The unexpectedly mild weather at the end of January that saw Pirelli's PZero asphalt-spec tyres being used ahead of schedule on the Monte Carlo Rally would not have provided the rubber with the sort of test it had been designed for. That will come this weekend in Germany, when the crews will get the choice of hard and medium compounds.
The PZeros, which replaced the planned Sottozero winter tyres in the opening round of the season, are designed to be infinitely adaptable and can be used on dry and wet surfaces alike - both of which could play a part in this weekend's event.
Rally Deutschland presents the tyres with a wide range of asphalt surfaces, beginning on Friday, when the route takes in narrow vineyard roads that run along the shores of the Mosel river. These roads are formed of dirty, slippery dirty asphalt and consist primarily of a series of straights and hairpins that call for a precise driving style and judicious use of the handbrake.
On Saturday, the crews then have to deal with the broken cement roads on the fearsome Panzerplatte
, part of the Baumholder military ranges that were originally designed for testing tanks. These roads are flanked by the notorious hinkelsteine
, the huge blocks of concrete that have caught out more than one experienced crew since Germany joined the schedule.
For those that make it through, Sunday's route is more typical of a classic asphalt rally, run on clean, smooth roads not far from Trier, which should be considerably less punishing on the tyres than those of the previous days.
For this round, the teams will be able to choose between the medium and hard compound PZero, a limited number of which will be available to each car, but the choice will not be an easy one to make.
“The Deutschland Rally is one of the most challenging asphalt rallies of the championship, because of the extreme diversity of the surfaces on which we compete," Pirelli rally manager Mario Isola explained, "All of them present their own specific hurdles to overcome, while the extreme heat that often characterises Rallye Deutschland in mid-August could also influence the result.. This aspect creates an interesting variable, which could hand an advantage to the team that makes the right choice."
FIA priority drivers will be allocated 36 of the softer compound and 40 hard compound tyres, including their allocation for the shakedown, while non-priority drivers and PWRC competitors will have 20 soft and 28 hard available, but while the majority will hope for the absence of rain, few will want temperatures to climb too high.
“When the mercury tops 25°C, the Pirelli tyres we all drive are in for a beating on the extremely rough Baumholder asphalt," Subaru's Petter Solberg warned, "The risk of a flat rises exponentially.”
Sebastien Loeb will start the rally as favourite to add to his six victories, but the supposed asphalt-phobic Scandinavians will be keen to turn the tables on the Frenchman, particularly after he won in their back-yard, Finland, last time out.
“Of course, the gravel gene dominates the ego of Finnish drivers but, having modified our asphalt sensors considerably over time, we Scandinavians do not fear any fight on this surface," Ford ace Mikko Hirvonen insisted.