Catalunya Rally preview

Carlos Sainz is probably the one man who stands in the way of Richard Burns maintaining his lead in the World Rally Championship as the flat-out series moves on to round five, the Catalunya Rally

Catalunya Rally preview

The Spaniard has not enjoyed the greatest luck on his home event but the morale boost he gets from performing in front of tens of thousands of his loyal fans always sees him at his spectacular best.

Sainz is currently fourth in the championship behind Safari and Portugal rallies winner Burns but is just nine points adrift of the Englishman.

World champion Tommi Makinen and Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm are the meat in the Burns/Sainz sandwich.

Subaru will leave Spain for Argentina still at the head of the manufacturers points table unless Mitsubishi pulls off an unthinkable 1-2 with Subaru failing to score.

Yet this is one event where Subaru knows it is up against it if the team wants a third win in succession.

Catalan asphalt has not been kind to Subaru in the past few seasons and despite an intensive test session with the new car and the latest Pirelli tyres, team boss David Richards admitted in Portugal: "We'll have done well if we get onto the podium."

His tip for victory is Peugeot, the French team now fully up to speed although still fragile at times.

The 206WRC gets a new, more powerful engine evolution for Spain and while it is Finland's Marcus Gronholm who has got the results so far this year, the team's French duo of Gilles Panizzi and Francois Delecour are the ones under pressure to deliver this time out.

Colin McRae's dismal form continues. Amid suggestions that a lack of mechanical sympathy may have played a major part in his Portugal retirement, McRae can count just one finish from his last 12 outings and he is apparently already being offered to rival teams for 2001 by his manager/father Jimmy who admitted recently that McRae could have walked away from his two-year Ford deal at the end of 1999.

He is already 18 points off the series lead and, more significantly, nine behind team mate
Sainz, so things need to improve pretty dramatically if the Scot is to stay in Martini colours for much longer.

On home ground SEAT is also under pressure to perform. The Cordoba WRC E2 continues to improve and for Catalunya gets a Toyota-style joystick gearchange for the first time at the behest of Didier Auriol.

VAG Group stablemates Skoda are likely to struggle here as the Octavia is still a heavy and none-too nimble car. Reliability has been its trump card but it won't be until the Acropolis Rally in June before the more powerful engine comes on stream.

A year ago this event was controversially won by Philippe Bugalski in the Citroen Xsara kit car.

This year Citroen will be represented by Jesus Puras but the rules have added an extra 40kgs to the weight in order to try and make the cars uncompetitive against the World Rally Cars.

Puras (who was leading last year before his car failed to restart the second morning) believes that engine developments have already wiped out this extra weight and will hope that the event's decision to run the 45kms Gratallops stage twice on the second day, will favour the two-wheel drive car.

Surface temperatures can reach 45 degrees on this stage - a nightmare for tyres on the World Rally Cars.

Normally Catalunya would be followed by Corsica but the island event has been moved back to September.

As a result Subaru only has to hold its breath for one event before moving into a run of five gravel events.

Last year Subaru won three of those and came second on the other two so things are looking very good for the Banbury team.

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Catalunya Rally update after stage 3

Catalunya Rally update after stage 3
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