(25/10/2013) THE man who engraves the Rally de Espana winner’s trophy hasn’t had much variety in his work for the past eight years, but that’s guaranteed to change after the 2013 event this weekend.
Citroen and Sebastien Loeb have dominated in Spain since 2005, with the French combination notching up a remarkable eight consecutive victories. Now, three weeks after Loeb’s WRC retirement at the all-asphalt Rallye de France, there are plenty of contenders eager to take his place.
The 2013 World Rally Championship will switch to gravel and asphalt roads for the 12th and penultimate round.
Based in the seaside resort of Salou on the Costa Daurada, the itinerary has reversed the 2012 order of the asphalt and gravel stages so that after starting out as a classic asphalt rally on the first two days, it will turn into a loose-surface event on Sunday.
Friday night’s opening section also has had a revamp. The popular ceremonial start in Barcelona stays, but this year it will be followed by three asphalt stages run in darkness and without a service break.
After 15 stages and a total of 355 competitive kilometres, the winning car will cross the finish ramp in Salou on Sunday afternoon.
Top of the contenders list must be Volkswagen’s Sebastien Ogier, who will start his first event as World Rally Champion. Ogier is the only driver except Loeb to have won on both gravel and asphalt this season, so he’s unlikely to be fazed by Spain’s mixed-surface format.
Ogier’s closest challenger could be local hero Dani Sordo, winner of the 2.5 km shakedown on Thursday afternoon. After taking his maiden WRC win in Germany, the Spaniard finished second at the Rallye de France.
He arrived at his favourite round of the championship determined to continue this excellent run of form and can count on fanatical support from his Spanish fans.
Jari-Matti Latvala has an opportunity to fight for victory free from Volkswagen team orders. With Ogier’s drivers’ title in the bag and Volkswagen needing just six points to wrap up the manufacturers title, team boss Jost Capito has assured Latvala and team-mates Ogier and Andreas Mikkelsen that they can each fight for the win.
The 13 World Rally Car drivers on the entry list include New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon, who will make his outright-class debut at the wheel of an M-Sport prepared Fiesta RS.
Paddon, 26, the 2011 FIA Production Car World Rally Champion, has driven a Skoda Fabia S2000 on three rounds of the WRC 2 championship this year.
At Coates Hire Rally Australia last month he retired on the opening day with an electrical problem, but after re-joining went fastest on all but one of the remaining stages.
“Ultimately we do want to be in a WRC car next year and with this one-off chance we need to show we can be fast in a WRC car as well to try and open those doors,” Paddon said.