Pirelli ready for tough tarmac test
He starts this year's rally, which returns to the WRC schedule following a one-year absence, 48 points ahead of Citroen team-mate Sebastien Ogier and the clear favorite to land his eighth victory on the Trier-based event, which runs from August 19-22 and counts as round nine of the 2010 World Rally Championship.
Loeb, who has claimed 22 of his 58 WRC event wins using Pirelli tires, described the task facing the crews and their tires in Germany: "It's an absolute challenge. There are some very fast sections, some extremely difficult passages, narrow and then wide asphalt roads and the surfaces are so varied. The stages in the Moselle vineyards require 100 per cent concentration and the satisfaction afterwards [when you get it right] is immense because the roads are so narrow.
"Then you have the Baumholder [military ranges], which are unlike any other asphalt roads we know. There are rough, clean, wide and fast sections with gravel, mud and dust thrown in. Nowhere is it harder for a driver to find the right mix. If you want to win in Germany you have to be successful on these stages."
Like his rivals competing in Germany in four-wheel drive machinery, Loeb will choose from the hard or soft compound version of Pirelli's P Zero tire, which has been designed specifically for asphalt use as part of Pirelli's three-year agreement as the official tire supplier to the WRC. The hard compound is intended for dry conditions with the soft version offering better grip in the event of rain. However, because the road surface in the vineyard stages is less abrasive than on some other asphalt events, crews could opt for the soft compound even when there has been no rainfall.
"If the weather is dry then we expect drivers to use the hard compound P Zero tire in Baumholder but it is possible that some will use the soft compound in the vineyard stages," said Pirelli's senior WRC tire engineer Matteo Braga. "The Tarmac in the vineyards is not so abrasive like it was in Bulgaria, for example, and you don't have the long, high-speed corners, which means the soft compound tire will not be so susceptible to wear. The surface in the vineyards is also quite smooth so the soft compound tire can provide more grip."
Although it was largely dry during Germany's last appearance in the WRC in 2008, inclement weather has been a feature of the event in the past, a fact not lost on Braga and his team of engineers and tire technicians, who will be supplying tires to more than 60 competitors.
"We can have a lot of heavy rain in Germany so we will have a lot of people using the soft compound P Zero tire," said Braga. "Because there are eight tire changes on the rally, the Priority 1 and 2 drivers can use a total of 54 tires, which is 14 more than in Bulgaria. They have an allocation of 40 hard and 32 soft compound tires so it will be a busy rally for our team, particularly as there are two choices of tire compound and lots of competitors. "Like always, though, we are prepared for this big number and have provided extra resources to ensure we provide the same quality of product and service we do on all rallies."
During most asphalt events, puncture risk is relatively low although it can be a factor on the Baumholder stages where a coating of dust and an aggressive surface combine to create a greater threat of deflations, especially as giant boulders, known locally as Hinkelsteins, line the road. Pirelli's P Zero tires feature reinforced sidewalls to help prevent against punctures and their strength and durability have been widely praised by WRC teams and drivers alike.
Rallye Deutschland is the fourth event of the season for the Pirelli Star Driver program, a joint initiative between Pirelli and the FIA. It gives the opportunity for five promising young talents, Nick Georgiou, Peter Horsey, Hayden Paddon, Alex Raschi and Ott Tanak, to contest six rounds of the World Rally Championship in identical Pirelli-backed Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Xs.
As well as counting as round nine of the main WRC, Rallye Deutschland is also round six of the Production Car World Rally Championship, for two-litre turbocharged Group N cars, and round seven of the Super 2000 World Rally Championship, which uses normally aspirated two-litre cars. Pirelli supplies its hard and soft compound P Zero tires to both support championships, thereby underlining the performance and efficiency of the Italian rubber on a wide range of machinery.
Rallye Deutschland also marks the second time this season that Pirelli's RX tire has been used by crews in the Junior World Rally Championship. Replacing the old RS design, the tire uses the same technology incorporated into the 18-inch version of the RX, but it is now available in 17- and 16- inch dimensions. The tire has been designed to provide more precision, reaction, durability and consistency for competitors in the young driver class. Crews also have a supply of RE7 tires available for use in wet weather conditions.
Featuring 252.07 competitive miles over 19 special stages, the event is the longest in terms of competitive distance in the WRC so far this season. Action gets underway at 9:43 AM local time on Friday August 20 with the final stage around Trier's historical Portra Nigra beginning at 1303hrs on Sunday August 22.