The penultimate event in the 2018 WRC 2 calendar, RallyRACC Catalunya, starts next week in beautiful countryside around Barcelona. Here’s everything you need to know to enjoy it, no matter if you are coming to Spain or just watching with us online.
Unlike Wales Rally GB, the Spain’s WRC 2 event doesn’t bring the risk of fog or heavy rain, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less challenging. It is unique as the only mixed surface event of the season. While Friday takes crews to dirt roads to the west of Barcelona, the remaining two legs take place entirely on tarmac.
This presents unique challenges for crews and mechanics alike. While drivers have to adapt to a completely different driving style of tarmac rally literally overnight, the rest of the team will be busy converting the cars from gravel to tarmac settings.
Even though the RallyRACC Catalunya is relative newcomer in the WRC calendar, having entered the list only in 1991, it’s got a long history. It was run for the first time in 1957 and it is a part of European Rally Championship since 1975.
Over the years, it changed its name and venue several times. When it first became part of the World Rally Championship, it was called Rally Costa Brava. It moved to its current home in the town of Salou, just south of Barcelona, in 2002 and became RallyRACC Catalunya. By then, it was still an all-tarmac event. Only in 2010 it became the mixed event we now know and love.
The combination of tarmac and gravel legs is unique in today’s WRC calendar, but there is more to RallyRACC Catalunya than that. It begins on Thursday evening with a crowd-pleasing street stage in the Montjuïc area of Barcelona which takes place at the city’s trade fair, with a circle around the famous Magic Fountains and a donut in front of the Palau Nacional building.
On Friday, the teams will set their cars up for gravel and head out west from Barcelona. To make it more interesting, though, the new longest stage of the day, the 38.85 kilometre La Fatarella – Vilalba, includes several tarmac sections. The other two stages of the day, 7 kilometre-long Gandesa and 26.59 kilometre Pesells, are pure gravel. All three stages are repeated in the afternoon.
The rest of the rally takes place on tarmac roads. Saturday consists of two loops of three stages run in the morning and repeated in the afternoon, followed by the fan-favourite stage on Salou seafront that will finish the day. On Sunday, there are just four stages to go – Riudecanyes and Santa Marina, both run one in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Of course, it’s all about the change. Catalunya is not an easy rally in any way, but having to switch from gravel to tarmac overnight is by far the biggest challenge that awaits the teams. It’s not just about replacing the wheels, shock absorbers, springs, brakes and stabilisers to transform the car from dust-eating monster of gravel roads into a smooth tarmac rocket. It’s also about having to change your whole mindset when switching from oversteer-friendly dirt roads to grippy tarmac of Legs 2 and 3 that’s more akin to a racing circuit. To make it even more interesting, the Catalunyan tarmac is quite abrasive and especially if it’s hot, drivers must manage tyre wear very carefully.