The penultimate round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally de España (25-28 October), is unique in being the only mixed surface event on the calendar, combining one day of primarily gravel stages with two solely on tarmac. After the first full day on Friday teams need to convert their cars from gravel to asphalt specification in a longer than usual final service, and drivers then need to adapt overnight to the fast and smooth roads that require a much more precise style of driving.
The event has a long history dating back to 1957 and was first included in the FIA European Rally Championship in 1975. It graduated to WRC status in 1991 when it was based on the Costa Brava and the then all-asphalt rally relocated to Salou in 2002. It only changed to a mixed surface event in 2010, creating a very different challenge on the WRC calendar.
After numerous dramatic twists and turns on recent events, which has resulted in the Championship fight being the most intense in years, Thierry Neuville continues to head the standings but the Belgian’s advantage has been cut to seven points over multiple champion Sébastien Ogier. After his remarkable victory in Wales two weeks ago, the Frenchman is now back ahead of Ott Tänak, the Estonian’s run of three consecutive victories coming to a disappointing end in the Welsh forests. He is a further 14 points behind Ogier as the three-way title fight continues in Spain. Nine-time FIA World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb also joins the stars of the show for the third of his planned outings in the Citroën C3 WRC, adding to what is already an eagerly-anticipated showdown on the Spanish stages. After a string of double podium results, Toyota heads the Manufacturers’ Championship by 20 points over Hyundai. Jan Kopecký continues to lead the FIA WRC 2 Championship and the stellar 21-car entry in the category is boosted by the debut appearance of two Volkswagen Polo GTI R5s in the hands of former FIA World Rally Champion and FIA World Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg, and Eric Camilli.
Five stages will be broadcast live on television; SS1 on Thursday, SS10/13 on Saturday and both runs through Santa Marina (SS16/18), the latter being the all-important Power Stage. All stages are however available live on WRC All Live on the WRC+ platform.
THE 2018 ROUTE
The 2018 event kicks off with the welcome return of the spectacular street stage in the Montjuïc area of Barcelona on Thursday evening before returning to the tourist resort of Salou for the overnight halt. Friday crews head west for the longest day of the event. Two identical loops of three gravel stages await, two not used since 2014 and the 38.85 kilometres of La Fatarella-Vilalba also including some asphalt sections. After swapping the cars to asphalt specification overnight, Saturday and Sunday are contested purely on tarmac. Saturday’s route heads north-east and is rounded off with a street stage on the Salou seafront, while Sunday’s two loops of two stages are also similar to last year.