Ten ŠKODA FABIA R5s on the entry list, three of which are still in with a chance of winning the championship – the Rally Spain heralds the crucial phase of the FIA World Championship in the WRC2 category with a genuine showdown between the ŠKODA drivers.
Representing the ŠKODA Motorsport works team are last year’s winner Pontus Tidemand and his co-driver Jonas Andersson and Czech champions Jan Kopecký / Pavel Dresler. From Thursday to Sunday they can expect an exciting battle with the man currently second in the championship, Teemu Suninen, at the wheel of a ŠKODA FABIA R5 run by a private team.
Hrabánek sees the Rally Spain as one of the highlights of the world championship season, as it is the only mixed surface rally, with one day predominantly on gravel and two on asphalt.
Although the first 3.20 of the 340 kilometres of special stage will take place on the asphalt roads of Barcelona on Thursday, the ŠKODA FABIA R5s will start with a gravel set-up. The reason: roughly 89 per cent of Friday’s special stages will be contested on gravel roads. The ŠKODA Motorsport team then faces a big challenge on Friday evening: the mechanics have just 75 minutes to ensure the high-tech cars are ready for a return to asphalt roads, as the majority of Saturday and Sunday’s special stages will be held on this surface.
Last year, the ŠKODA Motorsport drivers passed this test with flying colours: Pontus Tidemand and Jan Kopecký finished first and second – a success the two works drivers would love to repeat this year.
Recent victory at the Rally Uppsala in his native Sweden has given Tidemand a boost of confidence. On the same weekend, Kopecký finished runner-up at the Rally France. This represented the 20th podium for ŠKODA Motorsport with the FABIA R5 in the FIA World Rally Championship in the WRC2 category.
Like team-mate Tidemand, he needs a win to keep his chances of winning the WRC2 title alive. The man best placed in the title race is Teemu Suninen, who is currently second behind Elfyn Evans (120 points/seven rallies) with 93 points from five rallies. The third ŠKODA works driver Esapekka Lappi (82 points/five rallies) is also still in contention. He will not be in action in Spain, but could still pick up points in the remaining two rallies in Great Britain and Australia.
Seven of the last eight WRC2 races have seen a ŠKODA FABIA R5 driver winning. Works driver Lappi won his home rally in Finland and triumphed again in Germany, while team-mate Pontus Tidemand celebrated a win at the Rally Portugal. Victory in Mexico, on Sardinia and at the Rally Poland went to Suninen, while Nicolás Fuchs triumphed for ŠKODA at the Rally Argentina.
Did you know that…
…the entry list for the Rally Spain features no fewer than ten ŠKODA FABIA R5s?
As well as the two works duos Pontus Tidemand / Jonas Andersson (S/S) and Jan Kopecký / Pavel Dresler (CZ/CZ), the following eight customer pairings should also be in action: Teemu Suninen / Mikko Markkula (FIN/FIN), Armin Kremer / Pirmin Winklhofer (D/D), Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari / Killian Duffy (Q/IRL), Ghislain de Mevius / Johan Jalet (B/B), Max Rendina / Emanuele Inglesi (I/I), Julien Maurin / Olivier Ural (F/F), Ole Christian Veiby / Stig Rune Skjærmoen (N/N) and Bernhard Ten Brinke / Davy Thierie (NL/NL).
…the WRC2 drivers can only score points in seven selected rallies?
The best six results then make up the driver’s overall score. Briton Elfyn Evans currently leads the way with 120 points following his victory at the Rally France. However, Evans has already completed his seven rallies, in which he can score points towards the overall standings. This leaves the title race wide open. Spain represents the penultimate opportunity to pick up points for second-placed Teemu Suninen (93 points) in his ŠKODA FABIA R5. ŠKODA works driver Esapekka Lappi (82) is not rallying in Spain, but also has a further two opportunities to add to his points tally, with a maximum 25 points up for grabs at each rally. The other two ŠKODA works drivers, Jan Kopecký (55 points) and Pontus Tidemand (49), also have a mathematical chance of winning the title. To achieve this, however, they would have to win each of the three remaining rallies in Spain, Great Britain and Australia.
…the ŠKODA mechanics must be on the very top of their game at the Rally Spain?
An extra-long service on Friday evening gives them 75 minutes to switch the two ŠKODA FABIA R5s of Pontus Tidemand and Jan Kopecký from a gravel to an asphalt set-up. In the case of many rally cars, this time will be used to replace springs and shock absorbers, adjust the right height and fit a thinner underbody protection, among other things.
…the drivers’ visibility will be seriously hampered on the gravel roads on Friday?
The dust whipped up by the cars often hangs in the air for several minutes, particularly in the valleys in the hilly Spanish landscape.
…the Rally Spain was held for the first time in 1957?
It has formed part of the FIA World Rally Championship since 1991. It was first staged on the Costa Brava, before moving to Salou on the Costa Daurada.
…the service park is located in a theme park?
The “PortAventura” park in the popular tourist town of Salou, near Tarragona, attracts thrill-seeking holidaymakers from around the world every summer. It also includes the Costa Caribe waterpark and four hotels.
…the rally features what is probably the most spectacular roundabout in the World Rally Championship?
The rally drivers must drive all the way around a roundabout on the Duesaigües special stage. Failure to do this results in a 30-second penalty. This spectacular action obviously goes down well with the fans, thousands of whom flock to the stage, which, as it did last year, will again form the closing Power Stage in 2016.