WRC 2016: Rally Germany Preview
Round nine of the championship sees the first of the pure asphalt rallies in this year's series, of which there are three full asphalt events in a row (Germany, China and Corsica) followed by the mixed surfaced Catalunya Rally. The next all gravel event will then be Wales Rally GB at the end of October. With uncertainty about the future location for Rallye Deutschland (it is known this will be the last time the service park will be in Trier) it is presumed this will be the final year the rally will be hosted by the ancient city of Trier although it is assumed that much of the variety of stage content will continue as before. The variety is very prominent, with stages in the vineyard regions bordering on the Mosel river, the military training grounds at Baumholder and the closed public road stages of Saarland region, each with very different characteristics for driving and for the challenge for the cars. In total the event ranks as a medium speed event, with winning stage averages always around 100kph. The vineyard stages demand very precise driving skills with the plantations restricting the view of the road ahead making it difficult for drivers to accurately gauge braking distances. The military stages being run on concrete surfaces, often broken, can be surprisingly damaging, quite apart from the dangers of impacting the deep rooted concrete blocks sunk alongside the tracks, intended to halt a tank in its tracks, let alone a rally car. The Saarland stages are fast and smooth.
Ogier en route his victory at 2015 Rallye Deutschland ahead of his VW team-mates who locked out the podium
The territory is not the only special feature, another is the weather. The region features extraordinary micro climates in which rain often falls quite unexpectedly on days when fine weather is forecast and always only in very localised areas. This makes your choices particularly challenging. Tyre regulations and the nature of the route can mean that drivers suddenly find themselves driving on quite unsuitable tyres. For this event both Michelin and DMack have homologated new types of tyre, special Michelin tyres being specially designed for wet conditions, with enhanced water clearance capability yet with a contact patch double the size of previous version. The tread is narrower and the tread depth is one millimetre deeper than before. Will these be a secret weapon? Michelin admitted, "we don't know whether the crews will get to use these tyres on the (asphalt rallies this season) but if they do, we know they have the potential to gain top results." This tyre was designed following Michelin's specific request to the FIA to allow crews to be able to use a tyre for exceptional extreme wet conditions. DMack meanwhile expect their new tyres with deeper grooves to help clear standing water will be used in either dry or wet conditions.
The change to a different style of event means that the content of the entry list is different from usual. Only eleven World Rally Cars are expected to start while only two of the top eight drivers in the WRC2 championship have nominated this event as one in which they want to score points. Both the Junior WRC and the independent Drive DMack one-make championship categories however will be at the event. Three entries with Peugeot R2 cars will challenge Citroen drivers in the WRC3 category, which is primarily intended for R3 cars. Among non-points-scoring entries are Teemu Suninen's Oreca team Skoda R5, Pontus Tidemand's works entered Skoda and three Adam R2 cars entered by the ADAC Opel Rally Junior Team for Griebel, Ingram and Tannert. The entry of Hermann Gassner Junior will be the first appearance of a Toyota GT86 on a world championship rally, exactly two years after the model was first presented to the press here in Germany. A supporting event will be a qualifying round of the national Opel Rallye Cup using Opel Adam cars. A total of ninety entries were received, making this event comparable in popularity with Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo.
No official entries from Abu Dhabi Total WRT this time but a car has been released for Stephane Lefebvre to enter privately, with private financial spport. ADTWRT believed German was not an event in which they needed to gain experience with the current cars. Citroen's cars had won this event on 12 successive occasions the event was held since 2001. Lefebvre had one day of pre-event testing. There is continued uncertainty which other WRC events will be entered, and with which drivers, for the rest of the year. No new development has been carried out on these cars especially for asphalt events. Finally Evo version Citroen DS3 R5 cars are due to appear in competition, this time in the hands of Quentin Gilbert, Yoann Bonauto and Emil Bergkvist.
Three cars have bee entered this time. Dani Sordo back in action after missing Finland, this time with a new car (chassis 8) while Hayden Paddon is driving the N team entry (Kevin Abbring's Finland car) and Thierry Neuville in Paddon's repaired Sardinia car. Three pre-event tests were carried out starting in the military area in July, with tests searching for feedback for differential and damper settings and finally general set-up tuning, especially trying to resolve the lack of driver confidence experienced in Finland. This was not helped by unfavourable running order for Paddon. For the various asphalt events in the WRC, it is anticipated that each event will demand different settings. There has been no official comment on the cause of the continuing handling difficulties with the NG i20 WRC car.
Usual car for Mads Ostberg, Tanak's repaired Portugal car for Eric Camilli and his Finland car for Ott Tanak. Like all the teams M-Sport does not allocate special chassis only for asphalt rally use, as each asphalt event has its own characteristics, Germany's being that it has a wide mixture of surfaces. Two separate tests for Ostberg and Camilli, one for Tanak. No entry for WRC2 leader Elfyn Evans or the Drive Mack prize drive winners as this event was not selected as one of the limited number of WRC2 entries that could be made. Remarkably only four Fiesta WRC cars are due to start, the usual three team cars and Oleksii Tamrazov's non-championship private entry. Loenzo Bertelli's entry was withdrawn last week.
Their ex-Poland cars for Sebastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala, his Mexico car for Andreas Mikkelsen. Pre event testing for both the 2016 and the new 2017 car at two test vineyard areas, both near Trier. The most successful member of the VW team on this event is not one of the three works drivers but the team's resident test driver, Dieter Depping, who in earlier years won Rallye Deutschland three times, always driving Ford Escort RS Cosworth cars. Depping is the second most prolific Rallye Deutschland winner behind nine times winning Sebasien Loeb. Germany holds a special memory for Mikkesen. In Rallye Deutschland 2008, at the age of 19, he scored his first special stage victory.