Spain’s Rally Catalunya used to be known as the only mixed surface of the series from 2010 to 2019. However, mixed surface events are not allowed anymore so after one year off the Catalunya has returned in all tarmac format, like it was from 1993 to 2009. There’s a few new stages and sections to replace the gravel kilometres of the previous edition. Only three stages and the super special are driven similarly to the latest edition of 2019.
Catalunya has no opening super special, so the shakedown of Coll de la Teixeta is the only action we get on Thursday. This stage has been driven only once in 2011, but actually it’s the beginning of the more familiar Riudacanyes stage, ending after the infamous roundabout. The stage will be slow and mountainous. It’s not really representative of the rally to have one of its slowest sections as the shakedown, but an improvement from the shakedown of the past years for sure!
SS1+4 Vilaplana is relatively familiar to the drivers. In fact, in 2019 the same stage was run in the opposite direction as the La Mussara, where it served as the power stage. This configuration of the stage was a staple of the rally from 2008 to 2014. The ending also featured on its own short test in 2017 and 2016, but also as a part of the La Riba stage as early as 1993.
The beginning is smooth and relatively narrow. The rhythm is first angular, then more straightforwardly fast. While turning onto the wider road at 7.5 km there’s a new traffic island chicane for this year.
At 11.6 km the stage becomes distinctively slower, involving a sequence of ten descending hairpins. The final 3 km of the rally is then Corsica-style medium fast with constant turns.
SS2+5 La Granadella is a new stage title, as is the first half of its route. The begin is typical Catalunya with a relatively wide road and a continuous flow of medium-pace corners, with flatout passages and single slow corners thrown in. The tarmac is slightly patchy, however. 4 km into the stage it becomes slightly narrower and more twisty. When passing the town of La Granadella there’s five chicanes placed onto a very straight section.
The following road is again a bit narrower and more worn. It’s first straight for a bit, then similar as the beginning. 4 km before the finish there’s two hairpins. Some concrete curbs have also been built, which helps preventing pollution.
The ending has been driven on the Les Garrigues stage from 2008 to 2011. We can see the section on this 2010 onboard from 1:50 onwards. Bear in mind it was back then one of the gravel stages, driven on gravel setup.
SS3+6 Riba-Roja has been driven twice, in 2011 and 2012, but the drivers are familiar with most of its route from its usage as the tarmac section of the mixed surface monster Terra Alta from 2010 to 2019. All of the stage is again driven on just one road. The beginning is relatively fast, but once we join the section used on Terra Alta, it’s very twisty and mountainous for Catalunyan standards, closer to Tour de Corse. However, the road is quite wide with a good tarmac and some concrete curbs, although it’s a bit bumpy.
SS7+10 Savallá was new for 2017 and it has remained in similar format every year since then. It has a broad mix of road types from normal Catalunyan smooth roads to wide main roads and smaller countryside roads with broken tarmac. One of the latter type roads caught Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo in 2017.
However, the most interesting thing about the stage is the ending on a chipseal surface, where the cars could be sliding spectacularly on wet conditions.
SS8+11 Querol – Les Pobles is an update on the Querol stage, which has been driven in unchanged format since 2005. Now the stage uses only 5 km from the previous edition and the rest has been never driven before in the rally.
The beginning is maybe slightly narrower than typical Catalunya, but very smooth. The pace is constantly twisty and medium fast with a fast passage at 4 km. There’s mostly armco and/or boulder on the side of the road, so there’s no room to cut – or to go wide!
At the town of Querol the stage turns left onto a more worn road. At first there’s a twisty and narrow section which has mostly concrete surface.
Subsequently it’s more fast-flowing and wider with a very abrasive surface, that could get very dirty from cutting. There is some Croatia Rally vibe to this section. At 13.5 km there’s suddenly tight corners on concrete.
The final section is again smoother tarmac, similar to the beginning. There’s a nice continuous flow of corners, but nothing that tight. It gets a bit faster and wider at the end.
SS9+12 El Montmell is the longest stage of the rally at 24.4 km. It has also typically been the fastest stage of the rally. It has been driven regularly in this configuration since 2005, and a reversed version called Can Ferrer featured from 1993 to 1995.
The stage begins on a medium wide section with a slightly worn surface. It’s fast but technical going over crests and involving cutting over the edge of the road. It gets very fast at 3.4 km but there’s a chicane at 4.5 km. After passing a village there’s another hyper fast section where the throttle is down for almost two kilometres and the top speed is sustained for almost 20 seconds.
After a more technical section the stage becomes again more fast-flowing at 13 km. This is where Esapekka Lappi lost the control of the car at 120 km/h in 2018. Luckily the car just slid to a halt on the road and they were able to continue.
The fast section is slowed down by another chicane at 14.9 km before a junction turn onto a slightly wider but bumpy and partly worn road. It’s super fast at first before the usual flow of corners returns. The last 5 km are more twisty with even a couple of hairpins. This section is mountainous with a bank on one side and an armco barrier on the other side, meaning there’s no room to cut or go wide.
The day concludes with the traditional SSS13 Salou super special. Tarmac rallies don’t have a lot of super specials these days so this is a rare sight. It’s a slow and twisty stage set up on a beach boulevard and typically gets some sand from the beach.
SS14+16 Santa Marina featured first on the rally in 1998 and now it’s back after a one of year of absence. This time the route is shortened from the start. It’s a quite twisty stage, kind of like Tour de Corse. The road is wide but slightly worn and bumpy. It’s mostly between armco and boulder so no chance to cut in most corners.
The 2014 stage was longer, but this year’s section starts from 10:42.
SS17+19 Riudecanyes has been a regular in the rally since 1999, the current version since 2007. Now it will serve as the power stage, like it did in 2014. Like mentioned, it begins with a repeat of the shakedown section, a slow mountain road into the roundabout, where a mandatory donut is performed. This next road is even more twisty and technical than the first one. It’s narrower but smoother.
At 10.5 km there is a fast passage while driving through the village of Duesaigües. However, soon the pace becomes again Corsican, but less technical than before. The rhythm change might be surprising, like it was for Esapekka Lappi in 2017.
Just before the finish line there’s a junction turn. The traffic dividers make it very narrow.
Road conditions and starting order
In tarmac rallies it’s good to be first on the road to avoid pollution caused by cutting in the corners. Thus Sebastien Ogier will have the best starting position this year. Meanwhile, the local hero Dani Sordo gives a handicap by starting eighth.