt on Saturday. The 25-year-old driver pulled into the end of the first day third out of the four FSTi crews.

Al Jabri had problems with pacenotes on SS8 and brake fade towards the end of SS9 but by the end of the morning he was able to take advantage of Hunt’s crash to move into second place. During Service D the young Emirate driver reported he was happy to be back competing on tarmac. The afternoon proved trouble-free for Al Jabri and he set his first FST fastest stage time on Stage 11. He finished the day in second position.

Day 3 started well for Al Jabri but on Stage 13 the front tyres of his Fiesta R2 were overheating so he swapped the front and rear tyres round for the morning’s final stage. The rest of the day proved no major dramas for Al Jabri and he finished second overall. The 25-year-old’s strong performance from the weekend means he is only four points adrift of Hunt and still within title contention. The Emirate driver will be looking to push hard at Wales Rally GB to ensure he is in with a chance of winning this year’s championship.

28 - Harry Hunt (22) & Sebastian Marshall (22) FSTi final position: 3
British pairing Harry Hunt and Sebastian Marshall marked their sixth outing piloting the Ford Fiesta R2 on tarmac this weekend and the duo were looking for a victory to try and secure their chances of winning the championship. Hunt lost time on the opening 10 km of Friday’s first stage due to foggy conditions. He also struggled to find the right rhythm as the car was too loose because of the gravel set-up. Stage 2 ran more smoothly for the young Briton as he set the fastest stage time and closed the gap on Riedemann. On Stage 3, the 22-year-old lost time when a stone got caught in the rear brakes but he still finished the 17.28 km stage only 0.5 seconds adrift of Riedemann and pulled into Service A in second place. On Stage 4, Hunt had a close shave with an Armco barrier. Before the next stage Hunt softened the car’s suspension and he went on to produce his second fastest stage time of the day. The young Briton pulled into the end of day service jointly leading the FSTi with Christian Riedemann and feeling confident going into Day Two.

Hunt drove more cautiously on Saturday morning and dropped 20 seconds to Riedemann, knocking him back into second position. However, disaster struck on Stage 9 when Hunt was forced to retire for the day after damaging the front and rear suspension when his Fiesta R2 slid off the road and collided with a concrete barrier.

Hunt returned to the final day of Rally de España under SupeRally regulations but struggled with car handling due to the damage sustained from Saturday’s incident. The young Briton adopted a safe driving approach in order to rack up as many points as possible to ensure he was still within title contention. He set the fastest stage time on the day’s closing test and pulled into service third overall. Hunt continues to lead the championship but has it all to play for at Wales Rally GB for the final FSTi round of the season where he and Bader Al Jabri will battle for the title.

74 - Majed Al Shamsi & Allan Harryman FSTi final position:
Majed Al Shamsi and Alan Harryman struggled with car handling on Friday’s opening stage as their Fiesta R2 felt very loose especially on fast corners. On Stage 2, Al Shamsi had a spin on a gravel corner and lost over 30 seconds. The duo pulled into Service A fourth overall. Friday afternoon did not bode well for Al Shamsi as he hit a rock on Stage 4 which bent the rear beam of his Fiesta R2 and forced the Emirate to retire for the day.

Al Shamsi returned for the second day of Rally de España under SupeRally regulations and the Emirate steadily improved his times throughout the morning. On Stage 7 he caught the car ahead but pulled into Service D third overall and reported to be enjoying the asphalt stages.

Day 3 proved relatively trouble-free for Al Shamsi, the Emirate pulled into the final service fourth overall and remains fifth in the overall championship standings.

MUNCHI’S SECURE POINTS ON FINAL WRC RUN

Posted: October 25, 2010 4:39 PM

FEDERICO Villagra battled back on the final day of Rally de España to secure some crucial Manufacturer points for the Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team.

Despite Villagra retiring on Saturday with high engine temperature due to a broken alternator belt, the Argentine returned for the final day under SupeRally regulations to take his Ford Focus RS WRC from 23rd to 15th overall by the finish thanks to four-successive top-ten stage times.

He now returns home for the final two rounds of his home championship, so missing Rally Wales GB. But Villagra will return to drive for the Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team next year when he will contest ten rounds of the 2011 FIA World Rally Championship piloting a Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car.

“For sure, this is not how I wanted to end my WRC season and my final outing in the [Ford] Focus RS WRC,” Villagra admitted.

“But there was nothing that we could have done and we were just unlucky. My team worked hard at service to sort the problem and thankfully I was able to get back on the road for the final day. For me, the most important thing was to be able to return on Sunday and to drive the [Ford] Focus one last time,” said the eight-time Argentine champion.

“Tarmac has never been my preferred driving surface but hopefully this year’s rounds at France and Spain have made me a stronger and more experienced asphalt driver. I’m looking forward to returning to the WRC next year.”

Villagra had been only 34.3 seconds adrift of Matthew Wilson after the first day. But hopes of improving on his eighth place evaporated with his mechanical problems which led to his first retirement from a WRC round since Rally d'Italia Sardegna in May 2009.

STOBART’S WILSON SECURES SIXTH ON SPANISH SOIL

Posted: October 25, 2010 4:37 PM

BRITAIN’S leading FIA World Rally Championship pairing of Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin produced their best ever result on Spanish soil this weekend with sixth place on the Rally de España.

The Stobart M-Sport Ford driver showed impressive pace on asphalt in his Ford Focus RS WRC over the three days.

“Tarmac has never been my preferred road surface but I’ve worked hard this year to improve my times on asphalt and I think going one place better in Spain than I have before shows all the work has paid off," said Wilson.

As well as Spain being the fastest WRC round of the season the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally Team were also faced with a unique mixed gravel and asphalt affair on the event’s opening day.

“We had an added challenge in Spain this year as Friday’s stages were a mixture of gravel and asphalt," explained Wilson.

"Apart from a spin, Day One was fine and I was happy with seventh place.

“I just needed to get into the correct mind-set and to find the best rhythm as soon as possible over the weekend, which I did.

"We had an understeer problem on Saturday but we stiffened the rear suspension and did it again for Sunday which helped a lot.

"Today we went from the fastest stage to the shortest stage so it was all about finding the right rhythm. But I enjoyed the stages. They flowed nicely and it’s good to finish the last tarmac event of the season with a healthy haul of points."

Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“Matthew has shown good progression on tarmac this year and has noticeably improved his understanding of the surface. He also did well to beat his personal best at this event and has been much more consistent with his driving this season.”

Monster World Rally Team's Ken Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino were the other nominated points-scorers for Stobart M-Sport Ford in Spain. The pair finished the event ninth overall – their best result in the championship so far.

“Ken has done very well to finish in the top ten – Spain is a notoriously difficult event and he has shown good pace in the [Ford] Focus RS WRC over the weekend. I’m sure both Ken and Matthew are looking forward to returning to gravel for Wales Rally GB and I hope they will both be able to demonstrate just how much they’ve improved this year when they contest the final round of the season," said team principle Wilson.

Matthew Wilson’s regular WRC team-mates Henning Solberg and co-driver Stephane Prévot were also entered under the Stobart M-Sport Ford banner in Spain but were behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta Super 2000 where they finished eighth overall. The Norwegian driver will return to drive the Ford Focus RS WRC at Rally Wales GB in November.

FORD FIESTA S2000 HELPS SOLBERG REIGN IN SPAIN

Posted: October 25, 2010 4:32 PM

FORD Fiesta S2000 drivers Henning Solberg and Dennis Kuipers dominated their class at Rally de España this weekend finishing first and second place in their category.

M-Sport’s award-winning car was fitted with a new 2011 spec exhaust for the FIA World Rally Championship’s penultimate event and the new addition helped Solberg and Kuipers finish an impressive eighth and 11th overall respectively.

“The car has been fantastic this weekend," said Solberg.

"We played about with the set-up but it was running perfectly on Saturday afternoon after we altered the rear ride height. The new exhaust made a huge difference – it felt like a mean version of the World Rally Car and it had a lot more power."

Spain marked the first time that Solberg had driven the new generation rally car competitively on gravel but this did not phase the Norwegian pilot as he finished the first day leading the N4 class by over three minutes.

“My target is always to finish as well and as high as I can - I wanted to try and beat as many of the World Rally Cars as I could. Today [Sunday] I was pushing to try and catch Khalid [Al Qassimi] for seventh position and I was so close. If the last stage hadn’t been so short I think I could have caught him”, said Solberg.

Fellow Ford Fiesta S2000 driver, Dennis Kuipers finished Rally de España and produced his best result piloting the car on tarmac this year.

“It’s definitely been a challenge driving on such fast asphalt roads this weekend. We had an issue with the brakes but the brake bias was changed at service which helped for the afternoon," said the 24-year-old.

“I found it difficult to judge where to go fast and when to go slower but it was a good weekend for us overall. Our best result on tarmac before this was 13th in Bulgaria - so it’s great to go two places better in Spain and get a good result for our final asphalt rally of the WRC season,” said Kuipers.

Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“Henning has once again impressed in the Ford Fiesta S2000 car. He set some very fast times this weekend and has shown incredible pace with the ability to close in on the World Rally Cars.

“Dennis has also demonstrated excellent progress in the Ford Fiesta S2000 this year. He has shown that he is a very capable driver and to finish so high up the leaderboard after such a difficult event is of great credit to Kuipers,” added Wilson.

The Ford Fiesta S2000 car will return to Wales Rally GB next month where Xevi Pons and Jari Ketomaa will battle it out for the Super 2000 World Rally Championship (S-WRC) title.

Local hero Lemes claims maiden victory; Burkart makes history as last ever J-WRC Champion*

Posted: October 25, 2010 4:25 PM

Fourth for Latvala boosts hopes of WRC runners-up place

Posted: October 25, 2010 4:23 PM

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team finished fourth and fifth in Rally de España today. Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila were fourth in a Ford Focus RS World Rally Car after three days of gravel and asphalt action in the hills west of Barcelona. Team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen were fifth in a similar car on this 12th and penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Latvala closed on Sébastien Ogier in the battle for second place in the drivers' championship. The 25-year-old Finn will start the final round in Great Britain next month 11 points behind the Frenchman.

The Spanish round of the championship was a pure asphalt encounter in recent years. However, to celebrate its 20th season in the WRC, organisers reverted to its original format of mixed surface competition, with gravel roads also included in the format. Friday's opening leg covered both, with a bias towards dirt. After teams converted their cars from gravel to asphalt specification, the final two days were based entirely on sealed surface roads.

Drivers tackled 16 speed tests covering 344.88km near the rally base of Salou. Early autumn sunshine saw temperatures climb to 21ºC and while Pirelli's Scorpion gravel tyres were used on the first day, hard compound PZero rubber was the choice of both Latvala and Hirvonen on asphalt.

After initially holding second, Latvala completed the opening leg in third. He was unhappy with the car's set-up yesterday morning and softened the suspension settings, which improved both the handling and his confidence. However, he could not hold off a charging Dani Sordo and slipped to fourth, a position he maintained through today's final leg.

"It's been another good weekend for me on asphalt," said Latvala. "I had a good feeling with the car, I enjoyed it and I felt relaxed in my driving. I had good confidence and my speed on this surface continues to improve, but unfortunately I couldn't match the guys ahead to reach the podium. Since yesterday I've been thinking a little about the championship and the points situation going into the final round in Wales next month. It will be interesting there now, we will be in an exciting fight."

Hirvonen struggled to find a rhythm on the opening leg, which the 30-year-old Finn ended in fifth. He was happier on the asphalt stages, with which he has several years' experience, and closed the gap on Latvala. However, a broken clip on his car's turbo pipe yesterday afternoon cost four minutes. He worked furiously to make repairs on the next liaison section and retained fifth. He measured his pace through today's final leg to claim solid points.

"Friday was a difficult day because I almost went off the road early in the first stage and that mistake upset my rhythm," said Hirvonen. "The roads were technical and I was just too careful. I felt better once we were on the asphalt yesterday morning but I was unlucky with the turbo pipe problem. Luckily I managed to fix it but things just don't seem to be working at the moment. Today was good and I'm happy that my final rally on asphalt with a Focus RS WRC ended on a high note."

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr ended the opening day in 12th in the team's other car after braking difficulties, but swiftly climbed the leaderboard to take seventh. It was the Emirati driver's second-best career result. "This rally has gone a long way to building our confidence. After crashes in Finland and Japan, we deserved a good result here. We started off cautiously on the alternating surfaces, but our persistence paid off," said Al Qassimi.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said: "A solid finish from Jari-Matti means he can go to Rally GB to try to finish runner up in the drivers' championship. He continues to improve on asphalt, and it was good to see that Mikko is getting back on the pace. He did a great job yesterday in fixing the car after the problem with the turbo pipe, I was very impressed."

Ford of Europe's motorsport chief Gerard Quinn said: "Attention now turns to Britain, and the final rally for the Focus RS WRC and the World Rally Car era. Our aim is to see the Focus RS WRC go out on a high and during the next couple of weeks our preparations will be geared towards achieving that."

M-Sport, which runs the day-to-day operations of Ford's world rally programme, won the Abu Dhabi Spirit of the Rally Award. The award celebrated the company's 200th world rally since it joined Ford as a WRC partner, during which time the team won manufacturers' world titles in both 2006 and 2007.

News from other Ford teams
Stobart M-Sport Ford's Matthew Wilson and Scott Martin finished sixth in a Focus RS WRC. Team-mates Ken Block and Alex Gelsomino were ninth in a Monster World Rally Team car, after losing four minutes off the road yesterday morning, to claim their first WRC points. Munchi's Ford duo Federico Villagra and José Diaz were 15th, finishing under SupeRally rules after retiring with an overheating engine yesterday. Henning Solberg and Stéphane Prévot won the Super 2000 category in a Ford Fiesta S2000, claiming eighth overall.

Next round
The 2010 season closes with Rally GB which is based in Cardiff on 11 - 14 November.

Results

Posted: October 25, 2010 4:20 PM

1. S Loeb/D Elena FRA Citroen C4 WRC 3hr 32min 59.7sec
2. P Solberg/C Patterson NOR Citroen C4 WRC 3hr 33min 35.0sec
3. D Sordo/D Vallejo ESP Citroen C4 WRC 3hr 33min 40.8sec
4. J-M Latvala/M Anttila FIN Ford Focus RS WRC 3hr 34min 19.2sec
5. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen FIN Ford Focus RS WRC 3hr 39min 32.6sec
6. M Wilson/S Martin GBR Ford Focus RS WRC 3hr 41min 17.3sec
7. K Al Qassimi/M Orr UAE Ford Focus RS WRC 3hr 46min 05.4sec
8. H Solberg/S Prévot NOR Ford Fiesta S2000 3hr 46min 10.9sec
9. K Block/A Gelsomino USA Ford Focus RS WRC 3hr 49min 00.9sec
10 S Ogier/J Ingrassia FRA Citroen C4 WRC 3hr 50min 23.8sec

Record amount for Richard Burns Foundation auction

Posted: October 25, 2010 4:11 PM

The annual charity auction held in aid of the Richard Burns Foundation at the Rallye de Espana has raised a record amount, thanks to the generosity of rally fans from all over the world.

Several of the leading WRC drivers attended the event in Salou, including Sebastien Loeb, Dani Sordo, Petter Solberg, Mikko Hirvonen, Jari-Matti Latvala and Ken Block.

The top bids included an offer of more than 900 Euros for a pair of Sebastien Loeb's driving gloves, won by Theresa Mora from California. Other items on sale included team memorabilia - such as Petter Solberg's sunglasses - and once in a lifetime experiences, such as the chance to join the organisers of a WRC event.

In total the auction - organised by specialist tour operator Rallytravel - raised just under 5000 Euros, which will go directly towards helping people affected by brain injury and illness.

WRC TV's Julian Porter, who hosted the event, said:
"We all had great fun and we're absolutely delighted to have raised so much money for this fantastic cause. Not only did we collect more money than we ever have before in the history of this auction, which has been going since 2003, but we also attracted the highest-ever individual bid, for Sebastien's gloves."

The Richard Burns Foundation was created following the death of 2001 World Rally Champion Richard Burns from an astrocytoma - a type of brain tumour - in 2005, when he was aged just 34.

The charity focuses its fundraising efforts on helping those with brain illness and injuries. As well as assisting individuals and institutions, the Richard Burns Foundation was also established to maintain and safeguard the memory of Richard Burns.

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GASSNER JR LOOKS TO BUILD ON ASPHALT PROGRESS

Posted: October 21, 2010 4:43 PM

Fresh from one of the best performances of his life at the Rallye de France at the start of this month, up-and-coming German driver Hermann Gassner Jr, backed by Red Bull, is aiming to put himself on the map once more on the Rallye de Espana this weekend.

Spain's round of the World Rally Championship is running in a mixed format for the first time this year, with Friday held largely on gravel prior to two all-asphalt days on Saturday and Sunday. This unusual layout will allow the 21-year-old former German Champion to show his adaptability against some of the toughest opposition in the world.

Once more, Gassner and his co-driver Kathi Wustenhagen will drive a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX, which is prepared by Raimund Baumschlager's BRR operation. All Gassner's rivals tend to have more modern cars, but this has not put the young German off. This year, he is entering selected rounds of the World Rally Championship in order to measure himself against the quickest Group N drivers out there. He's not had much testing and he's lacking in experience compared to the others. But so far, Gassner Jr has shown great potential.

"I'm here to learn so the car is not so important," said Gassner Jr. "Having said that, it is prepared to a very high standard by Raimund's team and this allows me just to concentrate on driving so that I get as much as I can out of each individual event. Spain will be unusual this year, but as a rally driver you have to be prepared for everything, so I'm looking forward to the challenge."

Gassner Jr has already shown that he is capable of setting stage times to rival the established frontunners when the circumstances are right for him, and this will be his aim again as he contests the last two rounds of the World Championship this year.

Baumschlager added:
"Hermann drove in France and now he will be in Spain again on asphalt, so he is beginning to build up the time in the car that he needs, which is the most important thing for a driver at his level. As well as the actual driving, Hermann has made some other important changes in the way that he works, with the pace notes for examples, and this will be very valuable for his future."

The Rallye de Espana, based in the holiday resort of Salou, features 344.88 competitive kilometres over 16 special stages. The action gets underway at 0730hrs local time on Friday October 22 with the final podium at 1510hrs on Sunday October 24.

PIRELLI READY FOR MIXED-SURFACE RALLY

Posted: October 19, 2010 5:46 PM

Spain will play host to a world championship rally with a difference this weekend. The penultimate event of the WRC season, which takes place from October 21-24, gets underway with one day on gravel roads followed by two on asphalt, the rally's traditional surface, which will allow tyre firm Pirelli to showcase three of its products on a global stage.

On Friday (October 22), crews will tackle three stages run twice using the hard compound version of Pirelli's Scorpion WRC gravel tyre. The first, the 35.94-kilometre Terra Alta stage, runs mainly on gravel, albeit with a section of asphalt measuring approximately six kilometres. Stage two, La Ribera d'Ebre, is all-gravel with the third test, Les Garrigues, half on asphalt and half on gravel.

Afterwards, teams will rush to convert their cars from gravel to asphalt specification in readiness for days two and three (October 23 and 24) of the event when Pirelli, the official tyre supplier to the WRC under a three-year agreement with the FIA, motorsport's world governing body, will make available its PZero asphalt covers in soft and hard compounds.

To add to the challenge, the rally's late October date could result in changeable weather conditions, which have plagued the event in the past before its move to its current home in Salou. And with road position a factor on Friday because the pacesetting drivers will be cleaning the road of the loose-surface gravel, there is a strong likelihood that a surprise leader could emerge following the opening day of competition. With road order having little impact on performance on the race track-style asphalt stages on Saturday and Sunday, a tense fight to the finish is in store.

"The rally will be very open this year with a lot of drivers fighting for the victory," said Spanish hero Dani Sordo, who drives a Citroen C4 WRC for the factory team. "With the first day on mixed surfaces and the next two stages on asphalt we could see a really good and challenging rally."

Matthew Wilson, who will drive a semi-works Ford Focus, added:
"The format will make it a tough event but it will add some spice to the rally, which was sometimes missing in Spain. Driving on Tarmac roads with gravel tyres is never easy but it's part of the challenge."

As on all rounds of the world championship, tyre usage is restricted. In Spain Priority 1 and Priority 2 drivers will receive an allocation of 12 hard compound Pirelli Scorpion tyres for gravel use, 20 hard compound Pirelli PZero asphalt tyres for warm and dry conditions and 16 soft compound Pirelli PZero Tarmac tyres for when ambient temperatures are cooler and in the event of rain.

Not only is Rally de Espãna round 12 of the main world championship, the event also forms the final round of the Junior World Rally Championship for young aspiring talents in front-wheel drive machinery. Three drivers, Aaron Burkart, Hans Weijs Jr and Karl Kruuda are all in contention for the top prize. They will get a choice of Pirelli's K tyre (for gravel use) and the RE and RX tyre for the all-asphalt stages on Saturday and Sunday.

Following a ceremonial start in Salou on Thursday night (October 21), the first stage is due to go live at 0853hrs local time on Friday October 22. Prior to the finish in Salou at 1503hrs on Sunday (October 24), crews will have tackled 355.30 competitive kilometres over 16 special stages.

Q&A: Matteo Braga, Pirelli's senior WRC tyre engineer

What will be the main challenge for Pirelli on Rally de Espãna?
"The problems are not so big. Really we are just expecting a spectacular first day because of the changing surfaces. We have already used the gravel tyre on Tarmac on mainly gravel events in the past and there was no problem. Logistically it won't be so easy for the teams because they have to bring rims for gravel and asphalt conditions but, for us, the quantities are more or less the same as if we were doing a single-surface rally."

Are you and your fellow engineers excited about the rally?
"It's possible we will see a different result but it's also exciting that we can show three products, our Scorpion gravel tyre and our two compounds of our PZero asphalt tyre. It should also be good for the fans because it is something a bit different and they will be able to understand the differences between a Tarmac and a gravel rally."

What are the stages on day one of the rally actually like?
"The first one starts off on a type of vineyard gravel with a mix of corners and widths. Then, about halfway through, there's a section of smooth Tarmac lasting about six kilometres. It's on a twisty uphill section over a climb and down the other side. Then you are back on gravel, a bit like the gravel we have in Mexico. The road is narrow for a bit but then it opens out. The second stage is full gravel on quite a hard surface. The third one is 50 per cent asphalt and 50 per cent gravel. The gravel surface is made from a white stone and we've seen in places like Turkey it can be slippery when it's wet."

Is it a problem using gravel tyres on an asphalt surface?
"Firstly the Tarmac sections will be fun for the drivers and the fans because the cars will be sliding more in the corners. The drivers will need to consider tyre wear a little because it's a very smooth Tarmac surface. We will be using the hard compound gravel tyre, which has been designed for dry conditions."

Do you expect the weather to be an issue?
"It's the autumn and we've seen in Spain before that it can rain and be very slippery. But we have the soft compound tyre to help in the damp conditions, like we found on Rallye de France."

Mixed menu for the Citroën Junior Team in Spain

Posted: October 16, 2010 8:41 PM

The Citroën Junior Team starts round 12 of the season with two objectives: sealing third place in the World Rally Championship for manufacturers and allowing Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia to defend their second place in the drivers’ standings. In the team’s second Citroën C4 WRC Kimi Räikkönen and Kaj Lindström will also be aiming to make their mark on Catalan asphalt.

Mixed-surface events are gradually coming back to the FIA World Rally Championship. After one day of the 2009 Cyprus Rally that was held on asphalt and a Rally of Turkey this year that mixed some asphalt sections on an all-gravel route, the Spanish round of the World Championship also brings a new dimension to the end of the year.

On Friday, the crews will face a stage that is 100% gravel (SS2/5 La Ribera d’Ebre) and two mixed surface stages. The first stage of the loop, Terra Alta (35.94 km) is 73% gravel. The final stage, Les Garrigues (17.28 km) is split equally between sealed and loose surfaces.

The two Citroën C4 WRCs will be in gravel configuration on the first day, but will be put into full asphalt specification for Saturday and Sunday during a long service halt (1h15m) on Friday evening.

Citroën Junior Team manager Benoit Nogier commented:
“There’s going to be a lot of work to convert our Citroën C4 WRCs from gravel to asphalt specification. We’ve prepared for this service halt especially so that we can be both quick and efficient. The team will be embarking on two 75-minute sessions, which in theory gives us enough time to do everything we need to do...as long as all goes according to plan.”

The two Citroën Junior Team crews each spent a day testing in the south of France in order to prepare for the penultimate round of the season.

Sébastien Ogier reported :
“The roads were damp. It wasn’t ideal for us to work on the set-up but it was really important to get the kilometres in for both myself and Kimi, who was asking me a lot of questions so that we could compare our impressions.”

“We’ll start second on the road for day one so we’ll certainly suffer a bit with road-sweeping,” continued Sébastien.
“We’ll just need to stay in touch and not lose too much time compared to the drivers who are starting behind us. This first mixed day could well play an absolutely crucial role in the final classification. My objective is to finish runner-up in the World Championship and so I need a good result in Spain.”

“It’s another step into the unknown,” added Kimi.
“I don’t really know if our start position will be a help or a disadvantage. On the gravel, we will maybe have a clean line to help us but the asphalt sections might be very dirty. It will be vital for us to come out of the first day without making any mistakes so that we are in a good position for the rest of the rally.”

Three questions to... Kimi Räikkönen
Let’s go back to the Rallye de France-Alsace. Why did you call it a day on Saturday night?
“We start each rally with the aim of learning and taking away as much experience as we can. In Alsace, I learned a lot once more. I felt comfortable in the quick parts but I struggled in some of the slower corners.
There was so much mud on the road that it hardly looked like an asphalt rally any more. It was a useful experience, but there was no point in continuing like that under these conditions. I wouldn’t have learned anything more on the final day. The best decision was to save the car for the Rally of Spain.”

Have you got any particular ambitions for Spain?
“Since the start of the season I’ve heard that this rally would be the one that suits my driving style most. The stages are quick and quite wide. It’s the place where rallying comes closest to racing, so the drivers all have to concentrate hard on their lines. However, it’s also a rally that everyone knows very well. Obviously I’m going to have quite a disadvantage in terms of experience. My objective is to be as close as I can to the top six, maybe a bit closer than I was at the start of the rally in France.”

The first day of the rally will take place on both gravel and asphalt. Are you worried about these surface changes?
“I’m learning all the rallies this season and each event has its own individual characteristics. On the recce, I come across new things all the time that I just have to get used to. Part of the game is to know how to deal with all these different things. On the World Championship you go from gravel to asphalt and asphalt to gravel several times over the course of a season. This time, it will all happen in the space of the same stage. So let’s just see what happens on Friday.”

SOLBERG AND KUIPERS COMPETE TO REIGN IN SPAIN

Posted: October 16, 2010 8:40 PM

Ford Fiesta Super 2000 drivers Henning Solberg and Dennis Kuipers aim to be in the mix again next week on the penultimate FIA World Rally Championship round in Spain.

Solberg dominated the S2000 category on the recent Rallye de France, winning his class and finishing ninth overall and whilst Rally de España is not an official Super 2000 World Rally Championship round (S-WRC), the Norwegian pilot will be striving for more of the same.

“France was a good event for me - each time I drive this car I feel more and more confident,” he said.

“It’s nice to drive and it has been perfectly designed to handle well on the tarmac. But Spain will be something new again as it is a mixed-surface event. This has always been a tricky event for me as the stages are so fast but I think the first day will be the most difficult with the change of road surfaces.

“I’ve not driven on a mixture of tarmac and gravel in the Ford Fiesta S2000 before – even if it felt like we were driving on gravel at times at Rallye de France.

“It’s a shame Spain is not a S-WRC round as I’d like some more drivers to battle with but I will try to put in a strong performance for Ford and will aim to finish in the top ten,” added Solberg who next month returns to his Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus RS WRC at Wales Rally GB in tandem with leading British WRC driver Matthew Wilson.

Solberg, partnered by Stephane Prévot, should be further assisted next week now his car is fitted with a new 2011 spec exhaust, developed by M-Sport, and now widely available after this event.

Another M-Sport entrant, Dutchman Dennis Kuipers will also be using the new kit in Spain as he chases a strong finish following his 17th overall in France. The new territory has left Kuipers guessing.

“Spain is going to be interesting,” he said. “It’s my first drive there, it’s a new rally and there’s going to be an added difficulty as we’ll have a gravel set-up on the first day but will swap to the tarmac set-up for the final two days,” explained Kuipers, who will again have the experienced Fred Miclotte on the notes.

“The mix of road surfaces are similar to rallies in Holland so hopefully my experience of competing in those events will help for this rally.

“It might take a bit of time to get used to the different surfaces but I’ve got a test on Monday so that should help build my confidence. I hope for a good position but as this isn’t an S-WRC round there are a few drivers missing. So I will just push hard and try to beat Henning.”

STOBART’S WILSON READY TO BATTLE ON THE COSTA

Posted: October 16, 2010 8:38 PM

BRITAIN’S leading FIA World Rally Championship driver Matthew Wilson will be aiming to produce his best tarmac result of the season at next week’s Rally de España.

After what has been an impressive show of speed on asphalt this year, the Stobart M-Sport Ford driver will be looking to finish the final tarmac round on a high after working hard this year to improve the handling of his Ford Focus RS World Rally Car on the sealed surface.

“Tarmac has never been my preferred driving surface but the previous WRC round in France was even more difficult as we had new stages to contend with. Apart from the first day, the stages in Spain are almost the same as 2009 which takes some pressure off and gives us more time to focus on making our pacenotes more accurate during the recce,” said Wilson.
As well as being the fastest WRC round of the season, Wilson and co-driver Scott Martin also have a unique mixed gravel and asphalt affair to contend with at this year’s penultimate WRC round.

“I’ve only competed at one other WRC event like this before and that was at Rally Cyprus last year when we finished fifth. I’d be delighted with that kind of result again.

“I think Saturday morning could be pivotal – to change from a gravel set-up on Friday and then straight onto a tarmac set-up the following morning will be very tricky.

“It didn’t cause us too many problems last time and we finished with a good result but it will be different next week as Spain’s stages are predominantly tarmac whereas in Cyprus it was mostly gravel,” said Wilson. This is only the second time since 1996 that the FIA have included a mixed gravel and asphalt WRC round. And Stobart M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson acknowledged the difficulty of an event which mixes road surfaces.

“Rally de España is always a challenging because the stages are super-fast, but an added difficulty this year is that nearly 75% of Friday’s stages will be on gravel,” explained team supremo Wilson.

He added;
“Matthew will have to adapt as quickly as possible from a gravel set-up on Friday to an asphalt set-up on Saturday to ensure he maintains a good rhythm.

“The team will be running in full gravel trim on the Friday and then convert to a tarmac set-up on the Friday night service. Extra equipment is required when an event has a mix of road surfaces and Friday’s end of leg service has been extended from 45 to 75 minutes to account for this.”

Joining the Stobart M-Sport Ford Rally team in the points-scoring line-up for the second time next week will be Monster World Rally Team's Ken Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino.
Wilson’s regular WRC team-mates Henning Solberg and co-driver Stephane Prévot will also be entered under the Stobart M-Sport Ford banner in Spain but will be behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta Super 2000. The Norwegian driver will not be nominated to score any manufacturer points but will return to drive the Ford Focus RS WRC at Rally Wales GB in November.

VILLAGRA LOOKS TO SPAIN TO FINISH SEASON ON A HIGH

Posted: October 16, 2010 8:24 PM

Federico Villagra is ready to battle at next week’s Rally de España in order to secure his best FIA World Rally Championship season to date.

The Munchi’s Ford driver is currently lying eighth overall in the Drivers’ Championship, three points ahead of Norway’s Henning Solberg.

Spain marks the end of the road for Villagra who will miss next month’s Rally Wales GB so a good run is crucial for the Argentine if he is to secure his strongest season finish thus far in the WRC, having finish 2009 in ninth place.

“Scoring points is extremely important in Spain as this is our last round of the season. We’re not competing at Rally Wales GB due to a clash with our home championship so I want a good result in Salou to ensure we finish 2010 on a high”, said Villagra who enjoyed his best ever tarmac result finishing seventh on the recent Rallye de France

Villagra will joined by co-driver Jose Diaz in the Ford Focus RS WRC while regular partner Jorge Pérez Companc recovers after an operation. The Argentine finished eighth last time in Spain but he has been buoyed by his most recent WRC drive.

“Hopefully the experience from France will help us score the points we need to finish ahead of Henning. France was the first time I’d driven on asphalt in over 12 months but we still managed our best result on the surface.

“The stages around Salou are some of the fastest I have driven but this year could be even more difficult as the organisers have devised stages with a mix of surfaces.

“2010 has been a good season for us – both in the WRC and in my home championship. Tarmac has never been my preferred driving surface but hopefully this year’s rounds at France and Spain will have made me a stronger asphalt driver so I can return to the championship next year prepared for anything.”

On Dani Sordo’s home gravel – and asphalt!

Posted: October 15, 2010 2:38 PM

Three weeks after Rally France in which Sébastien Loeb, Daniel Elena and the Citroên Total Rally team clinched the world titles,* the FIA World Rally Championship heads for Catalonia. Rally Spain, traditionally run on asphalt, has innovated this year with drivers tackling gravel roads on the first day. Dani Sordo and Diego Vallejo are determined to shine in front of their home crowd.

Hardly had the Citroën Total Rally Team recovered from the joys of Rally France when it had to get down to preparing for the second-last round of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship. The team will run its C4s in asphalt setup for the last time, and even though it is no longer under pressure, its determination to win is as strong as ever. But the crowd will have to wait till Saturday morning to see the Citroêns skim the asphalt on their 18-inch Pirelli PZero tyres. The first leg of Rally Spain will be run in gravel setup.

This mixed route will be a big challenge for the crews, and also for the mechanics who will have to make several changes to the cars in a 75-minute period in the service park on Friday evening.

Of course, gravel is synonymous with sweeping and Sébastien Loeb and Daneil Elena, who will be first out on the road, will probably lose a fair few seconds because of this phenomenon.
“If the weather’s dry I think we’ll lose a lot of time by sweeping off the layer of dust on the hard surface,” warns Loeb. “In my opinion, Dani Sordo is ideally placed as being fifth out he’ll have a clean road in front of him. He can finish the day with a twenty or thirty- second lead. To close such a gap to Dani on asphalt, you have to drive bloody quickly!
“I’ll be tackling this rally like any other, and it’s not because I’ve won the title that I’ll arrive with my hands in my pockets,” the seven-time world champion continues. ‘I don’t like losing and I’ll also drive for the fun of it. We’ll see how things are shaping up after the first few stages. But it’s obvious that I’m not going to take unnecessary risks.”

If Loeb is betting on Dani Sordo, the latter is keeping a cool head:
“Above all I’m delighted to compete in a rally in front of my home crowd. The French spectators set us a very high target three weeks ago. The Spaniards have to take up the challenge, and be even more numerous on the side of the roads in Catalonia.

“With the first leg on gravel and the next two on asphalt, it’ll be a very interesting rally and the same goes for the Friday night service park,” underlines the Spaniard.
“I’m hoping for a lot from this event and people are hoping for a lot from me! I’m under a little pressure but it’s positive, and frankly I feel more relaxed than in France where I had to score points to help Citroên win the manufacturers’ title. The desire to score my first victory is as strong as ever but it’s far from in the bag.”

* Subject to the publication of the official results by the FIA.

Mixed surfaces bring new challenge for Ford duo in Spain

Posted: October 15, 2010 2:12 PM

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team journeys to northern Spain next week for the FIA World Rally Championship's first traditional mixed gravel and asphalt round since 1996. Rally de España (21 - 24 October) is the penultimate event in the 13-round series and the new format is a throwback to the early 1990s when such rallies were not uncommon in the championship.

In recent years the rally has been a pure asphalt encounter. However, to celebrate its 20th year in the WRC, organisers have reverted to the event's original format of mixed surface competition. Drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila will drive their Ford Focus RS World Rally Cars in full gravel specification during next Friday's opening leg. Their cars will then be converted into asphalt trim for the final two days of action.

To add an extra challenge, the opening leg will not be completely gravel. Of the three different stages, one is all-dirt and the other two are mixed, with a higher ratio of loose surface roads. The most demanding will be the opening 35.94km Terra Alta test which includes frequent changes in surface over three gravel and two asphalt sections.

The last WRC round to use the mixed format in this way was Italy's Sanremo Rally in 1996. Last year's Cyprus Rally blended one day of asphalt speed tests with two days of loose roads, but cars used full gravel specification and tyres on both surfaces.

The rally is based in the holiday resort of Salou, on the Costa Daurada coast, south-west of Barcelona. The dirt stages in the Tarragona region will be new to all drivers, although roads in this area are frequently used for testing, and their nature will remain unknown to competitors until they begin their recce on Tuesday.

The asphalt stages are fast and can be compared to a race circuit in their characteristics. Although the roads are smooth, they are often abrasive and can become slippery as drivers cut the open corners to shave tenths of a second from their times, dragging stones and dirt onto the surface. However, over the years organisers have worked on the roads to reduce the number of opportunities to cut and provide more equal driving conditions for all.

Hirvonen, who has seven starts in Spain to his name, claimed his first WRC podium on this rally in 2005. He also claimed third place in both 2008 and 2009.

"The format of this event will make it interesting. I'm happy with a mixed format, but I would prefer that individual stages are held on just one surface. A car in gravel set-up is higher off the ground and it will move around a lot on asphalt. The driving is less precise and it will be important to quickly find the limit when the road changes from dirt to asphalt," he said.

"When the rally moves to pure asphalt for the second and third legs, conditions will be more consistent. These are the cleanest roads we drive during the season because there are fewer opportunities to cut corners and drag dirt onto the road than there used to be. There are fewer surprises here than the previous round in France," added the 30-year-old Finn.

Latvala is preparing for his seventh start in Spain and is confident after strong performances on both surfaces in recent months.
"The roads here are asphalt in its purest sense and resemble a race circuit. I enjoy it more and more and my driving on it has improved. Sunday's long 42km stage is probably the best asphalt stage I've driven," he said.

"I didn't enjoy the old first day stages and most of those aren't in the itinerary this year. They were difficult with many cuts and now they have been removed there will be fewer cuts than ever. The stages on Saturday and Sunday suit me much better.

"I'm looking forward to the loose surface stages, although I will need to be careful on the asphalt sections in the first leg. The switches in surface mean a change of rhythm. When the road moves from dirt to asphalt, you need to be as smooth as possible and keep the driving clean and tidy. Braking is more difficult on asphalt with gravel tyres. The roads are fast, smooth and wide and the car can move around a lot with gravel tyres," added the 25-year-old Finn.

Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive the team's third Focus RS WRC on the Abu Dhabi driver's fourth Spanish start.
"I enjoy Rally de España and like driving the Catalonia roads. There is quite a lot of loose gravel in parts of the asphalt stages which present an extra challenge, so Michael and I will be using the recce to judge how we plan to approach the event," said Al Qassimi.

Team News
* Tyre partner Pirelli will provide three tyre specifications for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi drivers. On the opening leg hard compound Scorpion gravel tyres must be used. For the final two days the standard PZero asphalt tyre will be available primarily in hard compound, but with a limited amount of soft compound rubber for use in cold or wet weather. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber in the event of rain or mud and each car can carry two spare wheels.

* Four other Focus RS WRCs are entered. Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin are nominated in the Stobart M-Sport Ford team and will again be joined in the points-scoring line-up by Monster World Rally Team's Ken Block / Alex Gelsomino. Argentines Federico Villagra / José Diaz will drive for the Munchi's Ford team and Hungarians Frigyes Turán / Gábor Zsiros will drive a privately-entered Focus RS WRC. Two Fiesta S2000 cars and nine Fiesta R2 cars are entered, five of which are contesting the penultimate round of the Fiesta SportTrophy International.

Rally Route
Despite the introduction of gravel roads, the rest of the rally's infrastructure remains the same. The service park is based at Salou's PortAventura theme park, an hour's drive from Barcelona, and the stages span the Tarragona region. Following Thursday evening's start ceremony on Salou seafront, each day comprises two passes over identical loops of stages. Friday's opening leg journeys west of Salou while the second day, the longest of the rally, is based closer to the town. The final leg heads west of Salou and includes the marathon 42.04km El Priorat, an extended version of last year's test, which opens each loop. The 16 stages cover 344.88km of competition in a route of 1301.70km.

Pressure mounts as FSTi crews prepare for Spanish title fight

Posted: October 14, 2010 11:27 AM

Five Fiesta R2 entries will tackle a mixed gravel and asphalt affair in the Tarragona region in north-east Spain next week for the penultimate round of this year’s Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) championship.

Only three points currently separate the top two drivers so the stage is set for a thrilling fight between Harry Hunt and Bader Al Jabri as the battle for the 2010 FSTi championship title continues with only two rounds remaining. The seven-round series follows the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar and this year’s RACC Rally de España will mark the fifth time that the M-Sport run series has visited the region.

The event will kick off with a ceremonial start on Thursday 21 October in Salou and the three-day rally will feature a total distance of 1,310 km, comprising of 16 special stages covering 355 km. Friday’s stages will provide a new challenge for all drivers as they consist of a mix of gravel and asphalt road surfaces, but Saturday and Sunday’s route will feature the traditional asphalt tests only.

Two FSTi crews will have an advantage at this event as both Bader Al Jabri and Majed Al Shamsi contested last year’s Rally de España. Al Jabri will be looking to take full advantage of the experience he gained from last year’s rally to claim a victory and to snatch the championship lead from the current series leader, British Harry Hunt. However, with two dropped scores permitted, there are still five drivers who have a mathematical chance of taking the championship at this stage: Harry Hunt, Bader Al Jabri, Victor Henriksson, Christian Riedemann and Majed Al Shamsi.

28 - Harry Hunt (22) & Sebastian Marshall (22) – Fiesta R2
FSTi position: 1
After claiming their second victory of the year at the Rallye de France, Harry Hunt and Sebastian Marshall are back at the top of the championship standings. This will be the sixth Tarmac rally of the year in the Fiesta R2 for the British pairing. The duo is fresh from victory in France and will be looking to score a winning hat-trick in Spain to enhance their likelihood of a championship title. This event will almost certainly see Hunt and Marshall crowned as 2010 FIA Junior World Rally Championship (J-WRC) Rookie Champions. Having competed on the RAC MSA Rally of Scotland the weekend prior to the Rally de España, Hunt will be looking to build on the valuable experience he has gained from driving the Fiesta R2 on asphalt thus far to strengthen his chances of winning the series title.
FSTi leader, Harry Hunt (22), said:
“I’m feeling really confident about going to Spain after our victory in France. I’m competing in the rally in Scotland this weekend and I think will give us good experience ahead of this event, especially as the majority of the first day’s stages in Spain will be on gravel. I think the mix of surfaces in Spain will be interesting, but it’s a new concept on this rally so I’m not sure what to expect. Christian [Riedemann] is very good on Tarmac and Bader [Al Jabri] has also found a lot of pace on Tarmac this year, so I think it will be a close fight. The first day is going to be crucial; we’re fast on gravel and if we put in some good times and collect stage wins on Friday then I think we could be on track for another win.”

75 - Bader Al Jabri (25) & Stephen McAuley – Fiesta R2
FSTi position: 2
Team Abu Dhabi members Bader Al Jabri and co-driver Stephen McAuley have already racked up four podium finishes in this year’s FSTi series, but are yet to secure a victory. The pair will be looking to secure their first win at next weekend’s event to try and close the three point gap on Hunt. Al Jabri contested last year’s Rally de España, but was forced to retire on the final day after a series of drive problems. However, the 25-year-old driver favours Tarmac and his past knowledge of competing in Spain should give him the confidence he needs to snatch the championship lead from Hunt. 73 - Christian Riedemann (23) & Josefine Beinke (18) – Fiesta R2
FSTi position: 4
Christian Riedemann and Josefine Beinke claimed their first FSTi victory at ADAC Rallye Deutschland in August, but the pair was less fortunate at the recent Rallye de France when they were forced to retire on the final stage due to a suspected cooler failure. However, Riedemann is keen to replicate his strong performance from Germany and to also build on the experience gained from Rallye de France and Neste Oil Rally Finland where he led the FSTi but was forced to retire on Day 3 of both events. The young driver is currently only ten points behind Victor Henriksson who lies third and with the Swede choosing to sit this round out, Riedemann will be aiming for a healthy points finish in order to move into the top three. Make no mistake, however; the pressure is on Riedemann to win in Spain in order to retain a mathematical chance of championship victory, as the promising young German’s budget does not currently extend to an entry for the final round at Wales Rally GB.

74 - Majed Al Shamsi & Allan Harryman – Fiesta R2
FSTi position: 5
Majed Al Shamsi and Allan Harryman have claimed two podium finishes in this year’s FSTi series, finishing first at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal and second at ADAC Rallye Deutschland. However, a retirement at the Rallye de France was less fortunate for the Team Abu Dhabi pairing. Al Shamsi’s experience on Tarmac was previously limited to 2009’s Rally de España, but, after a strong performance at ADAC Rallye Deutschland, the Emirate has proved himself as a tough competitor to beat on sealed surface events. Despite a string of problems at last year’s event, the Emirate’s knowledge of the Spanish Tarmac stages will hold him in good stead for a healthy points haul. Al Shamsi is currently only one point from claiming fourth position, but with two points scoring rounds still remaining, it is not inconceivable that he could steal championship glory at Wales Rally GB, providing he has a strong finish in Spain.

76 – Khalil Al Shaikh (27) & Killian Duffy (27) – Fiesta R2
FSTi position: 8=
Khalil Al Shaikh and Killian Duffy make up the final crew in Spain. The Team Abu Dhabi duo competed in their first WRC round in Germany where they finished an impressive fourth overall in FSTi. Prior to Germany, Al Shaikh had been busy building up his rally experience over the past two years competing in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship. On the back of his strong performance at ADAC Rallye Deutschland, the 27-year-old will be aiming for a podium finish to mark his debut at the Rally de España.

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Posted: October 6, 2010 9:34 AM

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Posted: January 1, 2010 12:01 AM

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