Is Gran Canaria the right home for Rally Spain?

As Spain announces its WRC return, we take a deeper look at the rally's new base


Spain is back on the World Rally Championship calendar. But it’s not the same Rally Spain we had become accustomed to over the last three decades. Catalunya is gone; it’s migrated about as far away as it could possibly have gone, from the mainland’s northeast to an island off the coast of Morocco.

After so long as the second highest profile rally in Spain, Rally Islas Canarias has been elevated from its long-running position as a European staple to a place on the world stage.

So, is the time right to say goodbye to Costa Daurada – or is the switch from Catalunya to Canarias a downgrade?

Gran Canaria will test the world’s best drivers

FIA European Rally Championship 2023 Stop 2 - Canaries, Spain

The roadside barriers are always waiting to punish drivers who make mistakes on Rally Islas Canarias

Nothing on the World Rally Championship calendar gave the feel of rally cars on rails, on a racing circuit, quite like the roads in Tarragona when they were dry. With lots of wide, sweeping and banked corners in between the hairpins and tighter bits, it was as fast as WRC cars got to go on the black stuff.

The roads on Gran Canaria aren’t entirely dissimilar, I suppose. But wherever you go, the barriers feel a little closer. The sinuous roads hug the side of mountains, as if someone grafted a bit of Corsica onto the Spanish countryside. Armco barriers have saved many a driver falling down hillsides over the years.

I have to be honest: I wasn’t particularly sad to see Spain drop off the calendar. Not in the sense of the country itself – it’s a heartland of rallying and in terms of fanbase, it’s a country that deserves to have a WRC round. But Costa Daurada had never quite captivated me in the same way Lloret de Mar had. Coll de la Teixeta’s roundabout felt like a dollar-store replacement for Viladrau.

What I know about Islas Canarais is its propensity to catch out the best of the best in Spain. I remember the drama of the 2020 edition: Pepe López crashed on the very first stage of the rally, opening the door for Nil Solans to steal the title away, only for a double-puncture drama to leave him limping between stages; eventually he was excluded when all the rubber had come off the rim, allowing the super rallying Lopez to snatch the title back at the finish. And that was after about half the field had slid off the road at some point on Saturday when the heavens opened and the leaderboard looked like someone had pressed ‘shuffle’ after each stage.

It makes it more difficult for non-Canary fans to attend, sure. Being an island off the coast of Africa, not Europe, means it’s no longer a manageable jaunt over the border for legions of French and Portuguese fans to descend on the neighboring WRC round. But rallying is huge on Gran Canaria; that a cluster of small islands can sustain an entire championship is testament to as much.

It’s only a two-year deal, too. We’ll get to see a staple of the ERC prove itself on the world stage. It’s different – but not too different. Let’s see what it has to offer.

Alasdair Lindsay

The soul of Rally Spain is in Catalunya

Pierre-Louis Loubet

Rally Spain was always one of the WRC's best supported events when held in Catalunya

It took me long enough to get used to turning left out of Barcelona, bound for Salou to the south rather than Lloret de Mar to the north. Now we’re not going to the mainland at all. We’re going to an island 60 miles off the coast of Morocco.

Granted, it’s a lovely island. And a great rally. Nice fast roads and good infrastructure in and around Las Palmas.

But it’s not Salou is it? Then again, Salou wasn’t Lloret – and I learned to love living in Tarragona for a week. I know, I know, I’m not very good with change. And I don’t want to be negative about the Canaries, it’ll be a great rally and a great show. No doubt.

But I’m not sure about this as a replacement for Salou and a mainland round of the championship. Regardless of where it was based, Catalunya was, without fail, one of the most popular events of the season. Granted, it wasn’t always a nail-biting thriller of a rally, but consistent conditions on a fast and largely smooth asphalt rally aren’t always conducive to some of the madness we see elsewhere.

Rally Espana Catalunya Lloret de Mar (ESP) 10-13 11 1991

Spanish fans flocked to catch a glimpse of local hero Carlos Sainz as Rally Spain made its WRC debut in 1991

Maybe it’s just the memories. I remember my first trip to Lloret in the early noughties – I couldn’t wait to find the place where Colin McRae kicked the bin around the service park in 1995. The noise when Carlos Sainz was spotted anywhere outside. Or even inside in a restaurant. Talking of restaurants, I don’t remember the name of the place – we knew it only as the rally café – but it was a special. Pretty much every night, 10 or so of us would descend, break bread, smear tomato and garlic across it and wash it down with Spanish lager and anything red.

Salou offered its own delights… jamon serrano in Castillo de Javier on the eve of the event followed by Guinness by the gallon in Danny Boy from Sunday night to sometimes Monday morning.

Beyond the places to eat and drink, Salou and Catalunya just worked. First introduced to the WRC in 1991 as a reflection of Sainz’s towering popularity in the sport, it moved through mixed surface formats to an all-asphalt event and included some iconic locations like the Viladrau hairpin or the Coll de la Teixeta roundabout on the Riudecanyes stage.

Catalunya was easy to get to, even easier to watch and to enjoy. The Canaries will, no doubt, be nice, but I’d hate to think we were done with an Easyjet red eye from Luton to Barca.

David Evans