Catalunya - BFGoodrich - Preview
After a month's break in September, which was marked by the sad news of the death of Colin McRae (1995 World Champion, 25 WRC wins), WRC action resumes next weekend on the Costa Daurada in Spain where asphalt experts Sebastien Loeb
Sordo and François Duval (Citroën) will be looking to see off Ford's Mikko Hirvonen and the soon-to-retire Marcus Grönholm.
The 19th Century saw the birth of Antoni Gaudi, the celebrated architect responsible for some of Barcelona's finest monuments, including the Unesco-listed Casa Mila and the Güell Palace. Gaudi's work was unique and the Catalonian was recognised as a master of the undulating facade, rounded forms and the straight lines that ran between them. Gaudi died a pauper when he was knocked down by a tramway but a process campaigning for him to be beatified could well one day see him immortalised as a blessed man.
To stand a chance of being 'blessed' on this weekend's Rally Catalunya, the drivers would do well to take inspiration from Gaudi's grasp of the perfect curve, in their case high in the mountains that tower over the Costa Daurada.
The Spanish round is viewed by many as the World Championship's finest asphalt rally, with beckoning, wide stages, smooth, clean tarmac (well, first time through anyway!) and flowing sequences of fast corners which the drivers do not hesitate to cut so as not to shed speed.
And BFGoodrich tyres in all that? Well, their rounded form would no doubt have appealed to Gaudi.
However, it's the technical features of the g-Force Profiler that the WRC fraternity particularly appreciates. Tyres for the Rally Catalunya need to be extremely responsive and provide outstanding steering precision through the sequences of fast corners to minimise the time that lapses between the moment the driver turns the steering wheel and the moment the car actually turns.
"Tyre wear isn't really an issue on the Rally Catalunya because the local asphalt tends not to be too abrasive and temperatures probably won't be very high in October," observes BFGoodrich's Chief Technician Patrick Letort.
"But while the compound suffers little, the casing and the seating of the tyre on the rim face a tough time because of the constant corner cutting. The run-flat mousse used by WRC drivers is a big ally, especially for the second or third passes, by which time the stages are generally littered with stones and gravel," Letort explains.
A month after Grönholm's incredible victory by just three tenths of a second in New Zealand, Rally Catalunya promises to provide the backdrop to yet another clash between Sebastien Loeb
, winner of the last two visits, and Marcus Grönholm, current leader of the 2007 Drivers' championship, although asphalt specialists like Dani Sordo (Citroën C4) and François Duval (Citroën Xsara WRC) will also be eager to join the fray...
The Costa Daurada south of Barcelona is generally a very sunny place, but rain can often move in over coastal peaks at the beginning of Autumn. Tyres, however, must be chosen in the PortAventura service park, by the sea, several hours in advance.
The outcome of the BFGoodrich-backed 2007 FIA Junior Championship could well be decided in Catalonia. Estonia's Urmo Aava will clinch the crown if he beats his main rival P.G. Andersson by at least seven points. Should he fail, the battle will go down to the final round the following week.