The World Rally Championship arrives in Spain this weekend for the penultimate round of the 2010 season. After Sebastien Loeb wrapped up his seventh consecutive world title by winning on home soil in France, all eyes are on his Spanish Citroen Total teammate Dani Sordo to see whether he can finally win his first world rally.
Sordo has finished as runner-up to Loeb on every Rally de Espana since 2006, when Sordo first drove a Citroen WRC car on the event. Sordo is yet to win a rally after 82 starts, but will be keen to set the record straight this weekend. The pressure has been piling on the 27-year-old, who has been dropped to the Citroen Junior team for gravel rallies to make way for Sebastien Ogier. Ogier will replace Sordo full-time next season, so Sordo is desperate to impress his bosses at Citroen, as well as any other potential employers.
If he is to win, Sordo and co-driver Diego Vallejo will have to deal with a significant change for this year's running of the rally. Traditionally a tarmac event, drivers will have to tackle gravel roads on the opening day. As championship leader, Loeb will have to run first on the road on Friday, something that he feels will give his teammate an advantage.
“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,” said 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!”
Sordo is attempting to keep 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.
“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 Citroen win the manufacturers' title. The desire to score my first victory is as strong as ever but it's far from in the bag.”
With the BP Ford drivers having struggled on asphalt so far this season, both Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala are looking forward to some gravel. Hirvonen said: “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. 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.”
Latvala, meanwhile, is looking forward to the rally having gained confidence on asphalt on recent events. “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,” 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.”