Rally Catalunya Wrapup

It was quite a weekend in Spain, and the championship table has a distinctly different look to it. It was generally a dry, quick rally, though the rains came early in the day on Sunday and benefited the boys from Subaru immensely, but more on that in a moment.

First. the surprise winner was Gilles Panizzi, finally finding his tarmac form from last season. Panizzi kept the leaders in his sights all weekend, and used a strong showing on the final stages to take the victory. Sebastien Loeb was very solid all weekend, holding the lead most of the way. His second place puts him atop the championship table, tied with teammate Carlos Sainz. Markko Martin took third place, just half a second behind Loeb. This was a rough rally for Martin, as he was suffering the effects of his shunt in Corsica. Francois Duval had another solid rally, turning in a fourth place finish.

Fifth place went to Petter Solberg, who now holds second place in the championship, only one point behind Sainz and Loeb. It was quite a rally for Solberg — he was driving well on day one, keeping the leaders close despite the dry conditions (not where the Impreza excels). Then, a problem during the first service halt required extra time to fix (the bearing in his alternator went bad), and Solberg was assessed a 50 second penalty, dropping him from third to tenth. He never found his rhythm over the next day and half, but his prayers were answered when the rains came on Sunday. Solberg made up an amazing minute and half over just a few stages, and jumped from tenth to fifth. Teammate Tommi Makinen also took advantage of the conditions, jumping into the points in eighth place.

Rounding out the points were Marcus Gronholm and Carlos Sainz. Sainz really had a chance to distance himself from the field in the championship standings, but it wasn’t to be. Fortunutely, he’s still tied for the lead and he definitely holds an advantage over the lesser-experienced Loeb.

The biggest loser this weekend? Richard Burns. He was in the middle of the points all weekend until he smashed a wheel during SS19 on Sunday. Burns is still in the title hunt, five points behind the leaders, but he’s got to rely on both his driving and his opponents driving to take the win in Britain. Colin McRae also had a rally to forget, finishing in ninth place. Though McRae didn’t have championship hopes, his poor finish allowed Peugeot to claw back into the manufacturer’s championship.

So it all comes down the muddy Welsh roads of the Rally Great Britain for the championship. The tactics should be quite interesting. Solberg won in Britain last year, but his strategy this year has been steady, controlled drives that build up speed as weekend progresses. I don’t think Solberg will go on maximum attack from the start — he will wait to see what the other contenders choose. Loeb may attack from the start, hoping that he can carry over his speed from the sealed surface events. Though he is the least experienced of the contenders, he’s shown a great deal of maturity all season, and I wouldn’t expect that to change. Sainz too will wait and see how things unfold. Markko Martin will no doubt be gunning for the win here (he took second last year), and I doubt that anyone will challenge him with the championship on the line. It should be quite a weekend!