The world's top rally stars will enter largely unknown territory when the FIA World Rally Championship makes its first ever visit to Germany for this weekend's Rallye Deutschland. The asphalt event, which is based in Trier and blends vineyard...
The world's top rally stars will enter largely unknown territory when the FIA World Rally Championship makes its first ever visit to Germany for this weekend's Rallye Deutschland. The asphalt event, which is based in Trier and blends vineyard stages with concrete roads on the Baumholder military ranges, is expected to be held in mixed weather conditions, making set-up and tyre choice even trickier for even the best drivers.
Some of the WRC regulars do have prior experience of the German stages, however. Citroen's Philippe Bugalski, Mitsubishi driver Francois Delecour, Hyundai's Armin Schwarz and current series leader Marcus Grönholm all competed here on the non-championship event last year, while reigning title-holder Richard Burns was one of several stars to complete the pre-event reconnaissance on the same rally.
Grönholm arrives with a 17-point cushion in the driver's standings, although he will not be able to rely on the usual asphalt strengths of his Peugeot team-mate Gilles Panizzi to deny rivals points. The Frenchman is still recovering from a collarbone injury and his absence has made an already unpredictable event even more wide open.
PEUGEOT (1st - 99 points)
Technical: Peugeot has introduced no major technical changes on the 206 WRC for this event. All three of the works cars, driven by Marcus Grönholm, Richard Burns and Harri Rovanperä, will use hydraulically-controlled anti-roll bars.
Sporting: Peugeot has been forced to make a change to its driver line-up for this event. Marcus Grönholm and Richard Burns will compete as scheduled, but the team's asphalt expert Gilles Panizzi will be absent. The Frenchman's ligament damage, incurred in the fall which also prevented him from tackling Rally Finland earlier this month, needs more time to heal and he will not return until Sanremo in September. Peugeot has 'promoted' Harri Rovanperä, therefore, giving the Finn a full-specification works car instead of the Bozian customer 206 that he was scheduled to drive. He will be nominated for manufacturer points alongside Burns and Grönholm.
Quotes: Marcus Grönholm said: ^ÓI've been here before, of course, but this will still be a difficult rally. The three days are quite different and there are lots of places where a small mistake can lose you a lot of time. I think the top guys here will be the ones who are quite fast but also quite safe in the twistier, narrower sections. I don't know what the best tactic here is for me - maybe I should think of the championship and try to just get some points.^Ô
Richard Burns said: ^ÓI think this will be quite a difficult rally, really, especially if the weather stays like this and is damp. If it rains then the road surface gets muddy and if it stays dry, we have to cope with slippery gravel anyway. There's a lot of scope for mistakes as people get used to the levels of grip that are available on the different surfaces that we have to cope with here - we've even gone off slightly in the shakedown this morning because we arrived at one corner and discovered that there was quite a lot of gravel. It's going to be unpredictable.^Ô
FORD (2nd - 74 points)
Technical: Ford's Focus RS WRC02s are largely unchanged for this event. The team has, however, introduced a paddle-shift gear mechanism on all three of its cars. The move has been made principally to lower some weight inside the cockpit. The Focuses will also feature a slightly-revised roof air scoop, designed to be more aerodynamically efficient.
Sporting: Ford sends its three regular drivers - Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin - to this event, and all are nominated for manufacturers' points.
Quotes: Carlos Sainz said: ^ÓThis is a very different sort of asphalt rally for everyone. If you can imagine the Rally GB and some of the old 'mickey mouse' stages that there used to be there on the first day, and then make them longer, then that's what we're facing. It's something new to have such different types of asphalt, and driving on the concrete stages on the second day.^Ô
Markko Martin said: ^ÓI think there's going to be quite a lot of damage to cars on this event, because it's so easy to make a mistake on any of the days. On the third leg, for example, it's quite narrow and under trees, so the surface is slippery, but the layout is very fast in places. You only have to get slightly off line and you can have a puncture or damage a wheel or suspension.^Ô
SUBARU (3rd - 40 points)
Technical: Subaru has not introduced any major technical changes for this event. The team has entered four cars, two of which - driven by Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg - are brand new.
Sporting: Subaru has entered four works cars for this rally. Regulars Tommi Mäkinen and Petter Solberg will be joined by Austrian Achim Mortl and Japanese driver Toshihiro Arai. Mortl will be nominated for manufacturer points alongside Mäkinen and Solberg, allowing Arai to concentrate on aiming for drivers points only.
Quotes: Petter Solberg said: ^ÓI've got quite a good feeling for this event. Obviously I had a good run last time out in Finland and we've worked very hard on the set-up for asphalt, finding some improvements. Conditions don't look like they're going to be easy but that'll be the same for everybody. With the lack of knowledge of the stages for almost everyone, I think it will be quite an open rally so I'm optimistic that we can challenge.^Ô
SKODA (4th - 8 points)
Technical: Skoda's three Octavia WRCs are in regular specification for this rally, although this is the first event where the revised engine - first used on Rally Finland - will be seen in action on asphalt.
Sporting: Skoda sends three Octavia WRCs to the Rally Deutschland, to be driven by young Finn Toni Gardemeister, Swedish veteran Kenneth Eriksson and German Matthias Kahle, who has used an Octavia in the country's national championship this year. All three will be nominated for manufacturer points.
Quotes: Toni Gardemeister said: ^ÓI quite like the look of this rally, but it's going to be difficult for everyone. I actually think the final day might be the hardest of them all - it's quite narrow but there are a lot of places where you can cut the corners and if it rains, we're going to end up with a lot of mud on the road and a very slippery surface. It'll be easy to make a mistake and damage the car. As for the Octavia, I know we found quite a few tenths of seconds per kilometre in our pre-event test just by playing with the differentials. But then, I'm sure everyone has found speed as they've set the cars up for these roads.^Ô
MITSUBISHI (5th - 7 points)
Technical: Mitsubishi sends two brand new Lancer WRC2s to this rally. The team conducted much of its early set-up work with the car on asphalt roads in the south of France.
Sporting: Mitsubishi sends its two regular drivers, Alister McRae and Francois Delecour, to drive its Lancer Evo WRC2s in Germany.
Quotes: Alister McRae said: ^ÓWe saw in the reconnaissance how much these roads can change when they get wet, because we had a little bit of damp near the end of the recce and suddenly it was very different. Baumholder, in particular, gets very slippery - you can 'lean' on the concrete roads in the dry because they're quite grippy and abrasive, but once they get wet there are stones in the surface that just get really slippery and you end up gliding across the top of the road. It'll be really tricky and I'm sure there will be a few incidents. I'm quite happy with the car, though - this morning's shakedown was the first time I've driven the WRC2 in the wet, so it took time to settle in, but it was quite encouraging.^Ô
HYUNDAI (6th - 6 points)
Technical: Hyundai sends two regular Accent WRC3s, with few technical changes. German driver Armin Schwarz gets a brand new car for his home round of the championship.
Sporting: Hyundai sends two Accent WRC3s to Germany, to be driven by local hero Armin Schwarz and his Belgian team-mate Freddy Loix.
Quotes: Armin Schwarz said: ^ÓI'm obviously glad that my home country now has a chance to hold a round of the world championship. As for the stages, I've got experience of all three days, although some have been kinder to me in the past than others. But I think the real test here will be one of patience - so much time can be lost on these stages by one silly mistake, so to have a chance of winning you'll have to play a clever game.^Ô
Freddy Loix said: ^ÓI think we can aim for a points finish here, although it won't be easy, of course. We've done a lot of work on the Accent and it's true that my driving style probably suits asphalt more than gravel. The final day's stages are like my local roads in Belgium because they're quite fast and flowing, so I'm hoping that we can be in a position ready to charge by then.^Ô
Technical: Citroen's three Xsara WRCs are in essentially the same specification as the cars which tackled the Catalunya Rally earlier this year, but the French team's engineers have worked hard to discover the cause of the mysterious set-up problem that held the cars back on that event. They believe that some faulty parts in the suspension were to blame, and the drivers reported much-improved handling once the proposed solution had been applied.
Sporting: Citroen enters three Xsara WRCs for this event, its final scheduled works outing of the season. Frenchmen Philippe Bugalski (who won the non-championship Rally Deutschland last year) and Sebastien Loeb will line up alongside Spaniard Jesus Puras. He has been drafted into the squad as a last-minute replacement for Thomas Radstrom, who broke two ribs in his final-day accident on the Rally Finland.
Quotes: Sebastien Loeb said: ^ÓWe had a good reconnaissance and the stages seem fine, but the biggest thing could be the wet and damp conditions. Our recce was basically dry throughout, so we're going to have to find out how the roads are in the wet when we're competing. I think there are a lot of places where people might try to cut a corner and damage suspension or a wheel. Of course, we've got anti-deflation mousse in the tyres but if you hit a stone at high speed you can damage the wheel itself, the balance of the car or the steering. We'll have to concentrate hard to make sure we don't make any mistakes. This will not be an easy rally, but I'm optimistic.^Ô
The Rallye Deutschland is the fourth round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship and all of the leading protagonists in the 1600cc-based category will be present. Spaniard Daniel Sola leads the series by a single point and after his victory on home soil earlier this year, he will start as one of the favourites for victory on the German asphalt. His chief opposition is likely to come from Belgian Francois Duval, although the Junior WRC winner could well be the driver with the least punctures - the series rules prohibit expensive anti-deflation mousse inserts in tyres and that could leave the front-wheel drive machines vulnerable in the bumpy, kerb- and rock-lined stages.