Subaru rally driver, Chris Atkinson, fresh from a nine week mid-season break from the FIA World Rally Championship, gets back into action this weekend with Rallye Deutschland taking place from August 11-16.
Germany is the ninth of 16 rounds in the season and the last for 2006 on asphalt.
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 by 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 in the far west of the country.
This will be Atkinson’s second outing in Rallye Deutschland this year. The Australian had a solid asphalt debut to finish eleventh in 2005. Since then he has steadily gathered more sealed surface experience both in the WRC and non-championship events.
“Germany was my first-ever asphalt event in 2005, but this year I’m going back there with a lot more experience,” Atkinson said. “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 at home. Our goal for Germany has got to be a good finish, hopefully in the points.”
“The events that follow Germany, particularly Finland and Japan, are the real focus but you always hope to do well every time you go out and we are gaining speed and confidence on tarmac.”
“I’m not underestimating the challenge of Germany. It is a tough event but if we can stick with our teammates we’ll be pretty happy.”
“The event has extra significance as we compete in the Subaru Rally Team Australia badged Impreza WRC. It is the 2005 car, but it is still a good thing and we’ve got it well sorted so it is not a problem for us.”
“The next four events are important to us. We need to get some good results and consolidate our place in the championship so it would be nice to finish off the tarmac events for 2006 with a strong run here.”
Subaru World Rally Sporting Director, Luis Moya, believes Atkinson will continue to learn from his tarmcac outings this year.
“The goal for Chris will be to get more experience on tarmac,” Moya said.
“He came to Germany last year 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.”
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, Atkinson 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.
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.
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.