Sebastien Loeb set to return to Rally Spain with Hyundai this weekend
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The FIA World Rally Championship throws it only mixed surface event into the equation as the three-way driver’s title fight races into its penultimate round this weekend.
Rally RACC Catalunya-Costa Daurada in Spain starts on Friday night (NZ time) with title contenders tackling a 129km opening leg of stages that comprises both gravel and mixed gravel and tarmac stages.
The 39km La Fatarella-Vilalba stage is the longest of the rally and includes both surfaces to provide a challenging suspension set-up compromise.
Then on Friday night the service crews switch the cars to lowered tarmac specification for the remaining Saturday and Sunday stages. In total the route includes 17 special stages and 325km of competition based at the Port Aventura service park near the coastal city of Salou.
One particular feature of the event is an unusually long Power Stage where the bonus points will be fought out on Sunday afternoon. The La Mussara Power Stage measures 20.72km.
Spain is the penultimate round of the championship and provides an opportunity for points leader Ott Tanak (Estonia) to clinch the title ahead of the final round in Australia next month.
Tanak has a lead of 28 points over defending champion Sebastien Ogier (Citroen) and a buffer of 30-points or better at the finish line of Sunday would make the final round irrelevant in the Driver’s title chase.
Also still in contention, but now needing Tanak to strike trouble in Spain, is Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville. The Belgian’s chances have slimmed and he’s 41 points behind Tanak and needs to finish well ahead of the Toyota driver this weekend to keep his title chances alive for Australia.
The Manufacturers’ title is much more tightly poised and sees Hyundai only eight points ahead of Toyota in the standings. A potential 86 points is still on the table if a team can sweep both remaining events with 1-2 finishes.
With only two cars each from M-Sport Ford and Citroen Racing, the Spanish event has a slightly smaller entry of 10 Manufacturer WRC crews.
M-Sport Ford has entered Elfyn Evans (GB) and Teemu Suninen (Finland) while Ogier will have support from regular Citroen team-mate Esapekka Lappi (Finland).
Toyota’s line-up is the full-season trio of Tanak, Kris Meeke (GB) and Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) while for the second time this year there is a fourth Yaris WRC for Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta.
Hyundai shuffles its line-up again with Neuville joined by Spanish star Dani Sordo and nine-time world champ Sebastien Loeb (France) — who makes his sixth appearance for the Korean marque and is the defending winner of the Spanish event having taken victory for Citroen last year.
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 12 of 14):
1 Ott Tanak (Estonia) Toyota, 240pts
2 Sebastien Ogier (France) Citroen, 212pts
3 Thierry Neuville (Belgium) Hyundai, 199pts
4 Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) Hyundai, 102 pts
5 Kris Meeke (GB) Toyota, 98pts
6 Elfyn Evans (GB) Ford, 90pts
1 Hyundai, 340pts
2 Toyota, 332pts
3 Citroen. 278
4 M-Sport Ford, 200pts