30 August 2018

FRSL: Postcard from Rallye Deutschland – Germany Calling...

Jerry Williams has been covering rallying for more than 40 years, attending World Rally Championship events across the globe to get all the insider knowledge.

But will the World Rally Championship continue to hear the siren sounds pumped out by Rallye Deutschland for 2019?

As ever, we drove to Rallye Deutschland this year. Over the years it’s become a ritual that we look forward to each time. We might not like the event itself hugely but gradually, we’ve finessed the route there so now it’s simple … Ferry to Dunkirk, then arrow-straight down the autoroutes to Trier.

And as ever, the main beneficiary of this ru is my car. Get onto even the Belgian motorways and you can feel it beginning to respond more. Hit Germany and Luxembourg, open it out to 125 mph+ and you feel the Octavia vRS is back to its all singing and dancing best; all those little bits of carbon and stuff on the valves and elsewhere have been burned and blasted off and the acceleration is a real kick again! It’s a great feeling. Never have I come back from Germany without the car seeming back to tops!

Mind you, as I say, not everything about Rallye Deutschland is wonderful. Chief among the downers this year had to be the Press Office (and yes, I’m well aware that for most of you this is just a whinge about lack of privilege). 

However, if your job is to relay the exploits of our WRC prize-fighters, it doesn’t help if your work place is a hotel dungeon a full kilometre from where the cars come back in for service. 

In fact it’s a downright disgrace, alongside that in Sardinia this year, where the Press office was even further from the action. This time in Germany (just like in Sardinia) the TV operation had taken over the previous Press tent close to service. Apparently money was at the base of it all. 

Ogier was closing on Tanak before his puncture

But surely it is time for someone in the FIA hierarchy to put their foot down over this. Let’s not forget that the non–TV Press has a presence in many, many newspapers and periodicals worldwide, It is a nonsense that we are treated in this way. (and no, as I say, this is not special pleading; just a demand for a modicum of respect).

Another point that caused me some amusement in Germany was being told that apparently, during the meeting with event organisers about safety, someone asked WRC.com chief Oliver Ceisla what were the take-up figures for the new TV service. “That’s confidential,” they were told. 

Well, what does that tell you? If the take-up has been a big success don’t you think Ceisla’s people would be shouting it from the roftops? Well, I do! It tells me that the number of people willing to shell out between €50 and €90 for season-long pictures and comment is not that huge.

Now I’m not meaning to dis WRCTV here. Personally I find it a generally brilliant service. Yes, it needs a few corners knocked off as I’ve mentioned before. But as a concept… great stuff. It would just be nice if the company was more up-front about it. One thing’s for sure and that was the full-on commitment from all the top drivers. It got me actually feeling sorry for Seb Ogier, someone I never really warmed to before.

After his broken wheel incident, in turn after a day and a half fighting for every second with Ott Tänak, he admitted the incident almost had him in tears. Watching the TV you could see what he meant. He was using every last scrap of road in his Fiesta in a desperate bid to stay in touch with the flying Toyota man - and here let’s spend a minute wondering what the Japanese can have done to give their car so much extra grunt. In fact, a colleague who knows much, much more than me about such matters said mysteriously that it involved valve timing...

That said, look at the gaps between Ogier and Tänak before the unfortunate Panzerplatte incident: Seb kept Ott in sight brilliantly. Between stage four, Wadern-Weiskirchen 1 and stage 12, Panzerplatte Arena II the gap between them rose only from 7.2 seconds to 13.6. That’s less than seven seconds between Ogier’s Fiesta and the Toyota that everyone sees has suddenly got a lot more speed. It was a superb achievement and until his broken wheel Seb was even thinking of possibly pushing Ott into the mistake that would see the Frenchman take the lead.

Given that he’s already a five-time champion, with his eye on a sixth overall win, that didn’t seem to be too ambitious. On the other hand, Tänak has steel aplenty in his make-up. He’s clearly revelling in the Toyota and now, after two wins in a row, has half an eye on the 2018 championship himself.

You’ve got to start thinking about who is going to take the title this year. Currently Neuville looks fairly impregnable, 23 points ahead of Ogier. But for both of them Tänak now looks the danger man. Another two wins in the last four events will see him in second place even if Ogier comes second on both events. And if Neuville is third on both events he’ll be just 16 points ahead, with two rallies to go. It looks tight.

The stages can be a little bland in places!

You’ve also got to look forward to next season. Will Ogier stay at M-Sport for what he says will be his final contract? I hear that Citroën suddenly has a big bag of gold to punt his way. If he went, that would leave Malcolm Wilson without a proven front-line driver. What does he do then? The easy answer is: put out a call to Kris Meeke. Would he take that risk? Yes, I believe he would. He’s pretty good at turning people round. A real surprise to me is that no-one seems to be trying to prise Neuville away from Hyundai. Paddon, yes, he might be tempted by Toyota of JML decides to call it a day. 

Whatever, it’ll all come out in the wash!

But the most interesting thoughts about Germany came after the event when news broke that Japan had signed an agreement with WRC Promoter GmbH. With Chile certain to follow suit (money has, I believe, changed hands) and with the teams refusing to sanction more than 14 rallies, that means one current event has to go…

For a long while almost everyone in the WRC fraternity has thought this would be the Tour de Corse. The Mediterranean island is expensive and difficult to get to, stage attendances are not that great for TV cameras to linger on. It’s very far from a favourite with the teams.

I must say, I never cleaved to that view. Corsica is very French. If you discount Monte Carlo, it’s the only Francophone event in the championship. FIA President Jean Todt is very much aware of this, plus he likes the event… remember, he came second there as a co-driver in 1981 and 3rd in 1969!

Now the event being mentioned is Germany. And if a rally has to go to get in Japan and Chile I wouldn’t be too distressed to see it being Rallye Deutschland.

It does amuse me, though, to know that all those years ago Portugal was chucked out to get Germany in… The somewhat spurious logic back then was that the country is the heart of European car production. However, if you discount Porsche, who had a possible rally car out on the stages this year as a zero car, none of the major German car firms are event remotely involved in rallying!

Rally Sardinia has some beautiful scenery!

I’m afraid I’m also very old school and it always seems to me to be a rather anally-retentive event; ever-organised and precise to the last dot and comma (I can’t think of another WRC rally where media people need a special pass to collect their passes and maps!). 

Neither do I like the vineyard stages. I’ve driven a few of them and in too many places they resemble open storm drains! Neither does the long Panzerplatte stage fill me with joy. I mean, in its 38 km this year there were over 80 hairpins. That’s ridiculous.

Anyway, I’m up for Chile in a big way: seems like a major adventure to me and we haven’t had enough of them in the WRC of late. 

And Japan? Having been somewhat put off by the last fiasco there a couple of years ago, I’d probably give that place a miss unless one of the teams invites me. 

I’m just too European. Can’t stand being in a place where I don’t much like the food and can’t even make a stab at the language..!

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