After eight events on gravel, the FIA World Rally Championship returns to asphalt this weekend for the Rallye Deutschland.
The Trier-based event can be as demanding and unpredictable as the opening asphalt encounter in Monte Carlo. The roads though could not be more different than the French Alpine passes, although the changing nature of the characteristics and surface of the speed tests, along with the threat of rain, make it just as challenging.
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.
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 super special stage in the same location.
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