Three title opportunities at the Polo R WRC’s 50th outing in the World Rally Championship – Volkswagen lines up at the Rally Spain fully focused and brimming with optimism. Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia could be crowned champions in the Drivers and Co-Drivers’ Championship for the fourth year in a row. Team-mates Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger are best placed to stop them. The winners of last year’s Rally Spain trail the defending champions by 68 points in second place in the overall standings.
The third Volkswagen duo of Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila will also have their sights set on victory in Spain. The team could also get its hands on the title in the Manufacturers’ World Championship. To achieve this, however, they would be dependent on other results going their way.
The Rally Spain, which features 321.08 kilometres against the clock, spread over 19 special stages, is a one-off in the World Rally Championship – it is the only race held on both gravel and asphalt.
It’s all about the mix: gravel and asphalt demand quick changeovers
The Rally Spain is the only rally on the WRC calendar with a mixture of surfaces. Friday’s special stages are all held on gravel. The cars will predominantly be on asphalt roads on Saturday and Sunday. The driver who can switch quickly from one rally mode to another will have a big advantage here. 115.90 kilometres of special stage are on loose ground, 205.18 kilometres against the clock are on hard asphalt.
The most intense service of the year – a new car in 75 minutes
1,348 components to be replaced in 13 modules – the Volkswagen mechanics face what is probably the most intense service of the year on Friday evening. When gravel mode is replaced by asphalt mode, the Polo R WRC is transformed from a “long-legged” gravel car to a low-lying asphalt racer. The 318-hp four-wheel drive car is fitted with new front and rear axles, giving it chassis components from the asphalt set-up, different brake discs and pads, and new spring/damper units. There is some good news for the mechanics, however: instead of the usual 45-minute flexi service, the Volkswagen team this time has 75 minutes to complete the service.
“Our goal was to establish a good position in the title race at the asphalt rallies in Germany and France. We could not have been more successful in this regard, taking two wins in a row. We have taken a good step towards winning the title and can relax a little as we look ahead to the coming rallies, as we no longer need so many points to secure the title.
The Rally Spain is an event that is driven on both asphalt and gravel – the only race with different surfaces within the same rally. That is why I like this round of the World Rally Championship so much.
I was very successful there in 2013 and 2014. Last year I made a mistake on the final stage, the Power Stage, which cost us victory. I promise that will not happen again this year. However, I am not in Spain to make amends for that mistake. The opportunity to win the 2016 world championship is motivation enough for me.”
“The Rally France was a tough weekend for me. We have looked very carefully at why that was the case, and have drawn our conclusions.
We are now looking ahead to the Rally Spain. I really enjoy it and have finished runner-up for the last four years.
You must pay particular attention to the Recce in Spain, and ensure that the pace notes are even more accurate than usual. Only a few changes have been made to the route, so there is no need to make drastic changes to the pace notes.
The special stages in Spain are also shorter than in France, which suits me. All in all, I’m very motivated to do well at the Rally Spain. After my previous results there, this is an event I really want to win.”
“The Rally Spain is unique and I have fond memories of it. There that I celebrated my first victory in the World Rally Championship last year.
I have few problems coping with the abrupt switch from gravel to asphalt. You have to be wide awake on Saturday morning when the surface changes. I managed that very well last year. However, I would like to be quicker on day one this time than I was last year. I lost too much time to the leaders in 2015.
This year, I will really put my foot down on Thursday evening in Barcelona and on Friday, in order to avoid falling too far behind early on. If I can manage that, I am confident that I can repeat my victory in Spain again this year. That will be fantastic, as I need the points to defend second place in the championship. Victory would be a significant step closer to this goal.”