Ott Tänak can wrap up the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship by winning his seventh round of the season this weekend.
Tänak leads Sébastien Ogier by 28 points –the margin extended after his victory on Wales Rally GB and another win this weekend on the only mixed-surface event on the calendar would be enough for him to claim his maiden title.
Rally Spain takes place over three days and begins with a day of gravel stages west of rally base Salou. The standout test is the longest stage of the rally, La Fatarella – Vilalba which features asphalt sections on its route and the day is completed by an extended service where the cars are transformed to tarmac spec in 75 minutes.
The remaining 11 stages, split over two more days of action, are all on tarmac. Saturday sees the route unchanged from 2018 with stages North West of the rally base with a day ending run around the Salou seafront ending the action. The final day of action has four more further stages; Riudecanyes and La Mussara repeated twice with the latter doubling up as the Power Stage on Sunday afternoon.
Ogier building up to the event this weekend has already admitted that his championship hopes are on the brink of ending and he must outscore Tänak to stand any chance of taking the title fight to Australia next month.
The team to watch this weekend appears to be Hyundai, as Sébastien Loeb returns to the team alongside Thierry Neuville, who is still mathematically in the title race and Dani Sordo as the nine-time champion competes on his first event since Rally Portugal at the end of May.
Loeb incredibly has won every Spanish event he’s entered since 2005, including a memorable win on the gravel and tarmac event here 12 months ago when driving for Citroen and Hyundai will be hoping this continues this weekend, both as they chase their first Manufacturers’ title and also in the hope of making Toyota driver Tänak drop points. #
Neuville is third in the standings now 41 points behind Tänak after his third in Wales and both of the men in front of him will need to either retire or finish very low down the leaderboard this weekend for it to remain a three-horse-race going to Australia.
With the top three comfortably ahead of the rest, the battle for fourth however remains as tight as ever. Andreas Mikkelsen leads the way although doesn’t take part in Spain as Hyundai prefer Loeb and tarmac specialist Sordo, with Kris Meeke and Elfyn Evans just four and 12 points behind respectively.
Both British drivers finished strongly in Wales – Meeke had led for the opening stages before eventually dropping to fourth while Evans made a fine recovery back up the leaderboard to fifth after hitting a bank on the opening morning of his home event.
Jari-Matti Latvala retired again on Rally GB and failed to score any points for Toyota – something the Japanese manufacturer can do without as it fights with Hyundai and he leads fellow Finns Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen in the championship standings.
WRC2 PRO/WRC2: Rovanperä The Man to Beat
Newly crowned WRC2 PRO champion Kalle Rovanperä will be looking to impress the onlooking WRC teams as he again competes for Skoda this weekend alongside teammate Jan Kopecký with the young Finn rumoured to be heading for Toyota next season. Gus Greensmith and Mads Østberg, both of who struggled on Wales Rally GB, complete the four-strong entry list.
Pierre-Louis Loubet’s win on the Welsh gravel event last time out was enough to put him in front of the WRC2 championship, with the Skoda Fabia R5 man now six points ahead of Benito Guerra with the top six in the series all entered this weekend.
Nikolay Gryazin and Kajetan Kajetanowicz are both still in the title hunt and head to the mixed-surface event just two points adrift of Guerra, while Marco Bulacia Wilkinson, Fabio Andolfi and Ole-Christian Vieby all also take part in Spain.
Another potential driver to watch this weekend is Jan Solans, who competes for the first time in WRC2 in a MK8 Ford Fiesta R5 having recently sealed the Junior FIA World Rally Championship on Wales Rally GB. He’ll go up against older brother Nil, who also won the series back in 2017, with the elder brother driving a Volkswagen Polo R5 for the first time.
Rally Spain gets underway with a ceremonial start on Salou seafront tomorrow evening, before the opening day of gravel stages the following morning.