Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe won the previous asphalt rally, the Ypres Rally. Together with Craig Breen, the Belgian gave Hyundai the double. Breen is not there now, the Spaniard Sordo (Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC) takes his place. The experienced Spaniard with 175 World Cup rallies on the counter finished eight times on the podium in his home rally. Five times second, three times third. He could never win. Thierry Neuville managed to do that in 2019.
Neuville can try to flush his disappointment after his resignation on Saturday in Spain. “When I first entered this race, it was a full asphalt rally, just like it is now. I did like the mixed profile. Now it’s actually more like driving on a track: you have to try to be clean and efficient. You also have to be able to rely on good notes to be fast, because it is difficult to make big differences on these kinds of roads,” says Thierry Neuville. “And yet I love this rally. I’m looking forward to replaying some of the famous stages from the past.”
Ogier on track for new world title
On Thursday, the shakedown will start the Rally of Spain, the eleventh and penultimate race of the 2021 World Cup Rally. It could be a decisive rally for the drivers’ championship. World Cup leader Sébastien Ogier (Toyota Yaris WRC) has a 24 point lead over first pursuer and teammate Elfyn Evans (Toyota Yaris WRC). When the Frenchman manages to widen that gap to 30 points, he will win his eighth world title on Sunday.
After a year of absence due to the global health crisis, another WRC round will be organized in Spain this year. As in previous years, the base and Spanish holiday resort is Salou. New compared to other years is that this race has evolved from a partly gravel and asphalt rally to a full asphalt rally.
In 2019 Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC) won this competition. The Belgian, who is third in the World Cup standings, is no longer participating for the title fight. That battle has been reduced to a duel between teammates Ogier and Evans. For the rally of Finland, the difference was 44 points. After the Finland rally, where Evans scored the maximum of 30 points, the gap has narrowed to 24 points. With 60 points to share, Evans remains in the running for the world title. “The drivers’ title is still a long way off for us, but we will again give the best of ourselves in Spain and try to get the best possible result. There is still a long way to go. I look at it game by game,” says the Elfyn Evans.
Sébastien Ogier has won seven world titles in the past with three different teams (Volkswagen, Ford, Toyota). He can win his eighth world title on Sunday. Not only does the Frenchman have a points lead, he also has experience with this rally which he has already won three times in the past (2013, 2014, 2016). “For the first time in years, it’s a full asphalt rally, which means I don’t have to sweep as World Cup leader. This is a rally that comes closest to racing on a track. Spain will be the first realistic chance to win the title. I know what to do to make that happen. When I get the chance to win I try to fight for it. This will be the easiest way to reach our goal.”
Among the brands, Toyota is 61 points ahead of Hyundai, the world champion of the past two years. Hyundai faces an almost impossible task to extend its title. The Japanese constructor may have a double party on Sunday.
Circuit race on public roads
The rally of Spain this year will again be a full asphalt rally with Salou as its base. Divided over three competition days, the participants complete seventeen classification stages, good for 280.46 competitive kilometers.
The Rally of Spain is the closest to racing on a track, with the difference that the seventeen GC stages are held on public roads. There are no cords, the riders don’t have to wipe the course and can flirt with the guardrails to their heart’s content.
The action starts on Thursday morning with the shakedown. The participants are presented with a 4.31 km classification stage where they can test their car for the last time. At 7 pm there is a ceremonial start Salou.
During the first day of competition, the drivers will be presented with six classification stages, spread over two loops of three stages each, for a total of 112.02 km. On Saturday there will be seven stages, divided over two loops of three stages again. The day will conclude with the 2.24 km special stage in the city center of Salou.
On Sunday there are still four classification stages good for 50.90 km. During the 16.35 km long powerstage, the drivers and brands can score extra World Cup points. Shortly after noon on Sunday, we will know whether the title fight for the drivers and brands has been decided or not.