A new challenge awaits the FIA WRC Academy crews next week as they embark on the first all-asphalt event of the season at the 2012 ADAC Rallye Deutschland. With Tarmac specialists coming to the fore and the regular front-runners well prepared for the challenges ahead, the WRC Academy – supported by Ford Racing in Europe and with control tyres from Pirelli – is poised to host some of the most competitive rallying in the field once again.
As asphalt challenges go, Rallye Deutschland is arguably the most daunting. Contesting 12 special stages over two days, the competitors will have to contend with the twisting roads through the Mosel vineyards and the perilous dash between the ‘Hinkelstein’ concrete blocks that litter the Arena Panzerplatte. A firm favourite on the calendar, Rallye Deutschland attracts fans from throughout Europe and the WRC Academy crews will be out to impress as they look to prove their speed and potential in front of an army of spectators.
After learning the art of asphalt driving during a pre-rally Tarmac training session with some of the most experienced tutors in the industry at Ford’s state-of-the-art testing facility in Lommel, Belgium, competitors will then watch the experts in action – spectating at the DTM race at the legendary Nürburgring – before putting all that they have learnt into practice on Rallye Deutschland’s notoriously challenging roads.
Having secured back-to-back victories in Greece and Finland, Elfyn Evans will be looking to extend his lead in the overall standings next week. Those who have the Welshman down as a gravel-expert should beware as Evans also holds the record for the Ford Fiesta R2 in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) when he secured a sensational 16th place overall on the asphalt roads of the 2011 Rallye de France. What is more, with a Tarmac test rally this weekend in the British Rally Championship – which Evans is also leading – the 23-year-old will be full of confidence and a firm favourite for victory in Germany.
With three consecutive podium finishes this year, consistency has been the name of the game for Australia’s Brendan Reeves. As the only driver to have stood on the podium at each of the WRC Academy’s 2012 events to-date, Reeves is currently holding second place in the overall standings. After raising funds by selling places on the bonnet of his Ford Fiesta R2 – including one to Ken Block’s co-driver, Alex Gelsomino – the Australian will be well prepared following a pre-event test on-location in Germany. Reeves has also been putting his driving into practice at the Nürburgring and setting up an auction – which includes a signed race suit from Sébastien Ogier’s co-driver Julien Ingrassia – on his all-new Brendan Reeves Motorsport Facebook page.
Following a disappointing Rally Finland when a puncture put an end to any hopes of a podium finish, Alastair Fisher will be out to impress on Rallye Deutschland. Having secured a Tarmac victory in the Academy last year – at Rallye de France Alsace – Fisher is another driver in contention for the win next weekend. With a test rally at the Toddsleap International Rally of Ulster in his native Northern Ireland this weekend, the 23-year-old will be up to speed as the WRC Academy embarks on its closed-surface campaign next week.
After sealing his second podium of the year in Finland, Pontus Tidemand will be looking for another strong result as the championship turns to what will be an unfamiliar surface for the Swede. But the 21-year-old will be ready for the challenge having tested both a Ford Fiesta RS WRC and a Škoda S2000 after Rally Finland. Tidemand will also contest Västrallyt as part of the Swedish Rally Championship this weekend and with 2006 J-WRC champion co-driver Emil Axelsson in the navigator’s seat, the youngster will be in good hands.
Embarking on what is his preferred surface, José Suárez is set to shine at next week’s Rallye Deutschland. The Spaniard will be preparing for the event by contesting Rallye de la Famenne with Belgian company, Team Floral, in a Ford Fiesta R2 this weekend. The event in the Wallonie region of Belgium consists of 168km of Tarmac stages similar to those that lie in wait in Germany. Currently holding fifth position in the overall standings, the youngster will be looking to climb the leaderboard with the switch to asphalt next week.
Sporting a brand-new livery for Rallye Deutschland, John MacCrone will also be looking for a strong result on the first closed-surface test of the season. The Scot has been preparing for the event with tuition from British Touring Car Championship driver, Gordon Shedden, who advised the 23-year-old on all aspects of asphalt driving. This weekend will also see MacCrone attend Rallyday at Castle Combe – one of the biggest rally events in the UK – and he will be hoping the added seat time leaves him in good stead for a strong result.
Heading into what is effectively his ‘home’ event, Dutchman Timo Van der Marel will be out to impress in Germany. With a new Ford Fiesta R2 for this round, the 22-year-old’s sponsor, Trimline, will work tirelessly to sticker Van der Marel’s signature black-and-orange livery – this time with an exciting matt-black finish. Rallye Deutschland will also see the KNAF-supported driver auction a passenger ride for his supporters to experience life as a WRC co-driver, more details of which can be found on his Facebook page. Having been chasing a podium finish at Rally Finland, the Dutchman will be hoping the momentum continues into the second half of the season.
Looking to get his WRC Academy campaign back on track following a string of misfortunes this year, speedy Swede Fredrik Åhlin will be full of confidence going into the fourth round of the season having secured a class victory at Rally Killingen in his native Sweden last week. The event also saw the 21-year-old pilot his Ford Fiesta R2 to fourth place overall ahead of several more powerful 4WD cars. Having held his own against the Tarmac specialists on last year’s venture to the German stages, Åhlin is another driver looking for a strong result next week.
Improving with each new round of the WRC Academy, João Silva will be looking to continue his development in Germany. The Portuguese driver’s progress has been amongst the best in the field this season and Silva will be looking for another encouraging showing as the championship turns to asphalt. Fresh from a vacation in Porto Santo with his family and co-driver, Hugo Magalhães, Silva will be fully rested and up for the challenge of Tarmac driving.
Blighted by misfortune on the previous two events, South Africa’s Ashley Haigh-Smithwill be looking to rejuvenate his assault on the WRC Academy in Germany. Contesting the Rally of South Africa in his homeland this weekend, the extra competitive seat time will see the 19-year-old well-placed for a strong comeback. Since Rally Finland, Haigh-Smith has also launched an exciting raffle on his Facebook page for fans to win a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Rallye de France in support of his WRC campaign.
Joining the WRC Academy ranks for a one-off event in Germany, Martin Koči will be looking to make a lasting impression on the series as he makes the most of all that benefits a WRC Academy competitor. As one of Eastern Europe’s most talented up-and-coming young drivers, the Slovakian claimed third place in the Czech edition of the Citroën Racing Trophy last year and will be keen to replicate those successes in Germany.
This year’s event marks Rallye Deutschland’s 10th anniversary in the WRC, and each of the WRC Academy crews will be looking to celebrate the landmark with a strong result.
Currently leading the WRC Academy, Elfyn Evans said:
“I’m feeling pretty comfortable on Tarmac. Hopefully our preparation this weekend [at the Toddsleap International Rally] will go well and we can get a good finish in Germany. The championship will be our main priority – it’s all about keeping it on the road and getting the points on the board – but we’ll certainly be looking for another strong result.
“We have had a short Tarmac test and have been working on our pacenotes too. I am feeling really comfortable with Phil [Pugh] now – we’re both at ease with each other in the car and we just need to keep that momentum pushing forward.”
Currently holding the runner-up spot in the WRC Academy, Brendan Reeves said:
“With the change from gravel to Tarmac, I think we will see a real mix-up in the championship. I haven’t done a Tarmac rally since April so we will have to learn to be very straight and smooth with the car again.
“We have raised more money through our supporters by running 20 names on the bonnet [of our Ford Fiesta R2] in Germany to pay for a much-needed test to help us to be in the groove when the first stage goes ‘green’. We are also participating in the driver training that M-Sport has arranged for us at Lommel, so I think our preparation for this event will be excellent!
“Since Finland, we have been to the Nürburgring and done some laps in a front wheel-drive car and also focussed on our fitness. The longest stage in Germany is 46.5km so it is vital to be ready physically as well as mentally. We have also improved our pacenotes this year so I am really looking forward to trying them in Germany and trying to improve on our second place in the Championship.”
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