Once again both the SWRC and PWRC are in town along with their big brother, and many of the title contenders for both are making their season debuts this weekend.
The SWRC lineup starts with 2006 PWRC champion Nasser Al-Attiyah. He had planned to run a Ford Fiesta this season – but a last minute deal with Volkswagen means he will instead drive for Rene Georges Rally Team, alongside Norwegian Eyvind Brynildsen in a Skoda Fabia.
Another driver to watch is Xavier Pons, who will be driving a Fiesta this season. His big advantage over the rest: experience.
Not only is he a former Citroen and Subaru works driver in the WRC, he also won this event last year, albeit when it was not part of the world championship. Along with Dani Sola he won the rally for Team Spain, who combined won 10 of the 18 stages. He also has a vast amount of experience and knowledge at his disposal thanks to new right hand man Luis Moya, who started his WRC career over 20 years ago, alongside former world champion Carlos Sainz.
Only two drivers from Rally Sweden are present here, Brynildsen and reigning JWRC champion Martin Prokop. The man he beat to the title has only been a step behind the Czech once again, as Michael Kosciuzsko makes the step up to SWRC in another Ford Fiesta.
The final entrant is a rather unusual one – a disabled former Olympic skiier Albert Llovera. After spending last year as a works Fiat driver in the Spanish national championship, he makes the step up to SWRC in his specially adapted Fiat Abarth Grande Punto. He’s not exactly new to the world stage however – he has made occasional appearances over the last few years driving Group N Mitsubishi Lancers and also his current car.
The PWRC sees two champions going head to head for victory – reigning champion Armindo Araujo and former double champ Toshi Arai.
Arai makes his season debut after choosing not to race on the snow and ice of Sweden, whereas Araujo already has 15 points on the board from the season opener. Araujo was not at all happy with that result however, complaining his Mitsubish Lancer Evo X handled inconsistently, and no end up of setup changes all weekend cured the problems that had plagued him all weekend. As a result, he has switched back to his old Lancer Evo IX for Mexico.
It was Arai however who got off to the worst start, despite that the rally hasn’t even begun yet. A pre-event test on Monday saw him roll his Subaru Impreza off the road, sustaining heavy damage to his car and being forced to make emergency repairs. However his battered Impreza has been patched up in time, and will make the start tomorrow morning.
Arai is also trying to shed some weight from his new ‘C’ specification Impreza to try and get the upper hand over Araujo, not always using conventional methods. Less spares and underbody protection will make the car itself lighter, but former co-driver Glenn MacNeall has been replaced by Daniel Barritt, who is a huge 20kg lighter! Full marks for creativity at least.
Regular drivers like Gianluca Linari, Giorgio Bacco and Miguel Baldoni are also present with their usual Imprezas and Lancers, as well as two local wildcard entrants Rodrigo Salgado and Benito Guerra.