Rally Deutschland is one of the all-tarmac rallies of the year but still driven in very varying circumstances, sometimes making it appear more like a gravel rally with mud flying. This year’s route has a mix of stages from the previous years, with a couple of new sections as well.
Last year the rally started from the city of Saarbrücken, quite far from the actual rally center of Bostalsee. We remember the narrow city stage where Kris Meeke ripped a wheel off his Citroen C3 WRC, but this is now replaced with a new opening super special at St. Wendel. Looking at the map, it seems like yet another Mickey Mouse chicanefest, complete with doing two laps and a donut.
In addition to this, the shakedown uses now partly the same stage of St. Wendeler Land which was the power stage last year.
Friday starts the rally on the vineyard stages like traditionally. The opener Stein Und Wein is a staple of the rally, but it hasn’t been driven since 2015. However, at 12 km the stage differs from the previous versions and the last 4 km haven’t been driven in this direction since 2001 when the rally wasn’t even a WRC event yet.
The longest stage of the day, Mittelmosel, at 22 km of length, is driven equally to the way it has been the last two years, containing a super fast 1.3 km section on a wide main road. This stage contains a tricky corner where Thierry Neuville, Juho Hänninen and Esapekka Lappi went out in the slippery roads last year.
Ott Tänak was also very lucky to survive from sliding wide on a hairpin and almost going into the vines.
Eric Camilli showed in 2016 how Tänak could have ended up in Mittelmosel, one corner missed, and there’s no getting back onto the road
The day concludes with the semi-super-special of Waden-Weiskirschen, a new stage for 2017 set in a track-like loop with two laps for each run. Last year this stage was actually driven a total of three times, making the road very muddy on the final runs and almost everyone having some sort of moments, overshoots or spins. This year however, it’s run only twice.
On Saturday we’re in for the pinnacle of the event like usually, the Baumholder military area stages Panzerplatte Arena and Panzerplatte. They are driven partly on concrete, cobble stones, smooth and broken tarmac and the roads are often sidelined with big stones, the Hinkelsteins. And unlike most tarmac roads, there’s also jumps!
Like typically, the Arena version is a shorter stage with mostly junction turns around the audience, whereas the latter is a long stage which also returns to the arena midway to the stage. However, you should still treat the Arena stage with respect, as last year the it played a key part in deciding the championship when Thierry Neuville’s rear suspension collapsed in one of the junctions.
This year, while the Arena stage is driven only twice instead of three times, it has been made considerably longer, utilizing the road that has been often used in the longer stage when it returns to the arena, as the long version will now do its arena detour through a different path.
The long version also has some differences although the start and finish are almost the same. However, it’s impossible to list all the differences to previous editions, since there are countless roads and junctions to drive in a different combination and it has been probably different every year. In this case, even the map images don’t seem to clarify enough. But this year, as the trend is toward shorter stages, even the long Panzerplatte isn’t over 40 km long, but still the longest one of the rally at 38.57 km.
Last year the long Panzerplatte stage caused a lot of punctures, including Jari-Matti Latvala, Esapekka Lappi and many of the WRC2 drivers. Meanwhile, Stephane Lefebvre probably has still hard memories of the stage in 2016, when he had a huge accident, involving a Hinkelstein.
The second part of the day consists of the narrow countryside stages Freisen and Römerstraße, driven exactly like last year. Compared to Panzerplatte, they are a walk in the park.
Thierry Neuville had an excursion into the field on Freisen in 2016, showing that minor offs are safer in the countryside stages than in the vineyards
Römerstraße, another stage introduced for the 2017 event, created last year winning average speeds of 118 km/h. It could be the fastest stage this year, now that the faster stages from last year’s Sunday are omitted.
The rally is not yet over with a massive 72 competitive kilometres left to run, almost twice that of Rally Finland. Replacing the last year’s fast countryside stages will make the rally slower and more technical with more weight on the vineyard stages.
Sunday opens with two runs over the 29 km Grafschaft stage in the vineyards, with 9 km of previously undriven road at the beginning replacing the section where Dani Sordo and Esapekka Lappi crashed last year. In addition to that, the ending of the stage stretches now 10 km longer than last year, onto a route driven last in 2011.
The power stage of Bosenberg will be driven only once. It wasn’t included last year, but the 2016 and 2015 editions contained most of its route.
In 2004 this stage was cancelled due to Roman Kresta and Gilles Panizzi crashing out in extremely difficult conditions.
In 2016 one of the junction turns surprised Andreas Mikkelsen, but he was lucky to get away with that. This year he can sigh of relief as the start of the stage is just after the location of this incident.
This year Thierry Neuville almost secured first starting position before Rally Finland. Deutschland is one of the rallies where being first on the road is a considerable advantage with cutting making the road more slippery on every run. Last year he had the same position, but ruined his chances to capitalize on it by wrecking the aero on his car. Let’s see if he has learned from his mistakes.
Weather will also play a big role through tyre choices. Choosing the correct tyre in the rainy conditions on Friday was a key in Ott Tänak’s sensational victory last year.
Here’s a full onboard from the long Panzerplatte stage in 2013, driven by the champ, Sebastien Ogier
And for comparison of the pace of the 2017 cars, here’s last year’s Arena Panzerplatte by the same man.
Cover image by Tapio Lehtonen