Volkswagen takes on a mixture of asphalt and gravel at the Rally Spain

51 per cent unfamiliar terrain at penultimate WRC round of 2015

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By Olivier Ferret

16 October 2015 - 17:30
Volkswagen takes on a mixture of (...)

All eyes on the surface – Volkswagen faces a unique challenge when it lines up with the Polo R WRC at the Rally Spain (22–25 October). The twelfth and penultimate round of this season’s FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) is the only one on the WRC calendar, at which the drivers go up against the clock on both asphalt and gravel. Two men, in particular, have proven to be experts in this field: reigning champions and champions elect* Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia (F/F). Last year, the two Frenchmen wrapped up their second World Championship title on the Iberian Peninsula, with one round still to come. In 2013, when Volkswagen won the Manufacturers’ Championship, the winners in Spain were once again Ogier/Ingrassia. Second place in a Volkswagen one-two in both years went to Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), who are currently second in the World Championship and arrive in Spain on the back of their recent victory on Corsica. Success at the Rally France on Corsica saw Latvala/Anttila extend their advantage in the overall standings over the third Volkswagen duo of Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (N/N) to 34 points. Should Latvala/Anttila retain at least 28 points of their lead on Mikkelsen/Fløene, who are third in the World Championship, they would be guaranteed to end the season as runners-up in the overall standings.

"The Rally Spain is unique. We must ensure the Polo is ideally set up for both gravel and asphalt," said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. "This not only means that the driver and co-driver must be wide awake and able to adapt well to the changing conditions, but also puts the entire team to the test – particularly the mechanics. We have done a good job of switching from gravel to asphalt for the past two years, and have been successful in Spain. This year, we are obviously hoping to make it a hat-trick of wins. Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila dominated on Corsica and travel to Spain brimming with confidence. Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia were unfortunate at their home rally – it goes without saying that they are now hungry to bounce back with what would be their eighth win of the season. Andreas Mikkelsen and Ola Fløene have not yet given up on second place in the overall standings. It will certainly be exciting."

New this year – 23 special stages, 51 per cent unfamiliar terrain

Asphalt, gravel, asphalt, asphalt – this sequence of road surfaces is what awaits the elite of the WRC on Thursday and the three subsequent days of rallying. And that is not the only challenge: the 51st staging of the Rally Spain features a total of 23 special stages – seven more than in 2014 – with 331.25 kilometres against the clock. The driver/co-driver crews must write new pace notes for 51 per cent of the route.

A wide range of challenges – the 2015 Rally Spain

The Rally Spain poses a wide range of challenges to the drivers and co-drivers. Like last year, the 3.2-kilometre "Barcelona" special stage will be held on Montjuïc on Thursday evening. The site of the International Exposition in 1929 and the 1992 Summer Olympics will attract spectators aplenty when the WRC elite open the Rally Spain on the narrow route in the Catalonian metropolis. In contrast, Friday is set to be a dusty affair, as the itinerary features the first of the gravel stages – all of which are covered with a fine layer of gravel, more of which will be swept off the road with every World Rally Car that passes. Typical: the "Terra Alta" special stage, with its five changes of surface and central asphalt section. At 35.68 kilometres, it is also the longest stage at the Rally Spain.

A lot of feeling and good line selection – the key to success at the Rally Spain

After giving the World Rally Cars a complete overhaul to switch to their asphalt set-up, the teams then face a total 199.45 kilometres against the clock on Saturday and Sunday. Parts of last year’s "Riudecanyes" stage will this time be tackled in the opposite direction on "Duesaigües". The second running of this stage will also form the Power Stage, on which extra points towards the Drivers’ and Co-Drivers’ Championship are up for grabs. The rally has made the two roundabouts on this stage famous throughout Spain. It goes without saying that the drivers must pull off a crowd-pleasing donut on one of these. Narrow, winding downhill sections also define this famous stage. The Rally Spain demands a lot of feel for the car on the gravel sections and a good sense for the perfect line on the winding asphalt roads, some of which are reminiscent of classic racetracks.

One-twos, titles, milestones – happy stomping ground in Spain

Two wins from two appearances, the first one-two in the history of the Polo R WRC, the Manufacturer’s title with one round to go in 2013, and the Drivers’/Co-Drivers’ Championships for Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia last year – the asphalt and gravel roads of the Rally Spain have proven to be a happy stomping ground for Volkswagen. Last year, Ogier/Ingrassia and Latvala/Anttila pulled off a spectacular tenth one-two with the 318-hp four-wheel drive car from Wolfsburg. Coming into this year’s Rally Spain, the three Volkswagen crews now have a total of 16 one-twos to their name.

* Subject to the official publication of the results by the FIA.

Quotes ahead of the Rally Spain

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1

"When I think of the Rally Spain, the success we have enjoyed for the last two years obviously springs to mind. In 2014, Julien and I won to secure our second Drivers’ title In 2013, we helped Volkswagen wrap up the Manufacturers’ Championship with one rally still to come. Those scenes of jubilation and the big smiles on the faces of everyone in the team – you simply don’t forget memories like that in a hurry. This year we want to have cause for celebration again. Especially after what was a disappointing Rally France for Julien and me. However, it will be far from easy. Over half of the special stages at the Rally Spain are new, so we are all starting from scratch. Then there is also the added challenge of the different surfaces on the three days of the rally. In 2014 it was a close battle between Jari-Matti Latvala and me. I expect that to be the case again this time. Although we have already won the World Championship, it goes without saying that we will still be pushing hard. I think that is what makes our team so special. Everyone gives 100 per cent and we are all hungry to win."

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2

"The Rally Spain is one of my favourite rallies. Last year Sébastien Ogier and I had a very close battle. I pushed hard right to the finish, and won the closing Power Stage. Unfortunately I missed out on victory by just over eleven seconds. I was not 100 per cent in gravel mode at the start of the rally. I had focussed more on the asphalt set-up, so won most of my special stages on the final day of the rally. However, you must also be set up for gravel on the opening day in Spain if you want to be right up there. I have learned from that: I now know how I need to set up the Polo and that I have to drive cleanly on these sections. The surface on the gravel stages is relatively hard, but it is covered by a fine, loose layer. Victory on Corsica has definitely given me plenty of confidence. There are just two rallies remaining this year – and I want to be in contention to win them both."

Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9

"This year there are a few new special stages at the Rally Spain. That suits me. I like working out new sections, and have always been fast on them in the past. However, one thing has not changed at the Rally Spain: the first day will be on gravel – with the exception of the Barcelona stage on Thursday – and the remaining two days on asphalt. It is always tricky to adjust from gravel to asphalt within a day. Hopefully Ola and I will find our rhythm quickly. Last year a puncture on Saturday cost me over two minutes. Without that, I could have been on the podium. As it was, I had to settle for seventh. I am yet to get through the Rally Spain without making a mistake, so a flawless rally is definitely my goal for this year. A podium would be nice too, but it goes without saying that I would like to be in with a shout of winning. Jari-Matti Latvala’s victory on Corsica increased the gap to him and second place in the overall standings. There are still two rallies to come though, and I am obviously not going to give up. However, I will not put myself under any undue pressure or reflect too much on the situation. Ideally, I will finish ahead of him and get a good result."

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