After a five-week break from competition, the World Rally Championship returns to action in Spain this week for the first of two Mediterranean asphalt events on consecutive weekends.
The Rally de Espaaa is the twelfth round in this year's 15-rally championship and it returns for a fourth time to Salou, on the Costa Daurada coast, south-west of Barcelona.
The sweeping roads of the Tarragona region are fast and flowing and can be compared to a race circuit in their characteristics. The asphalt is smooth but often abrasive, and can quickly become slippery as drivers cut across the open corners to shave tenths of a second from their special stage times and drag stones and dirt onto the surface.
The roads will become especially slippery for the second pass of stages in the afternoon after the whole entry has already tackled the morning speed tests. It places huge importance on the work of drivers' safety crews, who pass through the stages ahead of competitors. They note sections of road where conditions have changed and relay the information to co-drivers who modify their pace notes accordingly before starting the tests.
Rally Catalunya is often said to be the closest the WRC gets to a circuit race, owing to its smooth and flowing asphalt surface. Most of the rally route has been resurfaced over the years making the roads clean and grippy, in contrast to the dirty asphalt of the last sealed surface event in Germany in mid-August.
The rally itself is based in Europe's largest theme park, PortAventura, in the holiday destination of Salou, which lies 110 kilometres south-west of Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast.
Rally Catalunya is scheduled in the region's spring season, and whilst generally pleasant and popular with holidaymakers and rally fans alike, the weather can be notoriously changeable.
Temperatures are expected to rest between 10 and 20 degrees Celsius, but rain can soon form as clouds crest the surrounding mountains of the Tarragona region and the inclement weather builds. On the smooth roads, sudden storms can easily flood the surrounding drainage systems and make grip levels very treacherous.
The organisers have made some small changes to the stages since last year, with the inclusion of two brand new speed tests on Saturday.