Rally De España: WRC Through My Lens
Bucket List

On any other morning, you’d find nondescript local traffic slowly negotiating the roundabout below, as people go about their daily business. But this particular day was different. It was the fourth and final day of the Spanish stop on the 2014 World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar, and the region’s diehard rally fans had flocked to this prime hillside spectator spot in their thousands to witness one of coolest motorsport spectacles I’ve ever pointed my camera at.


I have an automotive event bucket list, and just recently I was able to check the box next to the ‘WRC’ entry.


RallyRACC-Rally de España was my first ever taste of proper special stage rallying, and it tasted good.


Growing up in Los Angeles, rallying is something I was never exposed to. NASCAR racing on a banked concrete jungle, yes; high speed four-wheel drive slides on gravel roads, no.


Of course, I knew that the motorsport existed, and that its highest form, the WRC, had a huge following in many countries around world. But given its relative obscurity in the US, it was one of those things that I thought I might never get to experience in person.


That was until Ken Block told me that he would be competing in the 50th running of the iconic ‘Rally Catalunya’ event, and that his Hoonigan Racing Division team were keen to show me what the WRC was all about – firsthand. It was an offer that I simply could not refuse.


The Spanish round of the WRC is held in the Catalonia region and run out of the holiday resort town of Salou on the country’s northeastern coast. It’s also one of handful of events in the Championship that features both dedicated tarmac and gravel special stages.


For me, that meant I’d get to see two quite different sides to the motorsport; for the WRC teams it meant major setup changes to the cars midway through the event. I’m not just talking about a switch from knobbly rally tires to semi-slicks here either, but suspension swaps, brake swaps, wheels swaps, and even the switching of turbos to alter the way the boosted 1.6-liter engines produce their power (300hp) and torque (up to 450Nm) in the top category.


I’d also get to soak up one of the most picturesque events of the WRC season on Rally Catalunya’s special anniversary.


Because I didn’t really know the ins and outs or rallying before I arrived in Spain, there was a lot to take in straight away. One of the first things that surprised me was seeing the competing cars transiting between the special stages on public roads. These touring stages are important too, because there’s an allocated time that each team needs to arrive at the next special stage or service area, and if they don’t check-in at the precise minute they’re supposed to, time penalties are given.


Seeing rally cars that had previously only existed in my dreams driving through Spanish streets really blew my mind.


In addition to the state-of-the-art WRC machinery, there were plenty of local and historic cars taking part in a classic event that used the same route and took in the same special stages as the big guns.


It was nice, because it gave me a small glimpse of what rallying was like all those years ago.


To top it all off, the Spanish fans were very passionate and vocal. I could not believe how many locals and tourists from around the world had come out to support their favorite drivers.


Before Rally de España my rally fix had only come from video games and YouTube, but experiencing it in person has completely changed my perception entirely. If all special stage rallies are this awesome, then sign me up for more!


The first half of the rally was run on tarmac with SS1 (Special Stage 1) taking place right in the middle of Barcelona.


You don’t really get a sense of how big of a deal these events are until you are in the thick of it all.


SS1 required the drivers to make two laps around a specially designed route that snaked in and around the streets. This would prove to be the easiest special stage of the rally to photograph, as there were a couple of opportunities to shoot each car. For the remainder of the event we’d only see the cars once on each stage as they flew past.


So many people had come out to watch the city stage that it was physically difficult to move from corner to corner. I wish motorsports were this popular in North America.


Rally fans are very patriotic, and many of the die-hards were supporting their home nation’s drivers by flying flags and wearing their national colors.


The rally itself lasted four days, but with the addition of testing, reconnaissance and pre-event prep, many teams had been in the area for more than a week before Rally de España’s first stage kicked off.


The historic cars ran ahead of the WRC machines, which was good because it gave me the opportunity to explore a bit and check out shooting locations ahead of time.


I can only imagine what it would be like to drive an historic car at an event like this. Do you push it and put on a show, or do you navigate your way through the stages slowly so you don’t break anything?


It seemed like everyone had their own plan of attack, but by the end of the event many of the historic cars had either broken down or been involved in a minor incident.


But regardless of how they fared, the classic car drivers and teams seemed to be having the time of their lives. This is rallying’s true spirit.


At the other end of the event it was all business. No matter where the WRC guys went, a swarm of spectators followed.


When drivers gave out free swag, the crowd would push and shove. A few fans asked me to pass along some diecast cars so they could be signed by their favorite drivers. How could I say no? The simple gesture could make someone’s day, so of course I obliged.


In total, there were 17 special stages. While SS1 was on tarmac, SS2 through SS7 all played out on gravel.


Hoonigan Racing Division photographer, Ron Zaras, has been following Ken Block’s WRC escapades since the very beginning. Because I really had no idea where to go, I pretty much tagged along with him for the entirety of the event.


To follow the WRC cars from stage to stage, we essentially had to run a rally of our own. That wouldn’t be so bad if you could drive the same touring roads and there was ample time between the special stages, but that’s just not the case. By the time we got back to our rental car after watching Ken blast through a stage, he’d often already be lined up for the next one. For that reason you can’t see all the special stages, but by planning and figuring out a route ahead of time, you can make the most of each day.


Rally days start earlier, so we’d always have to be up and out of the hotel at the break of dawn to make it to one of the first stages in time. Then there would nearly always be a hike to get in to a good corner, which were guaranteed to already be filled with spectators.


After years following the rally, many of the fans seemed to have their go-to spots.


They would brave the dust and the harsh terrain just to catch a split-second glimpse of the cars as they slid by.


Some of the fans set up barbeques, and others even brought our tents and camped overnight with their entire family to secure a prime spot. What a way to spend the weekend, eh?


Many of the special stages ran through the countryside, so vineyards were a common site. There was no time for wine tasting though!


Despite this being all new to me, some of the roads were actually familiar because I drove them a few months ago at the launch of the Jaguar F-Type coupe. Just not quite like this though.


A couple of things surprised me when I first witnessed the WRC machines going flat-out on the gravel stages. I just couldn’t believe the commitment these guys had going into blind corners – they’d throw themselves into it, and somehow work their way out of any trouble on the other side. Doing the official reconnaissance (recce) with their co-drivers a few days prior to formulate pace notes definitely helps in this respect though.


Watching from the outside, the cars moved around in a very violent way – especially under heavy braking. With a barrage of mechanical noise, tires locked up and rocks were thrown everywhere. Then, as quickly as they had arrived, cars would disappear into a trail of dust.


The rooster tails were absolutely epic. A month on, and after numerous cleans, there’s still dust falling out of my camera gear though…


What also amazed me were the techniques that some drivers employed to go faster. Many used the ruts on the edge of the road to hook their inner tires into for supernatural cornering abilities. It almost reminded me of the gutter technique from the Initial D anime. Takumi!


Ken told me that one of the things he had noticed retired WRC nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb do, was to use natural water features that often play a role in special stages to slow down the car, instead of the brakes. Every second matters in this motorsport, so any advantage you can get – no matter how small or seemingly insignificant – is important to act on.


SS8 onwards was all tarmac, and the teams were given less than two hours at the end of the second day to convert their cars from gravel spec. The catch is, only a limited number of mechanics can work on each car at one given time, and everyone must wear a bright band so they can be easily identified by WRC officials.


The cars are designed in a way that major components can be swapped quickly, but the speed in the which the mechanics work is amazing. Carrying a transmission on your chest? Not a problem…


If a team runs over any allotted service time then they get a time penalty. In switching the their Ford Fiesta RS WRC to tarmac trim, Block’s guys made it with just a few minutes to spare. This is a well-oiled machine.


The latter stages were really fun as they provided some fantastic corners to shoot from. This is the sort of scene my mind conjures up when I think of stage rallying.


These particular special stages ran through a network of small-town streets and back roads, which meant navigating our way through some narrow lanes to get to the shooting locations.


Lucky for me, Ron knew the way.


When I’m shooting an event at home, fast food is usually my fuel. It’s a little different in the Spanish countryside though, and Ron and I armed ourselves with endless amounts of jamon bocadillos.


Jamon bocadillos and countless cups of espresso, which were available at every corner shop. With five hours of sleep per night, I needed those little jolts of liquid energy and delicious ham and tomato rolls to make it through each day.


The locations we were shooting at often seemed like they were out of a dream; exhaust crackles and bangs reverberating off century-old stone architecture.


Once every year when the WRC bandwagon rolls through, things aren’t so quiet and slow-paced in these quaint little villages.


Watching these four-wheel drive, turbocharged weapons on tarmac was nothing short of amazing.


It takes commitment to go flat-out, as there no absolutely room for error on these closed public roads. Overshoot a corner and you’ll quickly be over the bank, or into a wall.


One of the most interesting specials stages was held right next to the water in the heart of Salou.


Rally HQ and the entire WRC paddock was located here, so it’s where most of the teams and drivers stayed for the duration of the event as well.


This particular stage was setup right against the beautiful white sand, and even incorporated a pathway normally reserved for joggers and cyclists.


Even though it was only a little over 2.0km (1.2 miles) long, it was still very cool to see the drivers blasting by.


While there were only 16 WRC cars entered, there were a total of 74 cars spread all of the classes. This allowed spectators to stay in one spot and catch a glimpse of all of the teams tackling the same corner.


For me though, the treat was to sit outside a café – aforemetioned espresso and jamon bocadillos in hand – and watch the cars transit through the old-world streets.


In the mornings we would even catch some of the historic cars filling their fuel tanks for the full day of rallying ahead.


Since I was there with Ken’s team, my number one priority was to follow the head Hoonigan and his co-driver, Alex Gelsomino, as they went from stage to stage.


So stay tuned for my next post where I’ll be reliving all my time in Spain spent hanging with the Hoonigan Racing Division crew.


While our goal at Speedhunters is to bring car culture to the masses, I still encourage each and every one of you to actually go out and hunt some speed of your own. For rally, it doesn’t need to be a WRC round, just look around and you should be able to find some local or national events close to home where you can taste the dust for yourself. I was blown away and I guarantee you will be too.


Just shooting this one event has really opened my eyes to what the drivers, co-drivers and teams as a whole have to go through to even just finish a rally. I also have a new-found respect for the photographers who follow the WRC full-time, because the days are extremely long and it’s unbelievably difficult to keep up with the cars, let alone get out and shoot them.

But more than anything, I’m just glad I was able to check one more thing off my very long car culture bucket list. Now, let us know what’s on yours…

Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto

Cutting Room Floor


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Larry this is amazing. I NEED to trip to Europe for a WRC event at some point. Rally and hillclimb racing looks so fun! Thanks for sharing!


loving the picture of the white and green fiesta sliding in part 3 of the article and good time one taking it larry. (6 from bottom 9th from top in gravel)


That is too cool Larry, I wish I had a navigator and a closed road to run... oh to dream


Beautifully depicted write up! Photography skills second to none as always expected on SH. Had the privilege of attending the 37th running of this event back in early 2000. The rally HQ was in Lorett del Mar. I remember driving past Barcelona to Tarragona, walking to the stage for about a half hour only to have the stage cancelled.... Only highlight of that day was following Piero Liatti on the highway in his Hyundai back to Rally HQ at night. An awesome experience to anyone who has the opportunity to attend one of these events!


The Pictures of the Old Rally Cars (*___*)/ that Shell makes the one near Worthersee look pedestrian xD Y U NO STRATOS WALLPAPER!!!


As always, amazing shots!!!! Thanks a lot.


Thanks for all the kind words guys. Make sure you check out 'Presentation mode' for a full screen experience.


As much as it sucks that you missed WTAC for the rally, I think it was better that you went to it. Especially getting to see it through your eyes, and a first timer too was great to see.

Can't wait to see your next post. Awesome work like always, just make sure WTAC is back on the cards for next year ok!


Great stuff Larry, finally. The Audi S1 Quattro and Lancia Stratos looked really cool. And I did forget how beautiful Spain really is. Just awesome rally.


Just finished watching this on TV. They had a highlight of some guy catching major air and totally eating it off the side of the road! These guys are crazy and really drive all out. The food looks just as good as the race itself.

What does Ken mean about Loeb slowing down by using "natural water features" ? Interesting technique that is hard to visualize without more explanation. Ken finished 12th overall and I have to say it's nice to see the American flag on the list of competitors even if he didn't break into the top 10. Wish we had more of this state side.


Superb work as ever Larry, fantastic to see the WRC getting coverage on Speedhunters.
Fully agree with your comments regarding watching a rally. Watching rallying does take a bit of planning to get the best out of it (which I daresay puts some people off), but its a spectating experience unlike any other motorsport. For those who liking using a camera as well, rally is a hell of spectacle (just don't be the idiot standing in a stupid place: there is one at every rally!).

Shamefully I've only been to one rally in the last 18 months: must do a better job in 2015!
Oh, and love the shot of the classics filling up in the petrol station: those old monsters are thirsty...


Amazing coverage. The place is spectacular. I really love these type of villages.

Larry do you have any more pictures of the white/yellow Renault 5 Turbo?


Best motorsport ever!


Incredible photos and story. I wish you would go on every round of WRC and post photos like this. 

Thank you Mr. Chen :)


Somehow, I just want to see proper subtitles for the co-driver in YouTube videos. I'm fascinated as well as mesmerized by what they're saying to their drivers at every turn, and I wanna trace every guide they said (for now, what I know from the turns they're saying are "hairpin" and "left/right-5")

I wanna be that guy who writes and tells the driver how to take the course, turn-by turn.


Living just 10 Km away from one of the rally stages means that this rally is always on my motorsports agenda, my year isn't complete without my dose of WRC!

The 'problem' with rallying is that is very demanding for the spectator, as you have to get dirty, walk quite a lot, get up really early (This year 'our' stage started at 7:30, AM, of course), sometimes that spot you thought that was awesome ends up being crap (Yes, this has happened to me a couple of times), and after all you just get to see each driver 2 times.

But anyway, if you got the opportunity, I really recommend going to a rally, specially if you can camp there the night before. Bring a tent, some friends and a couple of beers and you'll be having an incredible weekwnd, trust me!


Incredible shots as always, and very nice read, rallying is different from other types of motorsport, so it's nice to have SH showing that difference to the world, can't wait for the next post. 
I've just realized that I saw one of those Audi Quattro in a garage a few miles from where I live, but it suddenly dissapeared, now I know where it went, LOL


Hands down some of the best photography that has been posted in a Speedhunters article. Great work!


Wow, you killed it Larry!  Only problem is choosing which one will be the new desktop


It takes some time for me to realize that Block didn't use 43, but 15. any reason why?


Larry Chen Boss photography good sir!


What a great article, Larry, and how glad I am you enjoyed my beautiful country, Catalonia. This was some epic coverage and your photography is extremely cool.

I had the luck to get to see the special stage in Barcelona, as it's my hometown. I can tell you it also was my first experience in the world of WRC and I was absolutely thrilled by it. The crowds were amazing and the atmosphere was really great, plus the cars were fast and spectacular. make sure you come back next year, you're surely welcomed!


Loving the Old School rally car inclusion in this Larry, great post mate ;)


Some of the best rally photos I've ever seen!!! Congratulations, Mr Chen! Rallying is my favorite motorsport, I've been following rallies since I was 2 (my father has carried me to his shoulders maaaany times as a kid)! Fun times.


rallye is my favourite motorsport, closely followed by drifting, even been to two rallies so far, anyway, sweet shots, and i hope you enjoyed one of the most beautiful things related to racing!


Awesome to see Speedhunters heading to a WRC event.  Rallying is a motorsport form that has to be seen to be believed, these WRC drivers are simply superhuman behind the wheel.  Not to mention they do it all on ice, gravel, snow, AND tarmac!


Driftfotos Is it something you will do more if you get the opportunity?


a really great post Larry!!! I'm glad you've discovered the rally, especially the global event, WRC,  as you saw, on each special stage the amount of people moving seems the same during a mass evacuation during a war LOL
my next trip is WRC Montecarlo (for the 3° time consecutively) as always, sleep in tents on the special stage and barbecue, getting wet, cold, but  who cares...it's the WRC!! next year there will be also Sebastien Loeb at the Montecarlo, in all the years that i  follow the various rallyies, I have never seen something like the WRC event


FlaviuCatalin Thank you, I'd love to do more, but unfortunately most of our audience is not into motorsports like you or I. However, I will keep pushing to cover these types of events. After all it's better to have diverse coverage of all car culture.


@MartinHsson Yes, I hope so. It all depends on time and the stories that are there for me to follow.


@Aaron The ability that some of these drivers have to read the surfaces is out of this world.


HarryK Thanks for the kind words, and you have an awesome dad, haha.


LukeEVOVIII Thanks for the support as always.


MaravalleAMG Yeah, this was my second time in Catalonia, and I loved every moment of it. Hopefully I get to cover some other types of racing there as well in the future.


muhammadilham WRC numbers are usually by order of position and therefore this is the order they start the stage.


Alpha_RT Yeah it really does take a certain kind of fan to endure all of that just to get a quick glimpse of the cars as they speed by.


M_Kevin You and I both!


GregoryS Thank you. I added three more shots of it to the bonus images.


tbtstt Haha, I was actually pretty surprised at how orderly people were, I did not see anyone jump out in front of the cars. Although I was totally expecting that.


@Chris Ken was in 9th, but he got a flat after hitting a rock that was on the driving line in the last stage. He had to drive half the stage with three tires.

I think he meant using water to slow down the car, instead of actually braking. He also mentioned that Loeb has a 6th sense when it comes to reading the available traction that is on the road.


sean klingelhoefer Sir Please.


DaveOliver Yeah, it's really tough for me sometimes to choose between certain events. There are times when I wish I could just split in two.


roninrs211 You don't need closed roads to have fun. lol.


DjaranJones Thanks, it was not hard to make beautiful photos out there.


Larry Chen GregoryS Thank you! Fantastic photos and car.


You have to get to a Rally America event now. Not really close in anyway, but it's cools to see rally in our country. Just no historic cars.......


Larry Chen roninrs211 Oh I know that but just imagine how crazy it could be... ;-)


Larry, once again you have enlightened the world of Speedhunters with your awesome talents! Great shots in a great location and lots of new wallpapers!


El mejor artículo de Speedhunters que he leído!!!!! Impresionante!!


Mr Block is just a big Poooser... has he ever won a Rally? i don´t think so


you and sean should cover rally finland!




@Fido he's still a motorsport driver, and a very good one, and that's something to respect, I don't mean to bash on you, but do you actually know what it takes to do what he does? He might be media-built, but he still is a great driver. Most importantly, unlike most of us around here, he gets paid to do it, so he must be doing something right.


Yeah... when does FF7 come out in theaters? Hahaha more rally - you can always just reference crustless tuna sandwiches and tofu delivery cars.


@Diego I wouldn't call him a poser, because what he is, is a gentlemen racer. What he is doing is pulling people who otherwise wouldn't care about WRC into the sport and getting featured where WRC would otherwise not be a topic of discussion (Speed Hunters). 

In that sense, we can't bash on him, but within the realm of motor sport the gentlemen racer is certainly not going to get the same respect until he wins. I have worked in motor sport and I do know what it takes to do what he does: money. Boat loads of money. That is something we shouldn't sugar coat. 

To say he's media built is a little harsh, he's self made and is doing what he loves to do. At the same time to people like Fido he is a poser because he isn't finishing well. He hasn't won a rally, but he got into the sport at 30. By anyones definition that is pretty much too late to be competitive as people are now involved in motor racing so early if you don't start at least by your teens your chances of victory are pretty much out. 

Gentlemen racers have and will always be a part of sport, because I hate to break it to the uninitiated, but this is a rich mans game. Hopes, dreams, and even talent alone don't build World Championships. He seems like a nice enough guy, and he's flying the American flag where it's rarely flown. For this we have to commend his efforts, but remember one thing when people like Fido comment:

In motor racing respect is earned, not given. Ken's doing what he likes to do, but he's not winning and if you compete in something like WRC you aim to win. 



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@Diego in some point you might have an other opinion about that. i will respect your opinion, but my wouldn`t change.sorry but money makes the would go round... bla bla. go out have fun!


In Spain, the culture of rallying goes beyond what a viewer can sense through a TV. I am Spanish and I can say that more than a spectator; either of rallying, racing trucks or F1; I consider myself a fan of the 4 wheels.
In Spain, have forged rally drivers such as Carlos Sainz, Dani Sordo, Xavi Pons, Chus Puras and Antonio Zanini. Pilots have also been forged in higher categories Legend World 4 wheels (Antonio Albacete, Alfonso de Portargo, Emilio de Villota ... to name some).
Unfortunately, and since we are speaking of rallying, the kind of publicity given to these events is zero, not to mention television broadcasts, which either pay or ... You know ....
I can only say, and if you have the opportunity to visit Spain and matches any event Motor, not just you visit monuments (which are very nice and a great historical and cultural interest), but it also optéis by smell of burning rubber and gasoline.
And finally, thank to Larry Chen  for the wonderful article and bring a little bit of Spanish culture to members of the community #SPEEDHUNTERS
Thank you So Much!!!


Larry Chen DjaranJones totaly agree


This shot. So good! Great adventure story.


Nice, write-up ;)


Dear Larry, nice article and I am happy to see you have enjoyed our rally. Non a normal one, but the 50th Years of the Rally! Me myself I use to go every year specially with some Norges friends of mine, that they come to visit and I go to WRC Sweden with them.
I first met up WRC as you, because of Ken Block. Just won a prize in Monster Energy Drink website and it was a Meet Ken Block Prize with a 4 star hotel payed, and VIP pass. That was awesome! Since then, I repeat, and repeat and repeat with my Pentax DSLR, and I enjoy it every year. Used to do some photos at racecars in race tracks rallying is quite different, so I enjoy and some images are quite more spectacular because of the gravel.
As EduGB says, here the passion for motorsport is huge, prove of that is that we have the 4th racetrack ever made the amazing Terramar Oval, wich TheSpeedhunters have visited and you can read all about it in here. 

Me myself I am a petrolhead, I love motorsport, and it's a way of life. I do marshalling at Circuit de Catalunya for 8 years now, and I love it. But maybe I love to do some cars photos even more. So Rally Catalunya brings me the chance to re-conect with my DSLR and cars photography.
It's nice you like the Jamon bocadillos (Bocadillos de Jamón) but next time, try this bread with something else up in them, you show in your photo before the one of the expresso if you haven't. We call them "Coca de Recapte" and they are delicious, no less than Jamón but in a different way. Specially awesome in spots like those little towns, really.
It's not fair as I live here, but I must say we can't complain about what we have or how we live. 
P.S.Larry Chen If you recall the place where the SS1 was taken, that place (Montjuïc) used to be a F1 urban race track as Monaco was. With uphills, and downhills was a tricky and fast as hell racetrack used in the 70's. I really recommend to read a but about it if you haven't. Specially Juan Del Arco's book about it, it is a masterpiece. Rare to find, and expensive, that man was the one you shut up and listen when he was talking about F1. 
As you see our passion for Motorsport come by far, from the early days of Racing (Terramar was build in 1923) until nowadays. I recommend as well visiting the MotoGP race at Circuit de Catalunya as the fans go crazy with the local riders (Marquez, Pedrosa, Lorenzo, Espargaró, Rabat, etc....) and even with the foreigners (Rossi, etc....)
Yes, we are #speedhunters, and #speedlovers. We are mad about motorsport, and it's awesome!

Cheers and keep up those awesome photos! I love'em here and in Instagram too.


In mexico we love the rally, write so bad , rally rules, I have a Polo


As much as I respect Ken Block and his driving.. I have to say - he is not really what you talk about when covering WRC.. I personally would suggest that if you ever do something like this again you go a bit indepth about Latvala, Ogier, Neuville, Evans (this boy just got his first podium).. I would suggest Ott Tanak - I saw that guy handle roads in Latvia (small east europian country), and next year he is tackling WRC stages .. and others who are professionals just as Block.. but just more into the rally world..
Nonetheless - I really enjoyed this article ;)

PS. I would suggest to go to Finland.. crazy ass jumps and fast stages that`ll blow your mind.. :)


EduGB Larry Chen I've heard that there isn't much WRC coverage in Spain, despite the hero's from there. I saw an interview with Carlos Sainz Jr prior to this year's F1 season, where he was asked why he didn't follow in his dad's footsteps. He said because his dad had won his titles prior to him being born and rally never being covered on TV, he didn't know about his dad's success or the sport until he'd already seen F1 on TV and decided that was what he wanted to do.


Great article. These photos...!!!!