World Rally Championship

Rally Report

Round 12

Competition for the championship title, and a climactic battle for the top

RallyRACC Catalunya Costa Daurada, is the 12th round of this year’s WRC and the last of the European round. The WRC Spain round, known as Rally de España, was held as Rally Catalunya Costa Brava and centred on the resort town of Lloret de Mar, when it was first promoted to the WRC in 1991.

In 2005, the event was moved to Salou and renamed Costa Daurada. The service park is located in Port Aventura, the largest theme park in Spain.

The WRC in southern Europe is known for its enthusiastic spectators and Spain is no exception, but it was dropped from the WRC in 2020. However, it returned as early as the following year in 2021, and this year the rally cars assembled again in Salou.

Compared to other tarmac rallies, Catalunya is characterised by high speeds and wider roads. With Toyota in the lead for the manufacturer’s championship, a showdown was expected between Toyota, who was vying for the championship, and Hyundai, who wanted to keep the race alive until the final round.

Toyota and Hyundai go head-to-head from the start of Day 1

Unusual for the WRC in recent years, the rally’s Day 1 SS started with a mountain stage straight away on Friday, 21 October. In tarmac rallies, unlike gravel rallies, front runners have the advantage of being able to drive on clean surfaces. This is because every time a car drives by, it cuts into the corners and throws out dirt and mud on to them. Taking full advantage of this, new champion Kalle Rovanperä set the fastest times on SS1 and SS2 consecutively.

And on SS3, driving his first tarmac rally since Monte Carlo in January, Sébastien Ogier, a spot entry, took the overall lead with an outstanding time. On this SS, Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville also overtook Rovanperä to move up to 2nd place. Neuville then grabbed 1st place with the fastest time on SS4. It was a fierce battle with three drivers taking the top spot in the first half of Day 1.

Day 1 afternoon was a repeat of the morning stages, and on SS5, Ogier took 1st place again. After that, rain began to fall and confusion was expected, but Rovanperä overtook Neuville to make it a 1-2 position for Toyota at the finish line for Day 1. 3rd place went to Neuville, and 4th to Ott Tänak, also from Hyundai, whose i20 Rally1 once again had trouble with its hybrid boost not working, and he was well behind Ogier by 20 seconds.

Day 2 was the longest day of the rally and began with a counterattack by Neuville. He has shown overwhelming strength in Spain in the past and posted the fastest time on the first SS9. He was closing in behind Rovanperä, who was in 2nd place. However, Ogier still seemed to have some leeway, calculating the difference between him and Neuville and controlling it well.

This was partly a tactic to prepare for SS11, the up-coming long stage in El Montmell. Each driver must have been adjusting their pace because if the tyres were worn out on SS9 and SS10, they would suffer in the long stage of SS11. But on SS11, Ford’s Gus Greensmith crashed early on in the start and the stage was red-flagged. The subsequent cancellation of the stage carried the climax of the battle into the second half of Day 2.

The morning stages were repeated in the afternoon after the service in Salou. In this latter half of Day 2, Ogier, who was determined to win the race, was fastest on SS12 and SS13. He was trying to pull away from the following pack. Meanwhile, Neuville, who had been behind Rovanperä, was pulled away slightly in the two afternoon stages. But on SS14, the 2nd El Montmell, he quickly closed the gap with Rovanperä to 0.4 seconds, and finally overtook him with the fastest time on SS15, the special stage in the centre of Salou held at the end of Day 2.

The order for Day 2 was now Neuville, Rovanperä, Tänak, and Sordo, with Ogier in the lead. If the rally ended in this position, Toyota could crown its champion.

Despite a turbulent turn of events, Ogier was unstoppable, and Toyota was crowned the champion

Last day in Spain,  Day 3. Ogier, already in 1st place with a 20-second lead over 2nd place, was almost safe, but the closely contested battle for 2nd place between Neuville and Rovanperä, was still far from over.

Rovanperä tried to overtake Neuville and drove fiercely on the first SS16 of Day 3, but contrary to his wishes, the gap widened slightly. Furthermore, he lost 13 seconds on SS17 due to a painful flat tyre. The cause was a protruding drainage cover, but the casualties were not limited to Rovanperä, as Craig Breen of Ford broke a wheel on the same corner, and Evans of Toyota also had a flat tyre.

This confusion widened gaps between the cars, and there were no dramas in the remaining two stages. Thus, Ogier took his first win of the season and Toyota was crowned manufacturer’s champion. At the same time, Hyundai’s 2nd place and Ford’s 3rd in the series were determined. In 2nd place was Neuville, who hung on to the Toyota team throughout the rally, with Rovanperä in 3rd. 4th place went to Tänak, who it seemed for a moment had a chance to finish on the podium when Rovanperä picked up a puncture.

Tänak, who was competing with Rovanperä for the driver’s championship, has recently lost time due to a series of hybrid problems, and at the same time he seemed to be losing motivation and was critical of the team. Immediately after the finish in Spain, he announced that he would leave the team after the season finale.

The final round of the season, Rally Japan, the first WRC event to be held in Japan for 12 years, is less than three weeks away.


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