Another milestone as asphalt debut for new Impreza beckons
As the World Rally Championship embarks upon a busy month with three rallies, just one week after Finland the Subaru World Rally Team heads to Germany for the first asphalt rally with the new Impreza WRC2008.

The scene of last year’s asphalt debut for the revised Impreza WRC2007 again hosts the competitive sealed-surface induction of Subaru’s latest World Rally contender. The Impreza WRC2008 has successfully completed three WRC events and the team, sharing test driver Markko Märtin’s confidence in the performance of the new car on asphalt, are looking forward to proving the machine on this new surface.

Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot demonstrated their asphalt pace in convincing style in Germany last year, winning three stages and setting four further top-three times from the 19 stages. With their well-deserved third place finish in the last event in Finland, and with two days’ pre-event testing in hand, the pair approach Germany relishing the chance to attack.

Rallye Deutschland is punishing, as Petter Solberg and Phil Mills have found out to their cost in the past. The duo have been forced to retire as often as they have finished this event in the six years they have contested it together. They too have also showed strong pace, recording twelve top-three stage times and a stage win over the years.

The event is based once more in the western-German city of Trier, which lies just shy of the border with Luxembourg in Germany’s Moselwein region. The rally is an incredibly varied affair; not your normal clear-cut asphalt event. The rally is run on a blend of fast but narrow vineyard tracks normally more used to hosting the local farmers’ tractors, and wide and dirty military roads where the cracked and worn asphalt is very abrasive when dry, or incredibly slippery when hit by rain. Slightly slower than Finland, last year’s event was won with an average speed of just over 100kph.

Whilst the event is run in the German summertime, meaning temperatures can be 20 degrees Celsius or more, the mountainous surroundings of Eifel and Hunsruck ranges make for sporadic and sudden rainfall. The slick nature of the roads holds water, so they become very greasy very quickly. With fast-starting stages and low tyre temperatures for the first few corners, the risk of sliding off the road is ever-present.

For the most part, the stages are the same as last year and so the drivers will be treading familiar ground. The largest changes focus on reversing stages and running them in the opposite direction, with only a few entirely new sections introduced. The 19 stages total 352 competitive kilometres, and are preceded by a ceremonial start at the UNESCO World heritage site of Trier’s Porta Nigra on Thursday night. The event is brought to a conclusion with a spectator stage in the same location.

The Subaru World Rally Team has entered two Impreza WRC2008s for Rallye Deutschland. Petter Solberg and Phil Mills will drive number five, and team-mates Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot number six.

Solberg and Mills make their seventh attempt at the rally this year. Their best result came last year with sixth position, despite suspension damage caused by a rock on the opening day. This season will be Atkinson’s fourth attempt at the event, and his second alongside Prévot.

Team quotes
David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal: “Germany will be an important rally for everyone as it will set the tone for teams’ performance on the remaining asphalt rounds of the Championship in Spain and Corsica. It’s even more crucial for us as it’s the tarmac debut for the new Impreza, but testing has been very encouraging, Petter and Chris have traditionally been fast in Germany, and we now have the experience of three rallies to build on.”

Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: “The weather is very hard to predict in the region, and it’s very easy to get caught out on a stage on a rain shower, which completely changes the characteristics of the roads. If someone makes it through a stage in the dry but it rains for the rest of the field, even on only a portion of the stage, it can make a huge difference to the overall standings. This event in lethal in the wet as the roads are coated in shiny tar on which any water just sits, making it incredibly slippery. It’s also very fast and very narrow in the vineyards, mostly one car width, so lines and precision are critical. We’ve seen in the past that it’s so easy to make a mistake here. Generally once underway it’s not hard on the cars, so it’s all about drivers keeping their noses clean, avoiding spins and going off.

“The Panzerplatte stage on day two is especially unpredictable on grip; if dry it’s phenomenally hard on tyres as it’s concrete, and if wet it can be hard to get heat into the tyres and is very slippery. On the wider military roads it is very hard to find the right line as they are so wide, and the hinkelstein are designed to lay out the course for slow-moving vehicles, so it’s a compromise at high-speed. It’s the first time we’ll be using the hard and soft compound Pirelli tyres, and on day two we’re back to remote services.”

Driver quotes
Petter Solberg:
“Germany is a rally I like, but one I’ve had mixed experiences on. It’s fast, but it’s very unforgiving. We have done two days’ testing in the new car on asphalt, and Markko has done a few more days, so it’s relatively new for us but things so far are feeling good. We’ve been fast in Germany in the past so we will see what we can do there in the new car. It’s a new car on new tyres, so there will be a lot of learning for the team, but it’s important ahead of Spain and Corsica.”

Chris Atkinson:
“We were fast in Germany last year, but this year we have a new car on new tyres and the first rally on tarmac so it’s hard to know where we are speed-wise. The test there went well, and if we can carry the same form we had last year it would be good. It was great in Finland to get a podium as our first points-score with the new car, as it does build confidence – the more time you spend in the car the more confident you get with it. We will go there pushing hard and get a gauge of our performance, and then see how we go from there, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Between the rallies
In the short few days between Rally Finland and Rallye Deutschland, the drivers all returned home to spend some time relaxing and training in what will be a very busy month. Stéphane Prévot returned to Belgium where his partner is heavily pregnant. At the time of writing, the birth is due just before Stéphane departs for Germany.

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