An all asphalt affair: WRC Rally1 arrives in Catalunya.

October 27, 2022

Written by: Chris Hosie

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The 2022 WRC season arrived in Spain for the penultimate round of the season. The drivers title was sealed last time out in New Zealand. Thanks to a terrific drive by Kalle Rovanpera. An effort, aided, by numerous dramas for the other title contenders in the Rally1 class. Allowing the Fin to become the youngest ever world champion since Colin McRae and the first champion of the new Rally1 Hybrid era.

This year, the Rally de Catalunya would be contested as an all tarmac event. As opposed to being a mixed surface event in previous seasons. The rally would start on the Friday with eight stages run over some of the most iconic and Presteigne tarmac on the WRC Calendar.

The title may have been decided but there were still battles to be fought out for the runner up spot and the manufacturer’s title. Elfyn Evans was keen to score a good result this weekend as it would help him in his fight for second place in the championship. Especially as he had both Hyundai’s of Ott Tanak and Thierry Neuville hot on his heals. The best he could hope for was to take the fight to the last round in Japan. Due to the Welshman being way done in fourth in the overall points standings. 

The day would start of brilliantly for the esteemed Japanese mark. With the newly crowned champion taking the first stage victory. He would hold the lead til the outgoing champion, Ogier, would take the lead on SS3. Whilst, also sending the Fin down to Third. Elfyn Evans was going well in the top 5. With Toyotas chances of another manufacturers title looking ever more tangible.  

After a Hyundai resurgence on SS4, Ogier fought back on SS5 and retook the lead. Rovanpera another win on SS7 and closed on his French Teammate. But it was the 8 time champ who ended the day with the overnight lead. Rovanpera was second and Evans was now in sixth. Thanks to a puncture on SS7.

Both Hyundai stars also knew how important a good result would be here. As it would prevent Toyota from wrapping up the Manufacturers title on this event. Despite this, as far as the points table was concerned, it was an almost futile operation. For both Tanak and Neuville were concerned, it wasn’t just the teams fight that was essentially there was also a little matter of who would come second best in the points. As both the Estonian and the Belgian were determined to end their seasons in a strong enough position for a renewed run at the title next year.

Tanak was immediately on the case of the Toyotas. But issues on SS2 would see the Estonian’s charge take a small hit. Neuville was having a better time of it. Taking a slender lead on SS4. At the end of the morning loop. He and the next three cars were covered by just six, slender, seconds. That lead looked in jeopardy afterwards though. The Belgian stopping on the road section. Trying to sort out issues on the right hand side of his Rally1 I20. He then continued and found himself unable to match the pace of the leading two Toyotas. He would end day 1 third with his teammates Tanak and Tarmac ace, Dani Sordo. Rounding out the top five. The Spaniard, in particular having another great run on home ground. 

M-Sport Ford we’re also hoping for a very lucrative result in Spain. After a recent streak of dramatic and, at times, calamitous events. The Cumbria based team was hoping for a very strong end to their rollercoaster of a season. Their drivers, Adrien Fourmaux, Pierre Louis Loubet, Craig Breen and Gus Greensmith, were all gunning for a strong and positive finish on the Spanish tarmac. However dramas would quickly arise.

Craig Breen was hot on the pace. But on The first stage, he hit a rut on a corner. It didn’t do any damage, yet it cost the Irishman 26 seconds to the fastest car. Fourmaux would be going well on the morning loop. That is, until SS4, when he pulled up his Puma with mechanical issues, Issues which required the usage of both onboard fire extinguishers. Thankfully it cleared and he continued the event. Greensmith was in the bottom half of the top 10 battling with some of the other Rally1 contenders and Loubet was just outside the top 10 in 11th place. Loubet ended the day in terrific fashion. Claiming the third fastest time on the last stage of the day. Elsewhere, the rest of the Fords in the M-Sport stable were also electrifyingly quick, especially in the afternoon loop.

Another driver hoping for good things was Toyota Junior driver, Takamoto Katsuta. He was hoping for another good finish this season and a strong one at that. After the Disaster in New Zealand. He went very well all through the day. Ending it in eighth as Friday ended. He was going into the second day surrounded by the impressively fast Pumas of the M-Sport camp.

In WRC2 things were just as exciting. Not least due to the return of Irishman Josh McErlean. He made a welcome return to the class after a frightening crash on the Ypres event. Also contesting in WRC2, as McErlean’s teammate, was Former British Championship graduate and WRC3 contender, William Creighton. He was also competing in a fantastic Hyundai I20 Rally2 and was eager to make a good impression in the sports premier development class.

Both Irish drivers were having a great first day on the Spanish asphalt. Although, Creighton suffered a puncture on the morning loop. Costing him valuable time in a very big and highly competitive WRC2 field. Spanish star, Jan Solans was doing a great deal better. Holding his own in 15th place.

Emil Lindholm, was on a high this weekend, as he went into the weekend as the WRC2 Junior champion. Due to the absence of Britain’s Chris Ingram. Now he was after a greater prize. A chance of becoming the overall WRC2 champion. Another driver aiming for the title was, the current second place contender, Kajetan Kajetanowicz. He was a prime candidate for the title as the current championship leader, Andreas Mikkelsen, was once again, absent from holding off the charge of the Polish superstar. Who has proven his metal numerous times on both the world and European stages.

Friday would prove to be a nightmare for Lindholm. He suffered a puncture on his right rear which sent him off into a ditch on SS2. Greatly compromising his championship chances. He, eventually got going but would find himself languishing down in 14th place. This was not a disaster for the Fin. He exhibited extraordinary pace in the afternoon loop moving back into the top 10.

Kajetanowicz ending his morning in a better way. He was in seventh in the class with ambition to move higher up the leaderboard. He was also hot on the heels of Jari Huttunen. Who, at one point, was in sixth place. The Ford driver having a fantastic morning and proving to be highly competitive with the leading class runners. But then, his easy day, in terms of out scoring a struggling Lindholm, got harder. Lindholm’s afternoon pace was simply astonishing. Kajetanowicz was still seventh. However, Lindholm had jumped ahead of him and was now in sixth

At the front of WRC2 it was a day of masterful driving by Hyundai star, Teemi Sunuinen. He lead all day and took multiple stage wins. However, he was kept honest by the Russian sensation, Nikolay Gryazin. He was second in class, followed by Yohan Rossel in third and The extremely quick and impressive Jari Huttunen in fourth. Others going well in the class included: WRC3 star Sami Pajari in his Skoda. Fabrizio Zaldivar who was in the top 10.

Gregoire Munster was another driver to impress along with the Spanish due of Jan Solans and Pepe Lopez. Former international sportscar star and F1 test driver, Stephane Sarrazin, was another who had a very impressive day. Ending it In fifth place. Armin Kremer was another star to show terrific form on the opening day. Once again, the man to beat in the WRC2 Masters class.

WRC3 was also a class to watch. As two of the main title contenders were in attendance. Jan Cerny and Lauri Joona were both in Spain hoping to claim a victory. And not just any victory, a victory that could turn the entire class championship on its head with just one more event to go.

It had been another long day for the contenders. Both Cerny and Joona battling for the lead all day long. Eventually it was the who would come out on top. Which would prove to be crucial in the WRC3 title fight. Especially as the championship leader, Pajari, was doing the final two events in the WRC2 class with the Toksport Skoda team. Diego Dominguez would have a good day too. He would round out the top 3 in WRC3.

This weekend also had extra significance as this was also the final round of the 2022 European championship. With the overall ERC fight for second to be settled as Efren Llarena had already claimed the drivers title at the last event in the Czech Republic. The title fights in ERC Open, and the hotly contested ERC4 class were also set to be settled this weekend. With the ERC3 title going the way of Igor Widlak after the Barum rally and the Toksport Clio cup crown being clinched by Paulo Soria.

Llarena, himself was in attendance. Hoping for another big haul of points. Yoann Bonato, Javier Pardo, Alberto Battistolli and Xevi Pons were also hoping to end their seasons with a strong result. Especially in front of the teams of the WRC.

The two Suzuki Swift R4LLY Kit cars of Joan Vinyes and Alberto Monarri were also hoping for a fine result on home turn. Both overall and in the ERC Open class. While in ERC4, drivers to watch out for included the Opel Junior entry of Laurent Pellier, the Ford Fiesta of Toni Herranen, the Peugeots of Nick Loof, Iago Gabeiras and Oscar Palomo. The Renaults of Roberto Dapra and Toksport’s Andrea Mabellini. And the Fiesta of Ireland’s Ryan Caldwell were all hoping for good things in their class and in full view of the fellow competitors in the WRC paddock.

Palomo was the championship leader in ERC4 and just had to score a few more points that Mabellini in second and he would be champion. The ERC4 class also had a very competitive junior division which was being led by the Frenchman, Pellier. Who had taken four wins in the last five events the juniors scored points. This weekend he could afford to take things easy as he had clinched the Junior title with a victory on the Barum.

After Fridays action was concluded it was Yoann Bonato who led the way in his Citroen C3 Rally2. Both overall and in the main ERC class. Behind him were the Skodas of newly crowned champion Llarena and Pardo. Pons was fifth behind Martin Laszlo in fourth.  ERC Open saw the Suzukis battling for overall honours and the Open class. While, in ERC4, Oscar Palomo led the way ahead of Diego Ruiloba and Roberto Dapra.  

In the ERC4 Junior division it was Palomo, who was also eligible for junior point, who led the way with Dapra and Toni Herranen rounding out the top three. Irelands Ryan Caldwell was fourth in the junior ranks. However, a mechanical problem on SS7 caused him to retire. Nonetheless it was an impressive day for the ERC newcomer. In the FIA R-GT class, Manu Guigou was the man to beat in his Alpine A-110 RGT. It was looking like another Alpine walk over in the only international GT series to compete on a rally format.

Saturday soon dawned, seeing the crews tackle seven stages all on the grey stuff. Something that the crews haven’t done since their trip to Ypres in August. The real star of the day was 8 Time world champion, Sebastian Ogier. He dominated Saturday. Opening a lead of over 20 seconds ahead of his teammate.

Rovanpera also had a great day. Holding onto second place despite a charge from the Third place competitor. This was the Belgian Asphalt ace Neuville. He closed the gap to his Finish rival. Until he was just four tenths off second. Then he demoted him to third on the days final test. By a margin of just 1.4 seconds. Tanak and Sordo still rounded out the top 5. With Evans in sixth. Further down the order, Katsuta was still holding onto a top 10 result in eighth place.

M-Sport would again have a rollercoaster day. Breen, Loubet and Fourmaux all set very competitive times. Despite the odd moment here and there. Loubet was especially happy with his day. Ending it an impressive 10th overall and in Rally1. This, however, was at the expense of his teammate Greensmith. On SS11 he took a right hand bend just a fraction too fast and the result was disastrous. He got entangled with a guard rail and destroyed the left front and rear of his Puma. His day and rally, all over with a wrecked car. Again though, he and his co-driver walked away. But not without some very bruised feelings.

In WRC2, it was Suninen still out front and setting a commanding pace. It was all change behind him, though. Rossel overtaking Gryazin for second place and Lindholm charging up to fourth. His chief rival, Kajetanowicz, was still in seventh. Unable to find an answer to the Fins pace. While drivers like, Sarrazin, Pajari, Munster, Solans, McErlean, Kremer and Lopez were also going strong throughout the top 10 snd 20. Kremer too, was still top dog in the Masters class.

In WRC3 Dominguez was still holding third place. However, the real action was for the lead. Lauri Joona was on a flyer during Saturday. Reducing Cerny’s lead all through the day. In what was turning out to be one of the most enthralling battles of the rally. The Fin eventually blitzing the Czech driver to end the day with a 19.7 second lead. Heading into the final day of the rally.

It was also another terrific day for the European championship runners. In all of the premier divisions as well as the overall leaderboard. However, it was also the final day of an incredible 2022 season. Saturday saw a titanic battle in many of the top classes. But in the main ERC class for Rally2/R5 spec cars it was Yoann Bonato who would take victory and, in doing so would take their first ever win In the ERC. In ERC Open, was victory for Alberto Monarri in his Suzuki Swift R5 Kit Car. Despite this incredible victory after an epic battle with his teammate. It was that teammate, Joan Vinyes who would end the event as the ERC Open champion of 2022. In ERC4, it was Oscar Palomo who would take the win and wrap up the overall ERC4 title for 2022. He also took victory in the ERC4 Junior class adding a very sweet cherry to a very fruitful weekend. Beating the champion Pellier and the rest of the chasing 2 wheel drive.

Sunday soon came, for those who had made it this far, it signalled the last day of gruelling competition. But one Question was on everyone’s lips. Could Toyota wrap up the 2022 Manufacturers title? Or would Hyundai manage to delay the, seemingly, inevitable outcome.

The answer would soon come. In the shape of Sebastian Ogier. He led the field all through the day. Despite Neuville pulling out a very impressive late charge, it just wasn’t enough. As Sebastian came to the end of the final stage as the winner of the 2022 Rally de Catalunya. Making it his 55th career victory in the WRC. Neuville came home second just 16.4 seconds behind the Frenchman. Rovanpera would take third place despite a charge to catch the Belgian. A charge that was derailed on SS17 by a puncture. Evans would get sixth and with those results and despite Hyundai’s best efforts. This made Toyota Gazoo Racing the 2022 Manufacturers and Teams champions.

Tanak and Sordo would round out the top 5 while Taka Katsuta would claim an impressive 7th. Demoting Craig Breen done to eighth which then became ninth after a terrific run by Fourmaux. Loubet would round out the top 10. Teemu Suninen would finish 11th overall. But, would emerge as the winner in the WRC2 class.

Rossel would Mount an late rally charge that saw him take back his second place from Gryazin. Lindholm would claim fourth in class and finish ahead of his rival Kajetanowicz. He would claim a sixth place finish and keep the title fight alive going to the season finale. Huttunen would take fifth place. While Pajari, Zaldivar and Sonals would round out their weekend in the top 10. McErlean and Creighton would finish in the top 30 with Armin Kremer taking the win in the Masters class.  

In WRC3, the battle would rage on until the last stage. This event was also the title decider for the class. So whoever won here would be the champion thanks to the insanely close points situation. And that winner was Finlands Lauri Joona. He held off a resurgent Cerny to win the class and take the 2022 WRC3 title. A terrific performance for the young driver who had also fought hard for the Junior title this year too.  

Elsewhere it was success for Alpine star Guigou. He would claim victory in the FIA R-GT in his dominant Alpine A-110. Finally in the TGR (Toyota Gazoo Racing) Iberian Cup it was the crew of Sergi Francoli and Maria Salvo who would take victory in this uniquely one make series for Toyota Yaris Rally4 cars.

This event would also be the last for one of the most lovable and endearing personalities in the WRC Paddock. This weekend would be the last time Ireland’s Paul Nagle. The popular co-driver who as called the notes for Kris Meeke and Craig Breen over the last decade has been one of the most memorable and talented Co-drivers in recent WRC memory. Despite being scare out of his wits by the actions of Meeke during his Citroen days. Paul has always viewed things in a calm and collected fashion. Exactly the qualities one would expect from such a demanding job. Unique, only to the world of rallying. And will, surely, go down in history as one of the most iconic and revered Co-drivers to ever compete in the WRC. His unique tones will be missed very much by the whole World Rally community.

That’s it folks, the end to a very exciting and crucial weekend in the 2022 season. However, the season is still far from over. As next time out the stars and cars of the WRC will make the long awaited trip to The Land of the Rising Sun. That’s right we’re off to Japan. Home of the Japanese Grand Prix, Super GT, Pokemon, Sushi, Mount Fuji, Tokyo, Sword Art Online and so much more. For the first time in over a decade. The worlds finest rally drivers will compete in Japan. Only this time on Tarmac. Will Toyota come out on top on their native soil? And who will become the 2022 WRC2 champion? find out when the WRC returns.


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