in Rallye Deutschland
Ford will debut the latest evolution of the record-breaking Focus RS World Rally Car in Rallye Deutschland (14 - 17 August). The car that won the manufacturers' title in the FIA World Rally Championship for the past two seasons, and recently claimed a landmark 100th consecutive points finish, has been upgraded ahead of the first asphalt round of the series since January.
The 2008-version of the Focus RS includes front style changes as well as engine improvements. Style changes to the grill area reflect the looks of the recently-previewed Focus RS road car. A new turbo and crankshaft will increase the range of power available.
This 10th event of the 15-round series can be as demanding and unpredictable as the opening asphalt encounter in Monte Carlo. The roads could not be more different than the French Alpine passes. But the changing nature of the characteristics and surface of the speed tests, along with the threat of rain, will pose tough challenges for BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila.
The rally is based in Trier, Germany's oldest city and close to the Luxembourg border. The special stages cover three highly-varied types of road. The bumpy, narrow tracks in the Mosel vineyards on the first and last legs comprise fast sections linked by hairpin bends as they rise and fall among the grapes. Corners are frequently hidden by tall vines and there is no rhythm to the artificial roads. The public roads in Saarland are more flowing but are often wooded and can be equally tricky in the wet.
But the infamous Baumholder military ranges provide the sternest test. The roads used for tank training by US soldiers 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. The term asphalt is somewhat of a misnomer for Baumholder.
This will be Hirvonen's fifth start here, third in 2007 being the 28-year-old Finn's best result. "Road conditions are the single most important factor on this rally," he said. "If the weather is dry then it's an enjoyable event with some fast and flowing stages. But if it rains the roads can be treacherous. The rain is often localised as well which would make it difficult to judge what compound of tyres to use."
"It's good to be first in the start order here, although on asphalt the advantages and disadvantage aren’t as great as on gravel. The first cars pull mud and dirt onto the road so it makes it harder for those lower down the order. It’s good to test just before the rally, especially after a fast, smooth gravel event like Finland. Baumholder is always rough and bumpy, while the Mosel stages are fast and the car can bounce around a lot. So it's good to get used to these conditions in advance," he added.
Latvala has five Rallye Deutschland starts to his name and his preparations were boosted by a successful test this week. "I had two really good days, covering 230km on the first day and 200km on the next. It was 30ºC and clear blue skies so I hope the rally is like that. I learned a lot about the tyres and I believe I have a better set-up for this rally than the last asphalt event in Monte Carlo. When the series switches from one surface to another, and especially after a long time away from asphalt, it's important to have the chance of a good test with plenty of kilometres," he said.
"The weather is so important on this rally. If it's wet then the countryside stages in Saarland are difficult, if it's dry the vineyard stages are the trickiest. They're very technical roads with many tight junctions and the surface is always dirty. There will be many asphalt specialists to battle with here but I posted good times on the final day in Monte Carlo so a top five finish is my target," he added.
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive the team's third Focus RS. "Asphalt isn't my favourite surface but you have to adapt your style and technique to suit different terrains. I learned some important lessons last year which will help my pace notes and speed. I finished 16th so I’m aiming to improve on that. The field is huge so breaking the top 10 will be tough but if I can finish in the top 14, keep learning, post some fast stage times and enjoy myself, I'll be happy," said Al Qassimi.
* As part of the sport's new regulations, BP Ford Abu Dhabi will have just one tyre pattern from Pirelli. The PZero asphalt tyre will be available in both hard and soft compound but there will be no other option for specific dry or wet weather rubber. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber in the event of heavy rain and each car can carry two spares.
* A record 13 Focus RS cars will start. Gigi Galli / Giovanni Bernacchini and François Duval / Patrick Pivato are nominated for points by the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team while Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud and Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin will drive other team cars. Andreas Mikkelsen / Ola Floene will drive a Ramsport-entered car while five crews from Holland will also be behind the wheel of Focus RS cars. Eleven Fiesta ST cars will also start what is the fourth round of the Fiesta SportingTrophy International, 10 of which are registered for the series.
* Ex-Ford driver Colin McRae would have celebrated his 40th birthday on 5 August. To mark this occasion the team is raising money during the month to donate to the new Colin McRae Vision charity. This will support designated children's charitable causes and also foster and educate young motorsport talent in the UK. To donate send a cheque made payable to 'Cumbria Community Foundation - McRae' and send to: M-Sport Ltd, Dovenby Hall, Dovenby, Cockermouth, Cumbria, CA13 0PN, England. There will also be a facility to donate via www.m-sport.co.uk