WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANANEWS & FEATURES RALLY WRC 

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA 2021

After a two year, COVID enforced absence from the FIA World Rally Championship; The RACC Rally Catalunya De Espana made a welcomed return for round 11 of the 2021 season. For an event that first joined the WRC in 1991 and relocated to Salou in 2002, after many years of being a mixed surface event; the penultimate round of the seasons saw a return to an entirely Asphalt event for the first time since 2009.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photos: Hyundai Motorsport WRT

With 17 fast, flowing, super-smooth tarmac stages that covered 280km, the event got underway on Thursday morning with a short 4.3km shakedown test stage over part of the Riudecanyes stage. Here is where the current championship leader Sébastien Ogier posted the fastest time, getting the better of his championship rival and team-mate, Elfyn Evans by just 0.2 seconds.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Toyota Gazoor Racing WRT

Last time out in Finland, Welshman Evans dominated the event not only adding his second win to his season but keeping the title hopes alive. Arriving in Spain, knowing that Ogier would need a win in order to lift his 8th World Title, Evans was quickest out of the blocks on the opening day of the rally.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Black Mountains Media

The first day of the rally featured all-new stages (3 to be repeated) across 112km, Evans won all three of the morning stages on the opening loop of the rally to lead Ogier by 1.4 seconds heading into the midday service. 

But the first day of the rally was to be a game of two halves where Evans won the first; Hyundais Thierry Neuville who was eager to fight in Spain was able to fine-tune his i20 which was plagued with understeer in the morning loop and mount an attack on Evans in the afternoon to win the second half.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Hyundai Motorsport WRT

The Belgian emerged from the midday service with a car that was working much better and was able to get the better of Evans on all three of the repeated afternoon stages.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Toyota Gazoor Racing WRT

Evans was still very much on the pace until a big moment on SS5 La Granadella when he took a cut which sent him wide and clipping the curb on the opposite side of the stage. After this scary high-speed moment, Evans was a little more tentative from here on; this meant that Thierry Neuville ended the opening day with a slender 0.7 advantage with Ogier some 18.7 seconds off the pace in third.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Black Mountains Media

“I am feeling more comfortable in the car and I am looking forward to tomorrow. On the twisty stages I could have been so much faster, but I just couldn’t get the turn-in and we need to work on that. Tomorrow is a different profile – it’s a bit more open so it should suit us better.”

Thierry Neuville

But while one Hyundai driver ended his day on top, it was a totally different story for another. Birthday boy Ott Tänak who was also suffering understeer would once again retire from a rally. On SS4 Vilaplane 2 the Estonian went wide hitting a tree, the impact broke the left rear corner to his i20 and he was forced into retirement.

In the WRC2 class, what started off as a great battle between championship hopeful, Mads Ostberg and returnee Eric Camille who were both in Citroen C3 Rally2 cars. Ostberg would yet again find himself on the opening day of a rally playing catch up following a puncture on SS5 La Granadella 2.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Red Bull Content Pook

“I just try to avoid all the cuts and you just end up driving in the gravel. I don’t know what to do …. it’s very frustrating. We are just following the lines that everyone else is doing. I have to go to sleep and try to wake up in another mood, I think.”

Mads Ostberg

Ostberg’s misfortune handed the class lead over to Camilli who ended the opening day with a sizable lead of over 20 seconds to Teemu Suninen who was making his first appearance in the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 specification car in Spain.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

The second leg of the rally saw a return to more familiar stages, a further 117km across 7 stages would end on the Salou seafront in the evening.

Overnight rally leader Neuville began the day in a fog blanket over the 14km SS7 Savalla test and got his day off to an ideal start. The Belgian opened up his morning with a stage win over Evans and continued to extend his lead over the morning loop.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Black Mountains Media

Neuville won all three of the morning’s stages to end the loop with a lead to Evans which had increased to 9 seconds heading into the midday service halt.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Hyundai Motorsport WRT

Back out after service and over the course of the afternoon’s loop, Neuville continued to extend his lead over Evans. By winning a further two stages, he ended the day with a 16.4-second lead heading into the final day. 

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Hyundai Motosport WRT

“Obviously when everything is going the right way, it feels good and it’s a pleasure to drive. It wasn’t an easy day, conditions were tricky in the morning with very dirty stages, I relied on the information from my route note crew and I felt comfortable in the car. I think we set six fastest times so it’s not too bad.”

Thierry Neuville

Evans was having an OK day but the early pace that he had on the opening morning of the rally was missing and he simply couldn’t match the pace of Neuville at all on this leg.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Toyota Gazoor Racing WRT

Evans’s teammate Ogier had, however, found a little more speed in the afternoon’s loop and managed to break Neuville’s run of stage wins on SS11 and SS12. But on the final Salou street stage, Ogier stalled his Yaris and dropped the time that he had regained on Evans over the afternoon.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

In the WRC2 class, Eric Camilli continued to lead the field, despite only gaining a single stage win the Frenchman continued to extend his lead over Teemu Suninen. Mads Ostberg was trying to claw back as much time but ended the day in 4th overall some 1 minute 48 seconds behind.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Sports & You

The final day of the rally covered just 51km across two repeated stages, Thierry Neuville began the day with a 16.4 second lead to Elfyn Evans but it was Neuville’s teammate, Dani Sordo who would impress in the darkness of the final morning. The Spaniard took both stage wins to overtake Sébastien Ogier for third before heading back to the final service stop.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Hyundai Motorsport WRT

Sordo once again came out strong winning the repeated daylight run of the Santa Marina stage and now had a 2.3-second gap to Ogier. With just the final run over the Riudecanyes power stage to remain the local hero was looking good for the final podium place on his home event.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Hyundai Motorsport WRT

As the rain began to fall towards the end of the stage, Eric Camilli cruised through the final Power Stage in his Citron C3 Rally 2 car to take the WRC2 Class win ahead of Teemu Suninen.

WRC | RD11 RALLY RACC CATALUNYA DE ESPANA

Photo: Sports & You

Unfortunately for the seven times World Champion, Sébastien Ogier he was not able to secure his 8th title in Spain and will have to wait for the final round in Monza; the Frenchman had a slow start to the rally and wasn’t able to challenge for the win that he needed. A 4th place finish is the best that he could muscle up after losing the third spot on the podium to Dani Sordo on the final morning of the rally, he also seemed a little downhearted at the stop line.

WRC | RD11 SPAIN

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Spaniard Dani Sordo had a quiet start to his home rally, but made steady progress ending the rally with a final morning surge where he stole the third spot on the podium from Ogier. The part-time Hyundai driver really wanted this, his 50th career podium and fully deserved it, and he signed off with the final power stage win.

WRC RD11 SPAIN

Photo: Hyundai Motorsport WRT

For Welshman Elfyn Evans, Spain delivered a solid 2nd place finish; there were early signs of a potential victory on the cards from his opening morning performance, but unfortunately, the fine-tuning of the setup to his Yaris did not yield the gains that he had hoped for. The championship fight with his Toyota teammate Ogier is still on and will go to the final round in Monza.

“I’m pleased in one sense but quite frustrated in another. It wasn’t a perfect weekend. Still a pretty solid job, but of course we are fighting a bit of a cause here. Not what we wanted, but there we go.”

Elfyn Evans
WRC RD11 SPAIN

Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Despite a last-minute technical glitch that was an iffy starter motor before the final stage, Thierry Neuville crossed the line some 24 seconds in front to take his second victory of the season and his 15th career win. Even though his championship fight was well and truly over before arriving in Spain, his performance was strong and his efforts keeps the manufacturer’s championship hopes alive for Hyundai heading into the final round at Monza.

“Relieved to be at the end. It was a tough weekend but we fought very hard. We had a good clean run and until near the end everything was perfect. Unfortunately lots of stress before the last stage – again. I am really disappointed about that because otherwise the weekend would have been perfect and nice, but now it isn’t. I don’t know what to say to be honest.”

Thierry Neuville
WRC SPAIN

Photo: Hyundai Motorsport WRT

Although both the drivers and manufacturers titles will go down to the final round at Monza in November, the WRC2 title was indeed crowned in Spain. Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen who wasn’t competing on this event was able to secure the WRC2 Championships following Mads Ostberg 4th place finish.

Words Andy Cook | Feature Photo: Hyundai Motosport WRT

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