The World Rally Championship revs into the seaside tourist town of Salou, Spain for the penultimate race of the 2013 tour.
The honour of the final race of the season has been bestowed on Wales this year, after the Rally de Espana acted as the curtain closer to last year’s tour.
The world of rally driving crowned its first new champion in over nine years during the Rallye de France-Alsace at the beginning of the month. Sebastien Ogier took home the big prize with two races to spare, bringing an end to the dominance enjoyed by Sebastien Loeb, who had finished top of the pile every year since 2004.
|Rally de Espana 2013: Podium Predictions|
|1||Sebasatien Ogier||Volkswagen Motorsport|
|2||Dani Sordo||Abu Dhabi Citroen Total World Rally Team|
|3||Jari-Matti Latvala||Volkswagen Motorsport|
Loeb’s supremacy on tour was evident at the Rally de Espana down the years. The French driver boasts eight consecutive victories in Salou, but after retiring three weeks ago, this year’s race is wide open.
The rally in the Iberian Peninsula is the only true mixed-surface round during the year, according to WRC, and is challenging for drivers, engineers and mechanics alike.
Drivers have to negotiate tarmac over the first two days of the competition before switching to gravel on Sunday. WRC call it the “Jekyll and Hyde style transformation” as teams have just 75 minutes to convert their cars for the change in surface.
Plenty can happen over 15 stages on 355 kilometres of road, but here’s a look at who we think will be popping champagne on the podium.
Top Drivers to Watch
Ogier has already sewn up the drivers’ championships but he will be eager to impress in Spain after bowing out of the race early in both 2011 and 2012.
It will be his first race as world champion and he is the only driver, besides Loeb, to have won on both gravel and asphalt this year—per WRC.
The 29-year-old, who was a teammate of Formula One’s Kimi Raikkonen in 2010, has won seven races this year in Sweden, Mexico, Portugal, Italy, Finland, Australia and in front of his home support in France.
Sordo will be absolutely gunning for top spot this weekend. The Spaniard has finished on the podium five times at his home race without ever winning.
The driver, who competes for the Abu Dhabi Citroen Total World Rally Team, finally got his hands on a maiden race win in Germany this year, and after finishing runner-up in the last race in France he arrives in Salou full of confidence.
Sordo was the Spanish National Rally Champion in 2005 and would love nothing more than to come good at home on the main tour.
Latvala, a teammate of Ogier at Volkswagen, currently sits third in the drivers' championship on 125 points and will relish the opportunity to win in Spain.
According to WRC, Latvala will race without the limitations of team orders this weekend after Ogier already sewed up the title in Spain. Team boss Jost Capito told the WRC website that they can each fight for the win.
“They can do whatever they want and show what they are capable of," Capito explained. "I love to see the competition.”
Volkswagen currently lead the constructors’ title race and need just six points to ensure they stay there when the season ends. If, or rather when, they seal top spot they will become the first manufacturer to win the title in their maiden year of racing.
The Finnish driver, who finished third in the overall standings last season, sits in third spot this year and will be hoping a good performance this weekend is enough to hold off the challenge of Sordo, who sits seven points behind him in fourth place.