Ford looks to transfer high-speed win from gravel to asphalt
BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally team take their assault on the FIA World Rally Championship to the German city of Trier next week for round nine of the series. Rallye Deutschland (19 – 22 August) returns to the world stage after a year's absence from the demanding and unpredictable roads. The changing nature of the characteristics and surface of the speed tests and the ever-present threat of rain can offer the type of conditions that make it a tricky event for competitors.
Victory for Jari-Matti Latvala and his co-driver Miikka Anttila on their home event of Rally Finland earlier this month earned Latvala a place in the record books becoming the youngest driver to win the famous Jyvaskyla-based event since the WRC began in 1973. The pair also moved into third place in the drivers' standings. Finnish team mates Mikko Hirvonen and co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen will be looking to get back on the pace after an accident on day one put them out of their home event.
The rally is based in Germany's oldest city, Trier, close to the border with Luxembourg and the speed tests cover three vastly different types of road. The bumpy, narrow roads in the Mosel vineyards on the first and last legs comprise fast sections linked by hairpin bends as they rise and fall among the grapes. Corners are frequently hidden by tall vines and there is no rhythm to the artificial tracks. The public roads in Saarland that are used on Saturday are faster and more flowing, but are often wooded and can be equally tricky in the wet. But the infamous Baumholder military ranges provide the sternest test and the 48.00km Arena Panzerplatte test that is used twice during the second leg is the longest of the season.
The roads there are used for tank training by US soldiers and are unique to the series. Fast, wide asphalt contrasts with bumpy, abrasive concrete which will demand high durability from Pirelli's tyres. Massive kerb stones known as hinkelstein, designed to keep the tanks on the road, sit on the edge and will punish the slightest mistake. The tracks are always dirty, a mix of sand and gravel making conditions slippery in the dry and treacherous in the wet.
This will be Hirvonen's sixth start here, third in 2007 being the 30-year-old Finn's best result. "I have a love, hate relationship with this rally! When it's dry the stages are really nice to drive but when the conditions are wet it makes the roads very tricky with all the mud and water around. Of all the three different characteristics we see in Germany I prefer the vineyards. We have fantastic grip, the stages are not very technical and we can build up a really good rhythm because of the high speeds.
The Baumholder stages are a unique challenge. The surface is changing all the time, it's very tricky and the road is bumpy meaning that the right car setup is crucial. I was disappointed with the result in Finland but encouraged by our speed. With the all the improvements we've made I'm looking forward to seeing what's possible. I want to be fighting for the podium." commented Hirvonen.
Latvala has six Rallye Deutschland starts to his name. "Germany's stages have many cuts and so the roads are dirty giving me a lack of confidence when the grip level is changing so regularly. That's why this has always been a difficult event for me. Previously I have set some good times on the Baumholder sections because you can't cut the corners and I prefer the wide, fast roads in this military area. The weather can be changeable and you have to adapt very quickly to the conditions..
Driving at the Nurburgring taught me that if I turn into corners later, I will get a better speed at the exit to the corner and that has improved my style and speed on asphalt. Winning Rally Finland has really boosted my confidence and I'm hoping for a top five position." added Latvala
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive the team's third Focus RS WRC in their third appearance in Germany. "Rallye Deutschland will be the first asphalt round of the WRC so far this season for Michael and I, so we will be hoping to adapt to the different surface quickly and put in a competitive performance."
* Tyre partner Pirelli will provide two tyre specifications for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi drivers. The standard PZero asphalt tyre will be available primarily in hard compound, but with a limited amount of soft compound rubber for use in cold or wet weather. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber in the event of rain or mud and each car can carry two spares.
* The team began a four-day pre-event test yesterday (Thursday). Latvala drove for one day in France before Hirvonen tackles two days at the wheel in Germany today and Saturday. The session ends with Latvala testing for a final day in Germany.
* Five other Focus RS WRCs are entered. Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin will be joined in the Stobart M-Sport Ford team by François Duval / Denis Giraudet, while Ken Block / Alex Gelsomino will drive a Monster World Rally Team car. Bernhard Ten Brinke / Eddy Chevaillier and Erik von Loon / Harmen Scholtalbers will also drive privately-entered cars. The rally is the seventh round of the
S-WRC and eight Ford Fiesta S2000 cars will start, five of which are registered for S-WRC points. It is also the fourth round of the Fiesta SportTrophy International series and six Fiesta R2 cars are eligible to score points.
* The rally has huge significance for Ford. The company's European headquarters in Cologne is 165km from the rally base in Trier and the Saarlouis factory, home of the Focus road car, is only 65km away. Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen will visit the plant on the Monday (16 August) where they will sign autographs and meet employees.