Rallye Deutschland attracts a bumper entry
89 cars set to do battle on asphalt
Eagle-eyed WRC safety crews are used on all asphalt rallies – including Rallye Deutschland – and their job is to spot and highlight any hazards on the road that could cause a problem for their driver and co-driver.
All of the top competitors have safety crews on asphalt events and many are former competitors who have bags of experience inside the rally car cockpit. The safety crew can offer the competing co-driver extra information for their pace notes and advise on tyre choices.
Phil Mills, the Welsh co-driver who won the FIA World Rally Championship title with Petter Solberg in 2003, is one half of Elfyn Evans’ safety crew this season. The other half is Elfyn’s father, Gwyndaf, himself a former British Rally Champion.
“We go through the stages about two hours in front of the first car and we note anything that could cause the crew a problem – such as gravel on the road, a culvert or some water. Our role is to spot anything that wasn’t there on the recce and could catch the crew out,” Mills explained.
“The second pass of the stages is more critical than the first because of all the cutting that brings mud, chippings and other things on to the road.”
Safety crews are used in the WRC because asphalt rallies bring some of the highest speeds of the season. And with that comes increased risk. They are a welcome and reliable safety net.
Mills said: “Once you lose grip on Tarmac there is normally going to be quite a big accident. If your car lets go, it’s very rare that you can get it back. That’s why, as a driver and co-driver, you have to make sure that everything is perfect before you start a stage.”
Mills knows better than most about the risks associated with asphalt rallying. He and Solberg suffered a big accident at Rallye Deutschland in 2004 when their Subaru Impreza WRC rolled across a series of hinkelsteins (large stones that can be found alongside some of the military range stages).
“We rolled over three hinkelsteins on the roof,” Mills recalled. “It was the worst possible accident and a complete freak. Petter and I both classed ourselves as being extremely lucky that we walked away from that one.”
[See for yourself 27min 45sec into our 2004 Germany review video]
There is no doubt that there are risks associated with any kind of rallying, but the WRC crews competing in Germany next week will be safe in the knowledge that there is a safety crew that is always watching their back. “The responsibility for the safety crews is very high but it’s also a very rewarding job when it’s done correctly and everything goes well,” Mills said.