Škoda Motorsport have not packed up and gone home early despite wrapping up the WRC2 title with Pontus Tidemand in Germany, bringing two factory-run cars to Spain to fend off M-Sport and Toyota’s junior teams whilst keeping the pesky privateers in order. That is at least the Škoda gameplan, who currently hold a 90% win record in the secondary support category this year between their own works squad and the privateer Printsport preparation firm.
The only drivers who have scored multiple wins this year both did so at Škoda, though with Tidemand’s task complete and Andreas Mikkelsen back where he belongs in the top echelons of rallying, Jan Kopecký is left to carry the baton for his long-term employer. The Czech driver won the rally in this category last year, and has one win notched up already in the admittedly depleted Rally Italy. With two podiums to boot, his objective will be maximum points to settle in behind Tidemand and make it a 1-2 in the overall championship.
The second Škoda has been gifted to Juuso Nordgren, Tidemand’s early success allowing the works team to ship him off and create an impromptu young drivers program. Nordgren has spent the year campaigning a privateer Fabia R5 in a selection of Finnish rallies – including a 9th placed finish in the WRC2 category at Rally Finland – and the man voted the Future Rally Star of Finland 2016 has been given a golden opportunity to show what he can do.
The main question mark though comes from whether Kopecký can possibly be toppled. Both he and Tidemand dominated Rally Germany – with Kopecký even topping the overall rally standings after the opening stage – and both were unlucky to lose their respective chances of another win due to punctures for both on the gruelling Panzerplatte military roads. On that occasion, Eric Camilli was in position to pounce and snatch victory away, but as has been the case many times this year, Camilli is running as an unregistered entrant this weekend, simply looking to be one of the quickest R5 cars without interfering in Škoda’s attempts at second tier domination.
M-Sport are outnumbered but not necessarily outgunned, with Teemu Suninen one of the prime candidates to crash the Škoda party. The Finn showed an excellent turn of speed in his senior WRC cameo mid-season, but has been suppressed by the green and white machines in his regular position as a factory junior driver. Three times he has finished in second position, every time behind one of the mighty Czech machines.
There are more M-Sport Fiestas than any other car in the WRC2 field, and while none are as likely as Suninen to contend for victory, three Brits are worth watching out for. Gus Greensmith has shown great turns of speed at various points in the season, to the point he was shortlisted for the newly created Hyundai driver development programme. DMACK as always have their ‘prize car’ in attendance, in which Jon Armstrong will appear once more, looking to build on his stage-winning performance in Germany last month. Lastly, British Rally Championship regular Rhys Yates will make only his second WRC2 appearance in his regular BRC machinery, though run under the Gemini Clinic Rally Team in Spain.
Toyota’s junior programme is a known oddity, in that it runs Fiestas due to no R5 specification Toyota currently being in production. Instead, the Japanese duo of Takamoto Katsuta and Hiroki Arai are back for more with Tommi Mäkinen Racing. Katsuta has made steady progress throughout the year, but Arai is on a mission to show why he deserves his place in the Toyota setup, having not finished a WRC2 rally since Sweden in February.
Regular privateers also turning in an appearance in Catalunya are Citroën trio Simone Tempestini, Yohan Rossel and the recently crowned French national champion Yoann Bonato. The affable Benito Guerra is ever present, sure to light up the atmosphere if not the timing board, the Mexican continuing to adjust to the full WRC2 calendar and the R5 specification Fabia he pilots.
While the challenge may not come from fellow Škoda runners in the field, Kopecký will still be made to work for a second consecutive win in Spain.