ADAC RALLYE DEUTSCHLAND – 23-26/08/2012 – PREVIEW
- The WRC returns to tarmac after a series of gravel rallies as it arrives in Germany
- Taking in many different landscapes, Rallye Deutschland is a truly multi-faceted rally
- Sébastien Loeb is determined to take his ninth Rallye Deutschland win with victory this weekend
After a long series of six gravel rallies, the World Rally Championship returns to tarmac in Germany. Having won nine times here since 2002, the Citroën Total World Rally Team has really savoured this event in recent years, and it is also a rally that is very popular with French fans. Winners on their last four outings in the WRC this season, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will be looking for a 74th world championship victory. Although contested on a less familiar surface than in their native Finland, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen will also be keen to match their performances in recent events.
Based in Trier, not far from Luxembourg, Belgium and the Lorraine region of France, the Rallye Deutschland attracts hundreds of thousands of rally fans to the heart of Europe. With stages through the Mosel vineyards and the Baumholder military camp, this is very much a multi-faceted rally. “People often say that this is my home event, because it was the closest rally to my native Alsace when the Tour of Corsica was still on the WRC calendar. I really like this rally, because there are always a lot of friends there to support me… and also because I have won there eight times,” said Sébastien Loeb. “I still don’t find it easy, especially if it rains. Mud gets dragged onto the racing line and that leads to radical changes in grip that can be difficult to manage on such narrow and fast roads.”
As ever, day one will feature stages through the vineyards that slope down towards the Mosel. The second leg looks set to be a long and exhausting day for crews and mechanics alike, with two runs on the 46km-long Arena Panzerplatte stage and two remote service periods in Birkenfeld, with a return to the main service park in between. Sunday will see the final sprint for home, with two stages in the former French department of Sarre preceding the Power Stage held in the streets of Trier.
After he was beaten by his then team-mate in 2011, Sébastien Loeb is determined to add a ninth win to his impressive record here: “At least everyone has stopped asking me how many times I could win here in a row! Last year, I was on course to win, but I was a bit unlucky to pick up a puncture on a long straight section. Michelin has responded since then, introducing new, tougher tyre carcasses. Since July, we have devoted a good amount of time in testing to adapting the ground link technology to the tyre upgrade. I am pleased with the progress we’ve made. We might be a little bit slower on the uneven sections, but that will be true for everyone.”
After finishing runner-up five times in the first eight rallies this season, Mikko Hirvonen lies second in the World Championship standings, 43 points behind his team-mate. As third place is his best result in Germany (2007), the Citroën driver hopes to do better this year: “I’ve always liked racing on tarmac. I was fairly competitive in Corsica and Germany a few years ago. I feel very confident in the Citroën, more than I have ever done on this surface. I had that feeling on the dry stages in Monte-Carlo. When I got back in the DS3 during testing, I could see the vast experience of the team on this type of surface. Of course, I tried to describe what I thought about the handling to the engineers, but I didn’t feel the need to make any changes to Seb’s set-up at all! We’ll have to wait and see during the first few stages to find out what level of performance I can achieve. If the conditions remain dry and consistent, I think I can be in contention to at least finish second!”
THREE QUESTIONS FOR… XAVIER MESTELAN-PINON
Citroën Racing Technical Director and Deputy Team Principal
The Citroën Total World Rally Team DS3 WRCs were fitted with new shock absorbers for Finland. Would you describe them as an upgrade or a radical change?
“At our level, it was quite a radical change! Actually, we introduced several improvements to the car in Finland: rear suspension wishbones, shock absorbers, onboard software to improve engine operating strategies… As regards the shock absorbers, it was a significant change. After over a year of studies and tests, we used a model where the obvious specific feature is the oil cylinder placed close to the inner mounting. The entire team was very proud of this new part, because our suspension systems are designed and manufactured at our Versailles-Satory plant.”
How was this new part vital in determining the outcome at the last event?
“When we work on the suspension, the aim is to keep the tyre in contact with the ground as much as possible. Obviously, it’s impossible to achieve this all the time, but you must always try and strive for perfection. Since we started competing in the WRC with the Xsara, we have developed improved versions of the same shock absorber design. However, during development, we felt restricted in some areas. The design of this new part allowed us to break free of those restrictions. And yet it was only the weekend before the start that we confirmed this upgrade. The drivers, always asking for new parts and upgrades, confirmed that the change was a definite improvement. Then it really was a race against the clock to make sure that everything was ready in time for the rally, so much so that we had no spare parts. The one-two finish was the greatest reward for our hard work, but I’ll also remember the compliment paid by Jarmo Lehtinen. He said that he didn’t feel his usual apprehension on this surface, at a rally that he knows very well. For the first time in his career, he enjoyed the Ouninpohja stage! Given the speed at which they drove, I think we can say that we did a great job!”
What does Mikko Hirvonen contribute, alongside Sébastien Loeb, to the development of the DS3 WRC?
“Our two drivers are very complementary and they often provide very similar technical feedback. If Seb leaves an element to one side that he thinks we can’t really improve, Mikko might be able to work on it, using his experience and feel. Sometimes, this works so well that Seb ends up adopting and enjoying the upgrade, and vice-versa. When we ran tests in Finland, Mikko knew exactly which points we needed to work on, such as how the car handled on a given jump… Conversely, during tests for Germany, he didn’t need to make the slightest change to the set-up, since all the work had already been done by Seb. Being able to count on two such drivers is a real joy for our team.”