The 39th Rallye Catalunya-Costa Brava/Rallye de Espana takes place this weekend, the thirteenth and penultimate round in the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship. Spain will also play host to the sixth round in the 2003 FIA Junior WRC.

This is the last asphalt rally of the year, a classic event run on closed public roads in the hinterland of the Costa Brava.

In order to reduce the length of the road sections and to have a single Service Park, for the actual rally, the event this year is more compact than before. It should also mean that the character of the surfaces is more constant through the event, with less abrasive stretches of road.

Completely different climatic conditions are expected this year, because the rally is now being run in the autumn.

This is the first time a FIA World Championship Rally has ever been held one week after the preceding event.

New this year:

All of the rally will be held this year in the region to the north or north-east of Barcelona. This year the route does not go down to the Tarragona area.

Some stages will be used in both directions. Three stages, which are in the region between Ripoll and Berga, are completely new to this event. The third and sixth stages are run past La Pobla de Lillet, which is at high altitude [1174 metres] and passes a ski centre. The weather can be changeable in this region.

There is a new Service Area on the west side of Vic, operating on the three days of the rally.

There will be a different Shakedown Service Park on the Thursday, at the usual location beneath the famous viaduct on the C25 road.

New date, back again in October, the traditional fixture for the event, 18 months since the last Catalunya Rally.

FIA World Rally Championship news:

The FIA World Motor Sport Council confirmed the various proposals for the 2004 season, notably a 16 round championship.

Events will be organised under two alternative systems, the recommended '1000 Pistes' system, or a system in which there is no morning reconnaissance each day, but instead the organisers will advise crews about recent changes in the conditions on the stages.

The World Council has given teams the opportunity to nominate the second driver on an event-to-event basis, although the number one driver must be nominated for the whole season.

News from the Manufacturers' teams:
Citroen Total:

[Colin McRae, car #17 and Sebastien Loeb, car #18. Also nominated Carlos Sainz, car #19. Also entered Philippe Bugalski, car #20.]

Traditionally, Spain has always been the French company Citroen's second home both commercially and also in sport. It was here they won the company's first ever world championship rally win - 1999, with the two-wheel drive Kit Car, in the hands of Bugalski.

Marlboro Peugeot Total:

[Marcus Gronholm, car #1 and Richard Burns, car #2. Also nominated Gilles Panizzi, car #3].

As in Corsica, plans to run the alternative third team member Harri Rovanpera on this event in a car from the HF Grifone team, have been abandoned. Rovanpera will instead be testing the 307 WRC in Finland at that time.

555 Subaru World Rally Team:

[Petter Solberg, car #7 and Tommi Makinen, car #8.]

Prodrive's new Sporting Director Luis Moya [statistically the most successful and the most experienced rally co-driver in world championship rallying] returns to his home country in his new non-combatant role.

Fod Motor Company:

[Markko Martin car #4 and Francois Duval, car #5, in 2003
specification cars. Also nominated Mikko Hirvonen, car #6 in a 2002 version car].

Markko Martin has made plans to visit the Gymnasium of the racing motorcyclist Alex Criville while they are passing Vic, Criville's hometown, before the rally, for a physical 'top-up'.

Martin noted: "This is the last chance we have to win an asphalt rally this year. After all the hard work carried out by the team to make this car so good on tarmac, it will be such a shame if we don't."

Ford's last asphalt rally win was Catalunya 2000.

Skoda Motorsport:

[Didier Auriol, car #14 and Toni Gardemeister, car #15.]

This will be Didier Auriol's 150th entry on a world championship rally. He is only the third driver to attain this achievement, after Juha Kankkunen and Carlos Sainz. The team are planning a presentation at the shakedown.

Hyundai World Rally Team:

[Armin Schwarz, car #10 and Freddy Loix, car #11.]

Non starters.

Priority two entries:

The Bozian team will run cars for the Czech driver Roman Kresta and Frenchman Cedric Robert.

News from the Junior WRC:

This is the penultimate round of the 2003 JWRC. Alex Broccoli reverts to his Corsa and his own team for this event, after competing in Sanremo with a Clio.

Abdo Feghali plans to have complete new power-train for this event in his Puma run by Astra.

In the continued absence of Marcos Ligato, Top Run has only one car to run on this event, the Punto of Ceccato.

The FIA World Motor Sport Council announced that the 2004 JWRC series would continue to be based on seven qualifying rounds in the European region including Turkey.

Other top runners:

Several leading non-championship Super 1600 crews will be present in Clios, notably Simon Jean-Joseph, Nicolas Bernardi and Per-Gunnar Andersson while the PCWRC driver Ricardo Trivino from Mexico will also be taking part.

Special facts:

There is to be a driver safety presentation at the Vic Service Park at 1030 on Friday, the first day of the event. This is a joint initiative by the FIA and the textile company Dupont.

The move to Vic is highly popular with Spanish enthusiasts. This historic town has been a mecca for rally fans for very many years, and many of the country's top drivers come from this region.

Among these is 55-year-old Antonio Zanini who became FIA European champion in 1980, mostly at the wheel of Porsche cars. Now he is a mentor for another Spanish champion, Daniel Sola, who lives close by. Sola was the FIA's Junior World Champion in 2002. Sola, now registered in the PCWRC will not be taking part. It is an FIA regulation that a Junior World Rally Champion cannot continue competing in that category.

Three Spanish drivers are registered for FIA rally championships this year, Carlos Sainz, Daniel Sola and Salvador Canellas in JWRC - Canellas is rated by the Suzuki team as their star asphalt driver. He is the son of the former SEAT world championship team driver [also Salvador] in the '70s.

Challenge of the event:

There are distinct differences for the tyre companies at Catalunya this year.

Aime Chatard, rally tyre chief at Michelin notes: "Without the abrasive stages south of Barcelona this year, we need not prepare hard compound tyres, which means we can concentrate more on our medium range of tyres."

Fiorenzo Brivio, his counterpart at Pirelli adds: "For us the special characteristic of Catalunya is always the same, the different shape of the roads. In Corsica, for example, it is critically important to have good turn-in, in Catalunya it is the performance round the corners which is critical. Catalunya's roads have much more of a 'racing circuit' style to them."



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