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Just two weeks after finishing fourth on the dirt in Finland, Subaru rally driver Chris Atkinson faces the testing asphalt roads of the Mosel region for round ten of the World Rally Championship, Rallye Germany, this weekend.

The Finnish result matched Atkinson’s previous best for the 2007 season, a stirring fourth on the tarmac roads of the Monte Carlo rally back in January.

So the Queenslander has good reason to go into the 19-stage, 356.27-competitive kilometre challenge confident of another strong points-scoring result. Atkinson is currently in seventh place in the championship, sitting on 20 points, the same total he collected from the entire 2006 season.

He was 11th overall in Rallye Deutschland in 2005 and was eighth last year, but this time will be his first Rallye Deutschland sitting alongside Prevot and his first outing on asphalt in the Impreza WRC2007. So the Gold Coast driver knows the rally will continue his steep learning curve in arguably the toughest series in world motorsport.

“I’m optimistic of our chances and think that top four is realistic, certainly a higher finish than we achieved in Monte Carlo,” Atkinson said.

“It’s a good field, and there are a lot of good privateers, so it won’t be easy though.”

“I hope we can take another step forward in our performance in Germany. All going well I think that the car will be better than it was in Monte Carlo.”

“Germany is heavily reliant on the gravel crews, and stages can change dramatically from one pass to the second.”

“It depends on your start position as well; it’s definitely an advantage to be higher up the road order for the first stages of each loop. Dirt and mud will get pulled onto the roads, especially in the vineyards.”

“Tyre choice for each stage is critical, and even with a good decision you never know. Everyone could be out there on slicks and it suddenly starts to pour down; it’s just the nature of the rally.”

Rallye Deutschland will be just the second tarmac test for Atkinson and his Subaru World Rally Team-mates, Petter Solberg and Xavier Pons, on BFGoodrich tyres.

SWRT operations director Paul Howarth believes the weather is likely to play a massive role in the rally as the region is prone to inclement weather.

“One of the biggest challenges is ensuring we gather the correct information to enable the drivers and engineers to select the right tyre,” Howarth said.

“Germany is not a place where you play with set-up much, as on the flat and smooth roads, tyre choice in itself can win or lose the rally. We’ve done a lot of work with the drivers in the UK and during the test in Germany to determine a base set-up for the new car which we’re happy with.”

The rally will brings a whole host of unique challenges as the stages are so varied in comparison to each other and indeed to anything else in the championship.

They don’t flow as they do on a traditional asphalt rally, which makes it hard for drivers to get into a rhythm. Also, the road surface doesn’t give the same degree of feedback, which makes judging grip levels and choosing braking points very tough for the drivers.

In addition, some of the stages are flanked with huge, unforgiving concrete kerbstones, known locally as ‘hinkelsteins’, so any mistake will be severely punished.

This year the location of the event’s service park has moved from Bostalsee to the Messepark Trier, which was last used when the event had two service locations back in 2002.

The move has been prompted by the inclusion of a new superspecial stage around the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Porta Nigra, in the centre of Germany’s oldest town. The superspecial, which has been named ‘Circus Maximus Trier’, will use a novel format, with up to four cars competing on the course at one time.

The rest of the rally route has been tweaked only slightly since 2006. Legs one and three will be based near Trier, while the second will include two well-known stages on the smooth, fast roads around Saarland, and the wide, dirty asphalt of the infamous Baumholder military ranges.

The rally starts from Trier at 0930hrs (1730 AEST) on Friday morning with the first stage at 1013hrs (1813 AEST). The podium finish will take place at Porta Nigra, Trier, on Sunday at 1500hrs (2300 AEST).
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