After demonstrating its competitive pace on gravel, the Subaru Impreza WRC2004 will make its tarmac debut next week as the FIA World Rally Championship moves to Germany for round ten of the series, Rallye Deutschland. With the last seven WRC ...
After demonstrating its competitive pace on gravel, the Subaru Impreza WRC2004 will make its tarmac debut next week as the FIA World Rally Championship moves to Germany for round ten of the series, Rallye Deutschland.
With the last seven WRC rounds contested on gravel, Rally Deutschland is the first of three asphalt events scheduled for the remainder of the season. Based in the countryside around Trier, the oldest city in Germany, the event presents crews with some of the most specialist stages in the Championship.
Stage conditions vary between the narrow vineyard roads of the Mosel region with its long, fast straights featuring 90-degree corners, the smooth roads of Saarland and the bumpy, rough concrete tracks of the Baumholder military ranges. Designed for tank training exercises, the army roads are unlike anything else in the Championship. Flanked by huge, unforgiving concrete kerbstones, the wide asphalt sections are abrasive and dirty, while a fine dusting of sand makes them exceptionally slippery when wet. With this year's rally scheduled in August, when weather conditions are likely to be changeable, the event's mix of road surfaces is expected to prove a tough challenge for drivers and tyres alike.
The only WRC event held in central Europe, Rally Deutschland is especially popular with fans. Last year more than 270,000 flocked to the stages to watch their favourite drivers in action and this year should be no different. A three-day event, the Rally comprises three legs, 411.06 competitive kilometres and 24 stages. There will be a single service area at Bostalsee, which is 60km from Trier, and the winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp at 1530hrs on Sunday 22 August.
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two cars in Germany. They will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Mikko Hirvonen (co-driven by Jarmo Lehtinen).
Like most WRC competitors, Petter Solberg has contested the event just twice before. At a crucial point in his 2004 title campaign, he's hoping to repeat the smooth surface form that helped him win in Corsica last year. Driving the second Subaru, Finnish driver Mikko Hirvonen has contested the event only once before. The young Finn will be aiming to demonstrate a good pace in his Subaru Impreza and gain more Championship points for the team.
Petter Solberg: "The overall result in Finland was not so good for us, but the thing now is to put it behind us, keep positive and move on. I've done that already. Germany is a great event. Bizarrely, I was ill during the event last year, which was exactly the same time as Finland this year when I was not so well again! Maybe it's something about those dates! I'm fully recovered now though, which is good news, and I'm looking forward to getting back in the car. We've made some improvements, the aerodynamics of the car are better, and we've proved that it's good on the quick stuff. A lot of small details have come together to make us faster. We set some good times last year and I enjoy the challenge of the different stages, so I hope for a good finish!"
Mikko Hirvonen: "I was disappointed by my mistake on Leg one in Finland and felt really sorry for the team, but, that said, we proved the pace of the car and I was pleased by my times on the Friday and Sunday. It's always interesting to start events you're not that familiar with and, as I've only done the German event once before, it's hard to know exactly what to expect. I like driving on tarmac events, it's great when you have good confidence in the car and, having completed some good testing on asphalt in the Subaru, I feel very positive. However, for me, Germany doesn't feel like a true asphalt event due to the speeds and changing conditions of the stages. The surface alters all the time and can be very dirty and bumpy. It can be hard to judge when you have grip and when you don't."
The Car / The Challenge
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth: "Germany is the first of the three pure tarmac events and is significant for us as it's the first time we'll compete with the Subaru Impreza WRC2004 on this surface. Performance on asphalt is likely to be a deciding factor in the Championship now, especially with three such events coming up from the next seven. We're hopeful as a lot of the work we've done on the new car, such as aerodynamics and suspension geometry, has a bigger effect on tarmac than it does on gravel. And, as we've shown the step forward the car has already made on gravel, we're hoping it will be an even bigger step on tarmac.
"A difficult aspect for the drivers in Germany is that the stages are all very different in nature, both to each other and anything else in the Championship. They don't flow as they do on a traditional asphalt rally, which makes it hard for drivers to get into a rhythm. In Germany it's full throttle, hanging on, hanging on some more, then brake and turn, while on a classic asphalt rally you go left and right and left and right and left, and it flows from one corner to the next. It's much easier to get a feeling for the braking points and the balance of the car. In Germany there are sections where you're on a dead straight and there's no feedback at all. You don't get any feeling for the level of grip, or balance of the car and then you've got to brake into a sharp corner. That's much more difficult.
"Looking to Petter, in a way the Championship task is easier now - we will go everywhere to try and win. The difficulty in Germany is the changeable weather. What we've seen in the last couple of years is that if it's a wet event, it can be very difficult. You have to be tactical and it's all about measured risk. You either go extremely fast and take big risks, or adopt a more cautious approach, concentrate on getting to the finish and let the others gamble with their places. However, if it's dry - it will be more of a sprint and Petter will have to go for it.
"Mikko is following a development programme that was created for him at the beginning of the year and in the first half of the season it wasn't based on flat-out performance. Obviously, before the end of the season sheer speed has to come into the equation and we haven't made any secret about the fact that on the next few rallies we'll be looking at how fast he can go. But, there's no specific deadline or targets for what he needs to achieve. We're ticking off the boxes as we go and we're only just getting round to the how-fast-can-he-go box. As far as we're concerned he's on course and we're now moving into the next phase of his programme."
Between the Rallies
After Finland, Petter travelled to his parent's home in Norway to spend some time with his family. When we caught up with the World Champ (Wednesday) he was planning a secret day out for the Solberg clan on Thursday and wasn't giving anything away. His weekend was set to be fairly relaxed, including some fishing with son Oliver and gym training ahead of Germany. On Monday Petter and Pernilla celebrate their first wedding anniversary.
It's been a busy week for Mikko. After spending Tuesday at Tommi Mäkinen's Rally School, where he recorded some interviews for a Japanese TV programme, Mikko spent a couple of days in Jyvaskyla with the Subaru World Rally Team's Human Performance group. He underwent some fitness tests at the Kihu International Training Research Centre, which will enable the team to devise a tailored training programme for him. This weekend Mikko is attending a friend's wedding in Kotka, near Helsinki, before travelling to Germany next week.