Just days after an emphatic victory on the Tour de Corse, the 555 Subaru World Rally Team is already making final preparations ahead of the next round of the 2003 FIA World Rally Championship, Spain's Rallye Catalunya, which begins on Friday, and team boss David Lapworth reckons they now know they've got 'something up their sleeve'.

The 13th and penultimate round of the WRC series, Rallye Catalunya is the last of three consecutive Mediterranean asphalt rallies held in the past four weeks. Renowned for its smooth, demanding stages and crowds of fanatical spectators, the high-speed event is also a firm favourite with the drivers, including Subaru's own Tommi Makinen.

Petter Solberg's win on Sunday promoted him to joint second place in the 2003 drivers' championship, just three points off the lead, and with the end of the season fast approaching, and six drivers still in contention for the title, Catalunya looks set to be one of the most important rallies of the year.

Moved for 2003 from its regular springtime slot to October and the Spanish autumn, the rally is likely to feature more of the unsettled weather and slippery roads that were seen last week in Corsica. Also new for this year is a more compact route, which misses out last year's loop of stages near Tarragona entirely. Instead, all the rally action is based on the mountain roads surrounding a single service area at Vic, 80km north east of the host town, the coastal resort of Lloret de Mar.

"Last week's win has given the whole team a real confidence boost ahead of Catalunya, and that's for a number of reasons," commented Lapworth, "The obvious one is that we proved our performance in damp and wet conditions - we can go into the next two rounds knowing that we've got something up our sleeve.

"The car, the tyres and the drivers all work perfectly in tough conditions, and it's good to know we've got that as a backstop. The other thing was our encouraging performance in Leg 1, when conditions were dry. Both drivers were happy with the car and the tyres, and we know that we can be competitive now in Spain, whatever the conditions.

"Regarding the set-up of the car, it won't really be changed for Spain. We'll take some things that we learnt from Corsica, but make only a few adjustments. There's been no time for a test between the two rallies, and so it's quite nice to be able to go to the next event without any doubts.

"We may run the car slightly lower, it depends how many cuts there are through the stages. Generally though, the roads are smoother in Spain than in Corsica, but you have to be careful, as some stages do include a lot of cuts.

"As far as the rest of the season goes, Corsica reinforced one thing in my mind - that Petter is at his best in difficult conditions. Although the stage conditions in Corsica can't really be compared to those in GB, it's the same kind of challenge, unpredictable conditions, and very slippery. Conditions in which we know that the tyres are good, and the car is strong. So, based on that, if we have a classic wet and muddy Rally of GB, it's going to be right up Petter's street - things are looking good for him."

Leg one starts from Lloret de Mar on Friday 24 October at 0645hrs and with 146 stage kilometres is the longest of the three day event. In total crews will tackle 22 competitive stages, there are 11 different tests and each is repeated. After contesting a total competitive distance of 381 kilometres, the winning car will cross the finish podium back in Lloret de Mar at 1509hrs on Sunday.

 

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