In the wake of the highly successful mixed-surface Catalunya Rally, Aman Barfull, the man in charge of the Salou-based event talks about the change of format and plans for the future.
Q. Was it a difficult decision to go to gravel on day one?
Aman Barfull: It was not easy. Of course, Catalunya is an asphalt rally, but it needed something new. All the years, the stages have been the same and for us and for the championship this is not good. We needed something new.
The new [FIA] president [Jean Todt] talked about new things coming in this year's events, he talked about the organizers of rallies putting their personality into their events and that's what we're doing. Many years ago, we think always of the mixed rally, but it only lasted for the first two rallies in 1991 and 1992. In 2010, it was 20 years on from that first rally, so we wanted to do something to remember this.
Q. Did you use any of the gravel stages in those original 1991 and 1992 events?
AB: No, the rally was using gravel roads around Lloret de Mar, where it used to be based.
Q. And why only for two years?
AB: In 1993, I think it was not allowed: you chose gravel or asphalt. In Lloret, we had mostly asphalt, so we move to that all of the time.
Q. When did you first think about changing the surface?
AB: It was four years ago that we first checked to see if it was possible to return to a mixed surface. But it was not possible. But this year, with the new regulations, we could move in this direction. We had to do this, our rally and the championship needed this – we need a new history.
Q. Did everybody like the idea?
AB: At the start, the manufacturers, they did not like the idea. When we told them, they came to us and they said it would be too expensive. But, I think we convinced them. We asked why more expensive? If they talk about tires, they use the same number and the suspension is just one lot of gravel suspension. Then they said it was a concern to revise the suspension settings, but this was no problem – we just made the service longer [from 45 to 75 minutes] at the end of day one.
Q. Then they saw the idea?
AB: Yes. Every rally after the idea came out, I talked to the teams. The teams sent an engineer to see the stages in April to check. After they saw the roads, they said everything was wonderful. After, the engineer Malcolm [Wilson, Ford team principal] came to me and said to me: "Congratulations, you have a great rally which will not be predictable."
In the end, I suppose it was predictable. After the first leg of a tarmac rally, the results are usually set. We thought the gravel would make the difference. Also running two 42-kilometer stages on Sunday made sure the final day would not be predictable.
Q. What about next year?
AB: We don't know, but our objective is to make a test and see what people thought of this rally. But we're making a new rally now.
Q. Will you keep gravel for next year?
AB: Oh yes, more gravel.
Q. How much more?
AB: Maybe half and half – it only took one hour and 15 minutes for the suspension to be changed, so why not do this on the Saturday? This is better for us, it works better for the television. The gravel works better on the first half of the rally, when everybody is competing. If we had run the asphalt stages first, maybe everything would have been decided by the time the cars got to the gravel.
Q. There's talk of rally organizers increasing their routes from the current 350-kilometer limit to somewhere between 450 and 850 kilometers – this is something the president Jean Todt is keen on. Will you do it or do you stay at 350?
AB: Normally, yes, we stay at 350. It's very expensive to make more kilometers – we need more police, more everything for every extra kilometer we do.