World Rally Championship

Race Report

Round 11

Neuville dominated RALLYRACC RALLY DE ESPANA.
The battle for the championship is carried over to final round in Monza!

– The history of Rally Spain

Rally España – Catalunya was first introduced to the WRC (World Rally Championship) calendar in 1991. Rally Catalunya, a round of the ERC (European Rally Championship) and Rally Costa Brava merged in 1988 to become a WRC rally in 1991. Costa Brava is the name of the long Mediterranean coast, east of Barcelona. However, in 2005, the rally moved west of Barcelona to the Costa Daurada, hence the name of RallyRACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada. Costa Daurada means “the Golden Coast”. The rally is popularly known as the Rally de España.

Carlos Sainz is undoubtedly the most popular Spanish rally driver. He took the WRC Drivers’ Title in 1990 and 1992 with the Toyota Celica. Sainz has 26 WRC wins under his belt, making him the fourth driver with the most WRC wins after Sébastien Loeb, Sébastien Ogier, and Marcus Grönholm. After retiring from the WRC, he has competed at the Dakar Rally, winning the event three times. His son Carlos Sainz Jr. is currently a Ferrari F1 driver.

– 2021 Rally Spain

The 2021 edition of Rally Spain took place over three days, from October 15th to the 17th. The event was cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic, so it was a welcome return after two years. The overall distance, including the liaison section, was 1,410.29 km, with 17 special stages (SS) run over 280.46 km. Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) won the event, defeating Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC) by a margin of 24.1 seconds.

There were a few interesting highlights for this year’s Rally Spain. First, it returns to a full tarmac event where all 17 stages will be competed on asphalt. For ten seasons between 2010 and 2019, the Salou-based event was the only mixed surface event of the WRC calendar. Tyre choice, set-up and driving style are obviously different whether you drive on tarmac or gravel surface. A mixed surface rally gives much hard work to the teams to modify the set-up, so it was a welcome change by the teams and the tyre supplier.

However, for the drivers, it might have been a different story. On tarmac rallies, the time difference becomes minimal. Efficient use of tyres and adequate driving in the corners become essential to get good results – no small mistakes are allowed. Some drivers are better on tarmac than others – this factor has also played a role in this year’s edition of Rally Spain.

The crews drove the event shakedown on Thursday 14th, and the rally started in earnest on Friday 15th, with two loops of three special stages each. Day 2 of the event on Saturday 16th saw a different set of stages ending with a short distance SS in downtown Salou. There were two stages run twice on Day 3, the final day of the event, with a tough battle on the closing special stage – the Wolf Power Stage – giving bonus points to the top five finishers.

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville led the event on Day 1, and Rally Finland winner, Toyota’s Elfyn Evans followed just 0.7 seconds from the lead. Hyundai achieved a 1-3 double podium finish in 2019 and has always shown a strong pace at the Spanish event. This year again, Hyundai has placed itself in the fight for victory. By the end of Day1, Thierry Neuville’s narrow advantage over Elfyn Evans was 0.7 seconds, which was extended to 16.4 seconds by the end of Day 2. Evans was fast, but Neuville was even faster. But the Welshman ended Saturday with a 22.3 seconds lead over his team-mate and Drivers’ Title rival Sébastien Ogier. In the final stage, the Frenchman had a stall on a hairpin, not allowing him to chase Evans.

Day 3 saw Hyundai’s Neuville extending his lead over Toyota’s Evans, taking victory by a margin of 24.1 seconds. Victory in Spain was the 15th WRC win for Neuville and Hyundai’s 20th. Taking a total of 14 stage wins out of 17 special stages, Hyundai has asserted its authority over this tarmac event, showing a dominant form.

While it was expected that the Champion would be crowned in Spain, second place for Elfyn Evans meant that the fight for the 2021 Drivers’ Title goes to the final WRC round, Rally Monza (Italy), between Evans and Toyota team-mate Sébastien Ogier. The Manufacturers’ Title is also on the line after the result in Spain – the fight between leader Toyota Gazoo Racing (474 points) and Hyundai Motorsport (427 points) also go to the last round.

– The final round of the 2021 WRC calendar will be in Italy, not in Japan!

Rally Monza, the last event of the 2021 WRC season, will take place on November 19th to 21st as a replacement round to Rally Japan. Similar arrangements were made in 2020, but, unfortunately, the Japanese round of the WRC has been cancelled for two consecutive years, so the Japanese fans will not be able to watch the WRC on home soil. Nevertheless, Rally Monza will be an exciting event, including a section running on the famous Monza circuit. The fight for the 2021 Drivers’ Title goes to a final round decider next month. Once again, we will see a thrilling event that will captivate all the fans until the end of the season.

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