With three events of the season remaining in the race for the coveted title, the young driver-training category for aspiring world rally champions is at a crucial stage prompting the rising talents to build their knowledge of Tarmac competition in readiness for the tough challenge ahead.
From specialist tuition at Ford’s testing facility at Lommel in Belgium, laps of the Nurburgring Nordschleife race circuit, a Tarmac rally in Northern Ireland and driving tips from a British Touring Car Championship superstar, the WRC Academy intake have got it pretty much covered when it comes to making sure they get it right on the 12-stage event, which starts on Friday morning.
“With the change from gravel to Tarmac, we will see a real mix-up in the championship,” said Australian Brendan Reeves, currently 18 points behind title leader Elfyn Evans, the winner of the last two rounds. “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 in Germany to pay for a much-needed test to help us to be in the groove when the first stage goes ‘green’. We also participated in the driver training that M-Sport arranged for us at Lommel have been to the Nurburgring and done some laps in a front wheel-drive car. Our preparation will be excellent.”
Evans, meanwhile, has a formidable record on asphalt in his native United Kingdom, but has no knowledge of the varied Tarmac terrain and inconsistent grip levels experienced on the Trier-based event. “It’s certainly going to be a challenge and we don’t underestimate that at all,” said Evans, who prepared for Germany by finishing second overall on International Rally Northern Ireland, a round of the British championship, last weekend in a Ford Fiesta R2, similar to the one used as standard in the WRC Academy.
Alastair Fisher, out for revenge following his frustrating outing in Finland earlier this month, was also competing in his native Northern Ireland last weekend. Although a puncture and a spin wrecked his hopes of a strong result, he said the experience had been invaluable. “Doing the rally helped us to get our heads into gear in terms of our pace notes and driving the Fiesta on Tarmac,” said Fisher, the winner of the opening round in Portugal.
Pontus Tidemand, fourth in the WRC Academy points, starts Rallye Deutschland on the back of winning the Vastrallyt in Sweden, albeit in a Super 2000 Skoda Fabia. Spaniard Jose Suarez, who holds fifth in the standings and has a preference for asphalt competition, competed on Rallye de la Famenne in Belgium at the weekend to get ‘match fit’ for Germany.
John MacCrone will also be well prepared for Rallye Deutschland after he enlisted the help of British Touring Car Championship driver Gordon Shedden to teach him the finer points of driving on asphalt. The promising Scot was also in action at the Rallyday festival in south-west England last weekend, demonstrating his Fiesta R2.
Timo van der Marel from the Netherlands, Sweden’s Fredrik Ahlin, Portugal’s Joao Silva and South African Ashley Haigh-Smith complete the list of drivers eligible for WRC Academy points in Germany and all will be capable of impressing.
Martin Koci will also be competing within the WRC Academy structure this week. The Slovakian won’t be able to score points but will be able to gain an understanding of the series and the exciting competition on offer as he considers his options for next season.
Remembering Gareth Roberts
The image accompanying this preview shows Craig Breen and Gareth Roberts heading to their maiden FIA WRC Academy victory in Germany 12 months ago yesterday (20 August). The result proved to be crucial in their successful capture of the inaugural WRC Academy title later in the season. Roberts lost his life in an accident on a rally in Sicily in June.