Catalunya : Suzuki Motorsport
Less than one week after the all-asphalt Rallye de France-Tour de Corse, the Suzuki drivers have another taste of sealed surfaces with the Catalunya Rally – run straight after the French classic. Suzuki Swift drivers Guy Wilks and P-G Andersson
missed Corsica, in accordance with Junior World Rally Championship regulations, which requite every crew to drop one score. But they are back in Spain, which is the final round of the Junior World Rally Championship, and they are joined as always by the regular contingent of Suzuki Ignis drivers.
Spain is also where this year's Junior World Rally Championship will be decided. Citroen driver Daniel Sordo currently leads the standings by eight points from Guy Wilks: they are the only two drivers who can win the title. However, as a win carries 10 points, Guy will need to win with Sordo finishing lower than seventh in order to claim the title.
This year's Catalunya Rally is very different to previous editions, as the headquarters has moved south to Tarragona after many years at Lloret de Mar. This means that the stages are all new, apart from some that were last used several seasons ago. In any case, they are all new for the Junior World Championship drivers.
The headquarters may be different, but the asphalt stages are largely similar in character to those that have been used in the past. The roads are generally wide, fast and flowing, with smooth asphalt that can however be abrasive in places. Spain is the quickest asphalt rally of them all so accurate pace notes are essential in order to describe the correct 'racing line' through all the fast corners.
The weather can change the character of the rally in an instant, as rain is a common occurrence in Catalunya at this time of year. Some of the stages are run in the mountains, and the probability of rain increases at high altitude. The asphalt roads can become very slippery when wet and the Junior World Rally Championship cars have only two-wheel drive, which means that traction and grip is a critical factor.
Both Suzuki Swift drivers completed a five-day test in Spain before the event, driving on roads similar to those they will encounter on the rally. Each driver drove for two and a half days, and Guy Wilks feels extremely confident of a good result on Spanish asphalt. He said: "I'm not going to think about the championship at all: it's entirely out of my hands anyway. Instead I am going to concentrate on trying to win the rally, and then we will see what happens. The test and recce went well: the roads seem very interesting and they flow nicely. I think it will be quite a technical rally, and it should suit our car. It is nice to drive on a completely new event: it will be exactly the same for everybody, and nobody will have an advantage in terms of experience."
Reigning Junior World Rally Champion P-G Andersson will not be able to retain his title this year, but he is targeting a win in Spain as the first step towards regaining the title in 2006. The Swede reported: "I had a very good feeling with the car during the test. I completed about 150 kilometres, and the car felt better than it did on the last asphalt rally in Germany. I hope it stays dry so we can get a really good idea of our performance on dry asphalt. I'm already thinking of next year now: if we can win in Spain, it will be a great way to start the season in 2006."
As well as the two new Swifts, Suzuki Sport Europe will run a pair of Ignis Super 1600 cars for Kosti Katajamaki and Urmo Aava. Czech team JM Engineering will additionally run an Ignis for Czech Pavel Valousek. Finally, there will be another Ignis run by Czech team Jipocar for Martin Prokop.
Kosti Katajamaki, who finished an excellent third in Corsica last week, commented: "The result in Corsica did a lot for my asphalt experience and confidence. I think we can start the Catalunya Rally at full speed now: in any case Spain is less specialised than Corsica and nobody has previous experience of the event. I'm really looking forward to starting, but if there is rain it will be really difficult to predict what will happen. I am not an asphalt specialist, so rain could even help us."
Urmo Aava said: "We had a few problems in Corsica, but at least we got to the finish and put in the kilometres that we needed in order to start Catalunya fully prepared. I think Spain should suit me a bit better: the rally is faster and it is easier to pick up a rhythm."
Pavel Valousek, who had an adventurous time in Corsica, commented: "I hope Spain will be more straightforward, with no accidents or any other problems! The biggest difficulty I had in Corsica was judging the different levels of grip: from what I can see of the Catalunya Rally during the recce the grip should be more consistent."
Martin Prokop reported: "As has been the case with all the rallies, my aim is just to get to the finish in Spain and learn as much as I can about this event. I start this rally with less of an experience disadvantage, as nobody has done it before. My best finish so far this year is sixth: it would be fantastic to improve on that, but I still need more time in the car on asphalt."
Suzuki Sport President Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima stated: "So far the Swift has finished on the podium on every event it has entered. We had a very good test with the Swift in Spain, so we hope this will translate into another good result. It is an important rally, as this will be the first event for our new car on 'normal' asphalt roads. Germany was not really representative of other asphalt events. Corsica proved that the Ignis is still very strong in these conditions, so we look forward to a good rally for all our drivers."
The Catalunya Rally gets underway with a ceremonial start in Salou on Thursday 27 October at 20:00 (CET). Crews then go on to tackle 15 special stages totalling 358 kilometres before the finish back in Salou on Sunday 30 October at 13:30 (CET).
Press release Suzuki Motorsport