PREVIEW: 2018 FIA World Rally Championship – Rally de España

by Steven Batey

The penultimate round of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship takes place this weekend with RallyRACC Rally de España playing host to round 12 of the season.

The Spanish event this year consists of a total of 18 stages across four days, split between gravel and tarmac with a Super Special in Barcelona on Thursday evening. The full action gets underway on gravel on Friday followed by two days of smooth asphalt stages completing the only mixed-surface event on the calendar.

With three drivers still in the running for the Drivers’ championship, the Spanish event could be anyone’s for the taking, with Championship leader Thierry Neuville having just a seven point advantage over Sébastien Ogier with Ott Tänak a further 14 points adrift in third.

All three have already admitted to going for the win this weekend, but it could be another man who takes top honours if his past record is to go by.

Loeb returns for his final WRC event in 2018. Photo Credit: Jaanus Ree/RedBull Content Pool.

Sébastien Loeb has won this event a record eight times and the Frenchman returns for his final event of his three-round programme for Citroën for his first appearance in Spain since 2012. He takes the place of Mads Ostberg and partners Craig Breen and Khalid Al-Qassimi driving the C3 WRC’s this weekend.

Both Esapekka Lappi and Jari-Matti Latvala, currently fourth and fifth in the drivers standings, are trying to help Toyota clinch their maiden manufacturers crown and a set of strong results from the pair along with Tänak would give them the best possible chance of doing this going into the season-ending Rally Australia in three weeks time.

M-Sport Ford are in a similar position with Elfyn Evans, who will want to make amends for his problems on Dayinsure Wales Rally GB last time out and Teemu Suninen also both aiming to claim as many manufacturer’s points as possible.

Evans retired last time out. Photo Credit: Jaanus Ree/RedBull Content Pool.

The trio of M-Sport cars are joined this weekend by series returnee Ken Block, who enters his first WRC event since Rally Spain in 2014 and his first with the current generation of World Rally cars.

Dani Sordo could be a man to watch on home soil, with the Spaniard returning to the championship after missing the previous two events to give way to Hayden Paddon as the pair share the third Hyundai i20 WRC alongside Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen.

WRC2 in Spain sees a huge 21 cars entered, with Jan Kopecký having been confirmed the champion of the class after saying he would not head to Australia for the final round of the season in November.

Winner of the five events he has taken part in in WRC2 in 2018, the Czech driver can now no longer be caught by teammate and outgoing champion Pontus Tidemand who misses out this weekend and is replaced again by Wales Rally GB winner Kalle Rovanperä as Skoda continue with their rotation of drivers in their Fabia R5’s.

Kopecký is the new WRC2 champion. Photo Credit: Jaanus Ree/RedBull Content Pool.

Making its debut in the class this weekend is the new Volkswagen Polo R5 driven by 2003 World Rally Champion and double World Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg along with a second car being driven by 2017 WRC2 runner-up and former M-Sport driver Eric Camilli.

Volkswagen Motorsport, who withdrew from the WRC at the end of 2016, are entering the new car to show potential buyers what it’s capable of on the mixed surface event ahead of going on sale in 2019.

With third placed Gus Greensmith not taking part either in Spain or Australia, both Lukasz Pieniazek and Fabio Andolfi will want to battle with Rovanperä for a good result as the trio aim to cut the lead the Brit has on them in the standings this weekend.

Hyundai development driver Jari Huttunen is a potential WRC2 winner, while Citroën run Stephane Lefebvre and Ole Christian Veiby for the final time in 2018 this weekend.

Other noticeable WRC2 entries include the European Rally triple champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Henning Solberg who will run under the Toksport Team banner this weekend.

RallyRACC Rally de España begins tomorrow evening and continues until Sunday October 28.

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