After celebrating his debut WRC3 victory last time out on the fast gravel stages of Rally Finland, Ireland's Keith Cronin is hoping to continue his solid form when the WRC heads to Germany next week.
Cronin's Finnish victory launched him to the head of the Citroen Top Driver standings but he's set to face a tough challenge on the asphalt stages of ADAC Rallye Deutschland. His slim three-point advantage will come under attack from the drivers behind - many with significant asphalt experience.
Setting a front-running pace on all three events so far this season, Motorsport Ireland-backed Cronin and co-driver Marshall Clarke adopted a sensible approach in Finland – knowing that a clean drive on a new event was in order. And they face the same challenge next week when they tackle the tricky tarmac tests around Trier for the first time in their Charles Hurst Citroen DS3 R3T.
Rallye Deutschland is a unique event and it's the first asphalt rally visited by the Citroen Top Driver series. Its special stages are run across three areas of distinctively different terrain.
While one stage in Rally Finland may have boasted over 100 jumps, the Panzerplatte test across the Baumholder tank range has over 100 junctions to keep both driver and co-driver busy. Its broken asphalt surface becomes dirty and slippery with many sections lined with hinkelsteins – huge unforgiving stones designed to keep tanks on track. Up to a metre in size, their bite is highly punishing if a slight error of judgement is made.
In stark contrast, the second type of stage bursts through the usually serene vineyards high up in the banks of the Mosel valley. These narrow, fast roads zig-zag through the vines and demand technical skill combined with a precise approach. The cambered tracks, lined with walls and vines, leave no room for error on the short straights, hairpins and tight junctions.
Finally the more traditional country roads account for the third variety of stage – but their smooth surfaces can become treacherously slippery if it rains.
While Cork driver Cronin may have been brought up on tarmac in his native Ireland, he hasn't experienced the German roads before – and this first encounter will take a little getting used to. He's aiming to take the same approach as in Finland but is well aware the pace will be hot and the competition fierce.
“The win in Finland really helped get our championship challenge back on track but, once again, Germany is another new event for me. It's not a traditional tarmac rally and we will aim to tackle it like Finland – it's a long event so we need another problem-free run,” he explained.
“I expect the other drivers to be very competitive here as they've got good asphalt experience but it's a long rally and if we can find a good pace and have a clean run then it would be great to come away with some more important championship points.”