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TRIER, Germany – The BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally team take their assault on the FIA World Rally Championship to Germany this week for round nine of the series.
Rallye Deutschland (19 – 22 August) returns to the world stage after a year's absence. 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.
The rally is based in Germany's oldest city, Trier, close to the border with Luxembourg. 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. 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 section 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.
"I have a love, hate relationship with this rally," said Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen. "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.
Fellow Ford driver Jari-Matti 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.
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."
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive the team's third Focus RS WRC in their third appearance in Germany.
* 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.
* 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.
* 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 route shows few variations from 2008, although organisers have taken advantage of new regulations to increase the competitive distance to 407.31km. Most of the roads have been used in previous years although there is one new stage in Saarland during the second leg. The rally is again based around the service park in Trier, although the second day includes two remote service areas at Birkenfeld. After Thursday evening's start ceremony at Trier's historic Porta Nigra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Friday's action is based in the Mosel. Saturday is split between tests in northern Saarland and Baumholder before the final day returns to the vineyards. The rally ends with a spectacular super special stage around Porta Nigra. Drivers tackle 19 stages in a route of 1194.63km.