Following a two-month summer break, the World Rally Championship returns to competitive action at Rallye Deutschland (10 - 13 August).
Following a two-month summer break, the World Rally Championship returns to competitive action at Rallye Deutschland (10 - 13 August). The German round of the FIA World Rally Championship marks the beginning of the second half of the 16-round series, but also brings the asphalt sector of the campaign to a close as the rally is the last of four sealed surface events.
Although the last rally was in early June, most of the teams and drivers have been busy testing in both Germany and Finland, venue for the next round.
This ninth round can be as unpredictable and demanding as January's opening asphalt encounter in Monte Carlo. The roads could not be more different than the French Alpine mountain passes, but the changing nature of the speed tests and the ever-present threat of rain in the region could make conditions tricky for the Finn and fellow countryman Hirvonen.
The rally is based close to Trier, Germany's oldest city and just across the border from Luxembourg and France. However, the special stages are located in three different areas and the characteristics of each vary enormously, requiring a different car set-up for each. The bumpy narrow tracks in the Mosel vineyards, which host the opening day, comprise fast sections linked by tight hairpin bends. Corners are partly hidden by tall vines and dirt dragged onto the driving line makes conditions slippery. The smoother roads in Saarland, tackled on the final leg, are more flowing but are frequently wooded and can be equally tricky in the wet.
But the infamous Baumholder military ranges provide the toughest test of all. The roads are used for tank training by US soldiers and are unique to the championship. Fast, wide asphalt contrasts with bumpy, abrasive concrete which has been damaged by the tanks and will demand high durability from the tyres to keep cars on the straight and narrow.
Massive kerb stones, known as Hinkelstein, sit right on the edge of many of Baumholder's tracks. Designed to keep the tanks on the road, they can punish the slightest mistake by drivers. The military tracks are frequently dirty, a mixture of gravel and sand making conditions slippery in the dry and treacherous in the wet weather which often characterises the region in August.
The rally shows few changes from 2005. It contains a mix of stages in the Mosel vineyards, on the Baumholder military land and in Saarland, each offering totally different characteristics. It begins with a ceremonial start at Trier's historic Porta Nigra on Thursday before venturing into the tricky vineyard roads on Friday where competitors tackle one new stage. The second leg is the longest of the rally. The bulk of the action is on Baumholder while the spectacular end of day test around the streets of St Wendel will be used in the opposite direction this year. The short final leg is centred in Saarland before competitors return to the Trier finish. Bostalsee hosts the single service park. There are 19 stages, eight of which are repeated, covering 351.55km in a route of 1300.48km.