Last year the Spanish WRC event returned into a full tarmac setup after a decade of mixed surface rallies, which in turn are not permitted anymore in the regulations. Last year’s route already introduced a few new stages and this year there’s more new on the Friday route, although the other days have remained virtually unchanged.
Cover image by Hyundai Motorsport (C)
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The shakedown of Coll de la Teixeta is same as last year, the beginning of the Riudecanyes stage. It’s very sinuous on a wide, semi-worn cambered road with little places to cut due to railings and rock walls. It lacks a faster section and a surface change to more worn to represent the rally properly.
SS1+5 Els Omells – Maldà is a completely new stage for the rally and a very straightforwardly fast one. The beginning of the stage can be seen on this local rally onboard, in the opposite direction, until 1:46.
From this onboard we can see that it is medium wide, quite worn and patchy, fast with long straights and just a few tighter corners. There’s plenty of places to cut so the road will get polluted. A chicane slows down the pace while passing the town at 4.7 km. After that it gets very very fast for the rest of the stage with just a few medium corners at slowest. Again there is many places to cut throughout the stage, apart from frequent Armco barriers on the last road.
SS2+6 Serra de la Llena is another new stage. Sort of, since half of the route featured on the 2008-2009 La Llena stage, but in the opposite direction. Character-wise this is the opposite of the first stage, quite slow and technical.
The beginning is wide and semi-worn, quite sinuous, ending into a junction chicane at 3.1 km. Then we continue on a wide, smooth and very fast road into a roundabout, taking a 270° turn left onto a slightly narrower and semi-worn road, which we can see on the 2009 onboard from 5:01 onwards, in the opposite direction. It is very slow and sinuous apart from a couple of longer straights or other flat out passages.
SS3+7 Les Garrigues Altes made its debut in a shorter form in 2008 and 2009, before being a half-gravel stage in 2010 and 2011. It then returned in a longer tarmac format last year, in the opposite direction to the previous runs. For this year the direction is again turned back to original, from North to South. It’s the longest stage of the day at 22 km, while the three other stages of the day are only 11-13 km long.
The start is on a medium wide, medium worn and quite bumpy road. It’s fast at first with a sinuous passage at 2 km and a pair of hairpins at 3.6 km. Then there’s a jump at 4.7 km, followed by a more sinuous section with quite many 100-200 m straights in between, creating a jarring rhythm.
A thoroughly faster section begins at 8.9 km, but it’s slowed down by five chicanes while passing the town of La Granadella at 11.4 km. After that the road gets a bit wider, starting with a twisty section. It opens up into more fast-flowing at 13.8 km ranging from medium to flat corners. On this section, Elfyn Evans had a hot moment last year, and Thierry Neuville almost went into an Armco barrier. Most of the stage will be polluted from cutting, but there are some concrete ditches from 4 km to 5.7 km.
SS4+8 Riba-Roja is remembered for being the tarmac section of Terra Alta in the mixed surface rally years. However, the road played a double duty by hosting also this tarmac stage in 2011 and 2012, and then it returned last year as the rally became all-tarmac again. This year’s version is just slightly shorter from the finish.
Riba-Roja is run on a medium wide smooth road. The beginning is flat and quite fast with only a handful of tight corners during the first 3.3 km. After that it becomes slightly wider but also considerably more sinuous, going first up, then down and again up. Concrete ditches allow big cuts without polluting the road. There’s also a slightly faster passage at 5.8 km. The concrete ditches end at 9.8 km, resulting in more polluted road. That 9.8 km mark also begins a somewhat faster passage, but the end of the stage is again very technical and twisty.
SS9+12 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.
SS10+13 Querol – Les Pobles has been changed slightly from last year. Now the start is familiar from the previous Querol stages, but the start location is much later than in the Querol years. The first road is quite wide and quite smooth. It’s first very fast and then more angularly sinuous.
Last year’s route is joined through a hairpin turn at 3 km. The road is wide, cambered and smooth, with Armcos and concrete ditches preventing pollution from cutting. The pace is quite Corsican, turning all the time but usually not tightly. The pace is upped at 5 km by three faster passages with only short bits of tighter turns in between.
A total rhythm change appears at 8.2 km when the stage turns onto a narrow road, with the surface alternating between worn tarmac and abrasive concrete, while doing a twisty climb. This is also the place where Adrien Fourmaux had a slight crash last year on the second pass of the stage (not on the video).
At 9.8 km the road becomes wider and faster on the worn tarmac, having only a handful of tight corners on the way. Cutting on this section will mostly pollute the road, but there’s also hazards hidden on the banks, discovered by Jon Armstrong last year. At 15 km the road becomes again concrete, on a downhill section with two hairpins.
There’s still 5 km left of the stage. The last road is medium fast, medium wide, smooth but bumpy, with many possibilities to cut, mostly polluting the road.
SS11+14 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 the same configuration since 2005, while a reversed version with the title Can Ferrer featured already 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 sinuous 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 SSS15 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.
SS16+18 Pratdip is essentially the same stage as last year’s Santa Marina, but it’s extended a bit from the start. The first run of the stage will be driven so early that it’s still dark.
The road is medium wide and slightly worn, quite bumpy with small crests. Most of the corners are quite slow, but there are relatively long straights connecting the sinuous passages. The road edge is quite high and cutting will bring dirt, but many corners have a railing or rock wall preventing cutting.
This year’s route is same as 2014 but shorter, starting from 9:09 on this video
SS17+19 Riudecanyes has remained unchanged since 2017 and acts as the power stage for the second year in succession. First up it’s very sinuous on a wide, semi-worn cambered road with little places to cut due to railings and rock walls. At 4.2 km we come into the infamous roundabout where one full donut round is taken.
After a short very wide link the road becomes medium wide and even more sinuous than at the beginning. Concrete ditches make cutting pollution-free on right-hand corners, while Armco blocks left-handers. A fast passage past the town of Duesaigues leads into the final section of the stage which is quite angular alternating between sinuous and flat out passages, with now Armco on the right and concrete ditches on the left. Just before the finish line there’s a junction turn onto a very wide road.