After seven months and nine rallies of loose surface competition, BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek return to asphalt action on the OMV ADAC Rallye. The German round...
After seven months and nine rallies of loose surface competition, BP-Ford World Rally Team drivers Toni Gardemeister and Jakke Honkanen and team-mates Roman Kresta and Jan Tomanek return to asphalt action on the OMV ADAC Rallye. The German round of the FIA World Rally Championship heralds the start of the 'asphalt season', with three of the final six events on sealed surface roads.
The opening event of the 16-round series in Monte Carlo offered the only taste of asphalt action so far this year. It provided a successful debut for both partnerships in the 2005 Ford Focus RS World Rally Car as second position for Gardemeister and eighth for Kresta ensured points for both. The roads to be encountered in Germany could not be more different than the Alpine mountain asphalt that comprises the Monte Carlo Rally.
The rally is based close to Trier, Germany's oldest city, and just across the border from Luxembourg and France. The speed tests are located in three different areas and the characteristics of each vary enormously, requiring a different car set-up for each day's competition. The bumpy narrow speed tests in the Mosel vineyards, tackled on the opening leg, comprise fast straights linked by tight hairpin bends and square junctions. Corners are hidden by tall vines and dirt dragged onto the driving line makes corners slippery. The smoother roads in Saarland, which comprise the final day, are more flowing, generally faster but still narrow and slippery in the wet.
In Baumholder, the military land used for tank training by U.S. soldiers offers conditions which drivers encounter nowhere else during the season. Fast, wide asphalt contrasts with bumpy, abrasive concrete, which will require high durability from the Michelin tyres fitted to the Focus RS cars. Massive kerb stones, known as Hinkelsteine, more commonly used to keep tanks on the roads, line many of Baumholder's winding tracks. They sit on the edge of the road ready to punish the slightest mistake. The asphalt is also dirty, a mixture of gravel and sand making conditions slippery in the dry and treacherous in the wet.
Thirty-year-old Gardemeister will be starting in Germany for the fourth time and in 2004 finished seventh. "This event is very difficult when the weather is changing all the time. But I've set some good times on previous occasions there and I hope to do the same again this year. The Baumholder stages are challenging, especially when it rains when they become incredibly slippery and muddy. I don't really enjoy driving on those roads with all the concrete blocks by the side of them," he said.
The Finnish crew completed over 500 km of testing at the weekend. "We had a very wet test and the last forecast I saw predicted dry conditions for the rally, so that's unwelcome for us. But the Focus RS has proved competitive on asphalt, so I'm hoping for a podium finish. We've got a good chance I think. The main aim is to get a good result, pick up some points and move back up the championship order," he commented.
Kresta has retired on both his previous German outings. "If everything works well, then I'm confident that we can have a good result," said the 29-year-old. "It's a difficult event with unpredictable weather but our pre-event test to determine car setup was fantastic, with mixed weather conditions for two days, similar to those we've experienced in the past on this event. This was the first time we've tested the Focus RS WRC on asphalt and it was an incredible feeling."
The Czech driver has no concerns about starting the event following a six-month break from co-driver Tomanek. "Jan and I are looking forward to competing together again. The roads we will tackle on Sunday are very similar to those in the Czech Republic so we'll both feel at home there. Having competed here twice before, we have some good pace notes," he commented. "I'm pleased that we will have a safety crew because tyre choice will be crucial and we want to be able to push really hard."
• The BP-Ford team is welcoming back Jan Tomanek alongside Roman Kresta for the rest of the season. Jan Možný, Tomanek's replacement for the previous eight events, will return as the Czech team's safety crew on all remaining asphalt events.
• Two privately-entered Focus RS WRC cars will start. Spain's Dani Solà and Xavier Amigo will tackle their second event of the season in a latest-specification car and they will be joined by Antony Warmbold and Michael Orr.
• The team completed a four-day pre-event setup test in Germany earlier this week covering more than 1,000kms. Gardemeister spent two days testing the Focus RS on wet roads in Baumholder and in the vineyards. Kresta drove for two days in mixed weather conditions and often in temperatures of over 30 degrees. Dani Solà completed the test session by driving a total of 150kms.
• The team has nominated Michelin's N and TA tyres for the event. The N patterned rubber is suitable for dry or humid conditions and engineers can cut grooves into the rubber to match the tyres as closely as possible to the conditions at the time. The TA 'intermediate' tyre is used in wet weather and additional cuts can be added to the rubber to clear the water if heavy rain soaks the asphalt. Both patterns will be available in varying compounds and construction.
• The rally has huge significance for Ford. The company's European headquarters in Cologne is less than 200km from the service park at Bostalsee and the route passes close to Ford's Saarlouis factory, the home of the Focus.
The rally retains its tried and tested format with a mix of stages in the Mosel vineyards, on the Baumholder military land and in Saarland, each offering totally different characteristics. The rally begins with a ceremonial start at Trier's historic Porta Nigra on Thursday evening before Friday's opening leg heads into the tricky vineyard roads. Leg two is the longest of the rally. The bulk of the competitive distance is in Baumholder and the day ends with a spectacular test around the streets of St Wendel. The final leg is centred in Saarland, the rally ending with a repeat of the St Wendel test before reaching the finish ceremony back in Trier. Drivers tackle 355.40km of competition in a route of 1298.25km.