After the twists and turns of Corsica, the WRC moves on to its second successive asphalt event in Spain.

The 40th Rally Catalunya, based in the seaside town of Lloret de Mar, is the fifteenth and penultimate round of the year and the final European event on the calendar - with Rally Australia taking the place of Wales Rally GB as the season finale.

Spain will also host the final round of the 2004 Junior World Rally Championship, where one of four drivers will secure the title.

Lloret de Mar will host the ceremonial start on Thursday 21 October before the event proper gets underway on Friday morning, with the first stage taking place at 0906hrs.

Among the 20 stages are two runs through the famous St Julia stage on Saturday, before the winner is decided on Sunday in a ceremonial finish back in Lloret de Mar at 1500hrs.

Special notes:

Rally Catalunya is the final asphalt event of the season, and the second successive rally to be held in the Mediterranean.

Unlike the Corsican event that precedes it, the Spanish event is held on fast flowing roads, where is it not uncommon to see drivers cutting corners to maximise their speed and lower their stage time - whether they get it right or not depends on how good the pace notes are that they work from. It also makes it slightly more difficult for drivers running lower down the order, who also have to contend with the mud and debris pulled onto the road by the cars in front.

The autumn date also makes for unpredictable weather, meaning that tyre choice and accurate forecasting is crucial as getting it wrong can seriously affect a drivers chances of success.

The Spanish are passionate about their rallying, and this season maybe more so than normal, as the 2004 Rally Catalunya will be the last time 'King' Carlos Sainz competes in front of his adoring fans before retiring at the end of the year.

FIA World Rally Championship news:

Second place in France was good enough for Sebastien Loeb to clinch his first WRC title, and he heads into the final two rounds of the year with an unassailable 30 point advantage. Behind him Petter Solberg sits second, but faces a battle with Markko Martin and Carlos Sainz for the runners up spot. With Sainz third in Corsica, Citroen also clinched the constructors' title. Ford have a 19 point cushion over Subaru in second spot.
News from the Manufacturers' teams:
555 Subaru World Rally Team:

[Petter Solberg, car #1 and Mikko Hirvonen, car #2.]

Last season, Petter Solberg finished fifth in Spain en route to the World Title, but already this season he knows he can't defend his crown. Instead 'Hollywood' will have to settle for second, but to do that he first has to fend off the challenge of Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin - the Estonian being the man Solberg feels is the one to beat after his win in Corsica.

Team-mate Mikko Hirvonen isn't an experienced campaigner in Spain, with just one previous attempt on the event - a 14th place finish last season in Ford Focus. With more confidence following the tarmac event in France, he will looking to finish in the points.
Citroen Total:

[Sebastien Loeb, car #3 and Carlos Sainz, car #4]

The rest of the field need to be aware - after taking the titles in France the Citroen boys have been let off the leash by team boss Guy Frequelin.

"On Sunday evening in Ajaccio, I told them that I have revised my usual objective," the boss said. "I usually tell them to drive as quickly as possible without leaving the road. In Spain and Australia, they will be free to go as fast as they want, without hurting themselves."

Sebastien Loeb doesn't appear to have a weakness at the moment, and he admits that he can now go for maximum attack from the start rather than having to think of other things. For Carlos Sainz it promises to be an emotional weekend, as he prepares for his home event for the final time and he admits that he would love to win for his adoring home crowd.
Marlboro Peugeot Total:

[Marcus Gronholm, car #5 and Freddy Loix car #6].

Freddy Loix finished seventh in Corsica and in Spain he replaces Cedric Robert as the second nominated points scorer alongside Marcus Gronholm. Although he missed out last season when Hyundai didn't take part in the event, Loix is a fan of the event and feels he can challenge for the podium.

"I will be under no particular pressure since Peugeot Sport's management has left it up to me to choose my own pace," he said. "As long as we are reliable, I think I can finish on the podium. We saw in Germany that we were competitive in terms of outright speed and also that the 307 WRC has progressed. Our recent testing in Corsica was very encouraging and, especially if the going is dry, the car promises to be quite awesome."

Ford Motor Company:

[Markko Martin, car #7 and Francois Duval, car #8.]

Its probably safe to say that Ford were the team to beat in Corsica. Markko Martin and Francois Duval were 1-2 until Duval was forced out on stage nine, and only two stages in the whole event were not won by a Focus WRC04.

Catalunya should suit the Focus again with outgoing champion Petter Solberg feeling they are the team to beat. Martin for one isn't about to disagree.

"The car is competitive everywhere," he said, "but our result in Corsica confirmed to me that the Focus RS is the fastest rally car on asphalt. We have to ensure that we can reach the same level in Spain."

Duval prefers the tight and twisty roads of Corsica to the flowing stages of Spain, but he still feels that the potential podium he lost a fortnight ago can be achieved this weekend.

"Spain is probably my least favourite asphalt event," he said. "I prefer Corsica, Monte Carlo and Germany. But, after our pace in Corsica, I think it's possible to finish on the podium, and that would be a good result for me."
Mitsubishi Motor Sports:

[Gilles Panizzi, car #9 and Daniel Sola, car #10.]

Mitsubishi return to WRC action in Spain, with a two car entry for tarmac expert Gilles Panizzi and Daniel Sola. Panizzi in particular is a fan of the event, having won Rally Catalunya for the past two seasons. Last season it was a masterful drive in wet condition on the very last stage that saw him win and who can forget Panizzi throwing his Peugeot 206 into a deliberate 360-degree spin at the famous spectating point underneath the bridge on the Viladrau stage in 2002.

Now, Panizzi will attempt to clinch a hat-trick of Spanish wins in his Mitsubishi and although he admits a repeat of the last two seasons is unlikely, he does feel the team are heading in the right direction.

"The last three tests were very good," he said, "and I think it was a good decision for the team to concentrate on the development of the car. The set-up is getting better and better, and now we have a good car - a really good car."

Junior World Rally Championship:

After six rounds, the JWRC title fight will be decided in the seventh and final event in Spain. British driver Guy Wilks currently heads the field with a three point advantage over fellow Suzuki driver Per-Gunnar Andersson. Kosti Katajamaki is the third Suzuki driver who can still take the championship while Renault driver Nicolas Bernardi is the fourth driver who can still win the title.

Its also worth keeping an eye out for Kris Meeke this weekend, as he will give the new Citroen C2 its debut in Spain.

Other significant entries:

Skoda completes its limited programme in the 2004 WRC this weekend, with a three car entry in the event. Regular drivers Toni Gardemeister and Armin Schwarz will be joined by Jan Kopecky, who appears in the Fabia WRC for the first time this year. It will be a poignant weekend for Paavo Lukander as he co-drives alongside Gardemeister for the final time before retiring.

Other notable entries include Gigi Galli in a third Mitsubishi run by Ralliart Italy, Anthony Warmbold (Ford), Nicolas Vouilloz (Peugeot) and Stephane Sarrazin (Subaru), while DTM Champion Mattias Ekstrom will be competing in a Group N Mitsubishi.
Schedule:

The rally begins with a ceremonial start in Lloret de Mar on Thursday evening, before the action gets underway on Friday.

Friday is made up of six stages totalling 115.04km, with eight stages totalling 162.88km of running on Saturday and 106.16km of action in six stages on Sunday, all located around the service area in Vic.

Hot tip:

Markko Martin should be the favourite following his dominant showing in Corsica, but surely nobody would begrudge Carlos Sainz a victory in his final rally in front of the Spanish fans.

Last year:

No matter what happens this weekend, surely the 2004 Rally Catalunya will struggle to follow last years event. Then Gilles Panizzi stole the event from Sebastien Loeb on the final stage with an inspired drive in the wet to take victory by just 13 seconds. Markko Martin completed the podium ahead of team-mate Duval and Petter Solberg with Marcus Gronholm sixth. Carlos Sainz, Tommi Makinen, Colin McRae and Philippe Bugalski completed the top ten. Didier Auriol and Richards Burns were the only two major retirements.