Loudon-Clear guide Rallye Catalunya

Loudon-Clear guide Rallye CatalunyaFrom Tunnocks (Stuart Loudon) [ 22/10/2018 ].
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So, to business. And the business end of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship. Who's your money on? For much of the summer, it looked like Thierry Neuville was writing his name on this year's silverware, but the autumn's brought a revival in Sébastien Ogier's fortunes; a Dayinsure Wales Rally GB victory has rocketed the Frenchman back into contention for a sixth straight title. Ott Tänak? He's gone in the opposite direction. Where Neuville and Ogier stumbled and left the door open for him to win in Turkey, so the Estonian slipped up last time out. Just when he looked to have Wales won and one hand on the top of the table, his Toyota Yaris WRC smashed into mother earth, damaged and drained the radiator and left him lying at the side of the road genuinely questioning the sweetness of Sweet Lamb. Nothing short of victory and a peach of a Power Stage will be enough for Ott in Salou this week.

We couldn't ask for a better end to the season. It's going to be an absolute thriller. With just seven points between leader Thierry and second-placed Sébastien (Ott's 21 points off the lead), there's no hope of anybody throttling back and playing a percentage game. If they want this title, they're going to have to fight to the very end for it.

On a personal level, I'm delighted to be back working with the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team this week. I've competed on Rally of Spain three times and finished on the WRC2 podium twice. It's a great event. Unfortunately, I won't be reading pacenotes this week, but it's always a real honour and privilege to work among the world champions from Cumbria.

RallyRACC Rally de España Catalunya-Costa Daurada in detail
FIA World Rally Championship round 12/13
Date: Thursday October 25 - Sunday October 28
Based/Service: PortAventura
Stages: 18
Competitive distance: 331.58km (206.04 miles)
Liaison distance: 1164.15km (723.40 miles)
Total distance: 1495.73km (929.44 miles)
Shortest stage: SS14 Salou 2.24km (1.39 miles)
Longest stage: SS4/7 La Fatarella-Vilalba 1 38.85km (24.14 miles)
Currency: Euro
Time difference: BST+1
Sunrise: 0818
Sunset: 1900

Shakedown:
The 2.00km (1.24 miles) shakedown stage is located in Salou, 3.02km (1.87 miles) from the service park in Deeside. The stage runs from 0800-1330 on Thursday October 25.

RallyRACC Rally de España Catalunya-Costa Daurada itinerary

Thursday October 25
SS1 Barcelona 3.20km (1.98 miles) 1808
Parc ferme PortAventura 2008

Friday October 26
SS2 Gandesa 1 7.00km (4.34 miles) 0933
SS3 Pesells 1 26.59km (16.52 miles) 1006
SS4 La Faterella-Vilalba 1 38.85km (24.14 miles) 1120
Service PortAventura 1335
SS5 Gandesa 2 7.00km (4.34 miles) 1523
SS6 Pesells 2 26.59km (16.52 miles) 1556
SS7 La Faterella-Vilalba 2 38.85km (24.14 miles) 1710
Service PortAventura 1910
Parc ferme 1920

Saturday October 27
SS8 Savallà 1 14.12km (8.77 miles) 0823
SS9 Querol 1 21.26km (13.21 miles) 0908
SS10 El Montmell 1 24.40km (15.16 miles) 1008
Service PortAventura 1133
SS11 Savallà 2 14.12km (8.77 miles) 1326
SS12 Querol 2 21.26km (13.21 miles) 1410
SS13 El Montmell 2 24.40km (15.16 miles) 1508
SS14 Salou 2.24km (1.39 miles) 1700
Service PortAventura 1720
Parc ferme 1815

Sunday October 28
SS15 Riudecanyes 1 16.35km (10.15 miles) 0735
SS16 Santa Marina 1 14.50km (9.01 miles) 0838
Service PortAventura 0945
SS17 Riudecanyes 2 16.35km (10.15 miles) 1050
SS18 Santa Marina 2 14.50km (9.01 miles) 1218
Finish PortAventura 1341

Running order:
5 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC)
8 Ott Tänak/Martin Jarveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC)
9 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC)
7 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC)
4 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
6 Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
11 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroën C3 WRC)
3 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC)
2 Elfyn Evans/Dan Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC)
10 Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Citroën C3 WRC)

Leading WRC championship positions:
1 Neuville 189pts; 2 Ogier 182; 3 Tänak 168; 4 Lappi 104; 5 Latvala 98; 6 Mikkelsen 83; 7 Dani Sordo 60; 8 Breen 59; 9 Paddon 55; 10 Suninen 54, etc

WRC manufacturer championship positions:
1 Toyota Gazoo Racing 317; 2 Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 297pts; 3 M-Sport Ford WRT 273; 4 Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT 187.

Leading WRC2 runners:
31 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Škoda Fabia R5)
32 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Škoda Fabia R5)
33 Lukasz Pieniazek/Przemyslaw Mazur (Škoda Fabia R5)
34 Fabio Andolfi/Simone Scattolin (Škoda Fabia R5)
35 Jari Pekka Huttunen/Antti Juhani Limaketo (Hyundai i20 R5)
36 Ole Christian Veiby/Stig Rune Skjaermoen (Citroën C3 R5)
37 Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau (Citroën C3 R5)
38 Pierre-Louis Loubet/ Vincent Landais (Hyundai i20 R5)
39 Takamoto Katsuta/Marko Samimen (Ford Fiesta R5)
40 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szcepaniak (Ford Fiesta R5)
47 Eric Camilli/Benjamin Veillas (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5)
49 Petter Solberg/Veronica Engan (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5)

Leading WRC2 championship positions:
1 Kopecky 125pts; 2 Pontus Tidemand 111; 3 Gus Greensmith 70; 4 Rovanpera 65; 5 Pieniazek 56; 6 Andolfi 50, etc

Stuart Loudon's key stage: SS4 La Faterella-Vilalba 1 38.85km (24.14 miles)

We might be in Spain a little bit later in the year, but there's still the potential for some reasonably high temperatures, with 25 degrees forecast for Friday. If that happens then tyre management on the event's longest stage could be key.

The Tarmac sections in this Friday late morning test will work the tyres hard. When you come into the twistier places, especially the downhill stuff, even from the co-driver's seat, you can feel the tyres moving on the blocks - it's a really strange sensation. It almost feels like the car's floating from corner to corner. The car is more progressive and slides quite nicely, but there's none of the precision you'd want when you're turning the car in.

Friday's gravel stages are all quite strange because of the frequency of asphalt sections. You go from the noise and drama of competing on the dirt to the relative peace and quiet - apart from the tyres complaining - on the Tarmac. It's weird.

After the second run through this stage in the afternoon, we get one of the most entertaining services of the season, as the teams change the cars from gravel to asphalt specification. They will complete this job in one hour and 15 minutes - the sort of work that would normally take an awful lot longer. I love this service, it's exciting to watch, especially if one of the teams has got a bit of a rush on because a car's been in a ditch or taken on some damage on board in the afternoon.

Stuart will be watching… #10 Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena (Citroën C3 WRC)

When we've got such an amazing championship fight going as this one, it takes a special crew to deflect attention away from the likes of Neuville, Ogier and Tänak. Eight time Rally of Spain winners Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are that crew.

Like the rest of the watching world, I can't wait to see what the nine-time world champions can achieve on their third and final WRC outing of the season. Can they win? Of course they can. If the weather's warm and dry, they'll be in a near-perfect place on Friday's gravel roads; starting further down the order, they'll be on roads swept clean of loose gravel revealing a faster racing line beneath.

And when the weekend comes, well, we can be confident of their pace on fast, flowing lanes through the Tarragona hills. And the C3 WRC doesn't have a bad record in this part of the world… Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle dominated this event in one of the Versailles-built Citroëns last year.

Weather with you:
Generally sunny with temperatures tumbling from 25 to around 17 as the event moves through the week.

Most successful driver on RallyRACC Rally de España Catalunya-Costa Daurada:
Sébastien Loeb (8 wins)