After a nine-week break the FIA World Rally Championship roars back into life with Rallye Deutschland. Round nine of the 16 event series takes place from 11 to 13 August on the asphalt roads of the Mosel and Saarland regions in the far west of ...
After a nine-week break the FIA World Rally Championship roars back into life with Rallye Deutschland. Round nine of the 16 event series takes place from 11 to 13 August on the asphalt roads of the Mosel and Saarland regions in the far west of Germany, with Trier, the oldest city in the country, as permanent rally headquarters. The rally's location in central Europe attracts spectators from all over the continent and an estimated 200,000 fans are expected to make the pilgrimage this year.
The event may be pure asphalt, but the rally has one of the widest varieties of tarmac on the calendar as each Leg has a distinctly different character. Day one's stages are run in the vineyards of the Mosel, one of Germany's largest wine producing areas, and dry leaves and squashed grapes combine to make an exceptionally greasy surface. On the second day of competitive action crews move to the tank training ranges of the Baumholder military ground where the roads are flanked with huge, unforgiving concrete kerbstones, known locally as ‘Hinkelsteins.' The wide asphalt sections are abrasive and dirty, while a fine dusting of sand makes them very slippery when wet. The final day's action takes place on the smoother, fast Saarland roads.
With the rally taking place at the height of the German summer, the weather is expected to be hot and sunny, although there is some chance of showers as rain moves in from the Eifel and Hunsruck mountains surrounding the area. Wet weather dramatically changes the characteristics and grip levels of the roads and crews can be faced with Monte Carlo-esque variations between stages. To minimise the dangers associated with wet roads, each driver and co-driver has a safety crew who drive the stages before their competitive running to report conditions back to the driver.
Rallye Deutschland will be a challenge for the team as well as the crews. With just 42 hours between the finish of Rally Germany and the start of the Rally Finland recce, teams will start to deconstruct their service areas from Saturday night onwards ready to depart after the first service of the final Leg. Rallye Deutschland organisers have had to make special plans for teams to make the journey in time, with Sunday's Leg shortened from six to four stages as a result.
While rally HQ and parc ferme will be in the centre of Trier, the service area will be located in Bostalsee, a small holiday resort approximately 70km from Trier. The rally comprises 351.55 competitive kilometres and 19 special stages, including a spectator-friendly Superspecial in Sankt Wendel on Saturday night. One new stage will be run (Grafschaft Veldenz) on Leg one. The ceremonial start will take place at the Porta Nigra, the arch built by the Romans in the centre of Trier, at 2000hrs on Thursday 10 August. The podium finish is scheduled for 1224hrs in Trier.
Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Stephane Sarrazin (co-driven by Stephane Prevot) will drive a Subaru Impreza WRC2006 each, while Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall) will drive a Subaru Australia-entered Impreza WRC2005.
Petter Solberg has competed in Germany four times before. Last year the Norwegian achieved his highest finish in the event with seventh overall. Stephane Sarrazin made his WRC debut in Germany in 2004 at the wheel of a privately-entered Subaru Impreza and finished a remarkable ninth. Last year the Frenchman claimed eighth position.
Chris Atkinson enters his second Rallye Deutschland this year. The Australian had a solid asphalt debut to finish eleventh in 2005. Since then Chris has steadily gathered more sealed surface experience both in the WRC and non-championship events.
'This year we've not had such good results on asphalt so the most important thing in Germany will be to progress from our previous form. We had two days of testing in Germany at the end of July and we did find some improvements, which will be very important for us. I do enjoy the rally in itself, despite not having such a great history in the event. It's a reasonably difficult rally for a driver as each Leg has a different character with a different type of asphalt and all of the roads are very dirty and slippery. Saturday's military stages are particularly tough.'
'I made my WRC debut in Rally Germany 2004 so I've got a good feeling about this event. It's a great tarmac event as grip is low, the surface is slippery and the stages are difficult so you've really got to concentrate. I particularly enjoy the second day's Baumholder roads as they're very challenging to drive. Last year we were very quick and it would be a good result if we could finish in the top five this year.'
'Germany was my first-ever asphalt event in 2005, but this year I'm going back there with a lot more experience. I've got another two Tour de Corse and Rally Catalunyas under my belt, plus Monte Carlo and Ireland. Competing in the Nurburg 24 hours helped too - over a 25km lap, you have lots of opportunity to get the right racing line and think about the set-up. Unfortunately, I've not had an opportunity to do a tarmac test before Germany this year so instead I've been concentrating on fitness, training and relaxing. Our goal for Germany has got to be a good finish, hopefully in the points.'
SUBARU WORLD RALLY SPORTING DIRECTOR, LUIS MOYA:
'We've had a very busy off-event period over the summer. We've focussed on improving the general performance of the team for the second half of the season and hope that the coming events will show a step forward. Both Petter and Stephane will be aiming for a top five position, but the goal for Chris will be to get more experience on tarmac. He came to Germany as an asphalt novice and showed excellent pace, but he's now got a further three WRC sealed surface rallies to his name, plus Rally Ireland and the Nurburg 24 hours. Germany is different to any other rally on the calendar and it's not historically been a good event for us, but we will go and do our best.'
SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM DIRECTOR OF ENGINEERING, STEVE FARRELL:
'Clearly our performance in the last two asphalt events was not as we expected and we've made an extra effort to make the Impreza WRC2006 a more competitive package for Germany. We've worked on all areas to develop the overall performance of the car, specifically by improving the suspension and differential set-ups. There have also been a myriad of small changes and developments which have been packaged together into an engine upgrade for this event. So far our testing has confirmed we're heading in the right direction. Over the summer we've also worked very closely with Pirelli and we should see an improvement in the tyres as well.'
Between the Rallies
It might have been a long summer holiday for some in the WRC field, but certainly not for the three Subaru World Rally Team drivers. Petter Solberg did take some time off after Greece to cruise around the Greek islands on an 80-ft yacht complete with Jacuzzi, sun decks and five staff, but he came back to work soon after when he signed a contract to continue with Subaru until 2009. The Norwegian announced the extension in front of a crowd of international media in his home country. Soon after Petter jetted over 9,000 kilometres to Japan to test new Subaru models and participate in a Subaru fan event that was attended by over 5,000 avid supporters. After a quick trip to Goodwood at the beginning of July Petter headed to Germany for a pre-event test before a short trip to Norway and over to Finland for another test.
Stephane Sarrazin might just be the busiest man in motorsport as he combined Pirelli tyre and Subaru World Rally Team test programmes with endurance and sportscar racing. Between racing and rallying endeavours he squeezed in a trip to Cyprus in July to support the Cyprus Automobile Association's road safety awareness programme and a trip to Japan to test the Subaru Impreza GT300 and visit an aerospace facility owned by Subaru's parent company, FHI.
Chris Atkinson stayed in Europe after Greece to participate in the Nurburg 24 hours, his first-ever circuit race. The Australian and his three team-mates contested the event in a Subaru Impreza and finished 13th in class. After a test in Spain and a debut Goodwood Festival of Speed appearance, Chris finally headed back to Australia for some rest and relaxation with friends. Not for very long, however, as he flew to Perth at the end of July to support the ticket launch for Rally Australia. He then returned to Europe for a test at the beginning of August.