It is round nine of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship season; we preview the challenges that face the drivers over the coming days at the ADAC Rallye Deutschland.
The blistering drive of Ott Tänak to win in Finland remains the talk of the service park, but for now, at least, the fight for the championship remains primarily between Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier: just one win could be enough to put Ogier back on course for a sixth title.
The Hyundai WRC drivers, Neuville, Andreas Mikkelsen and Dani Sordo, have been busy testing in Germany. After a challenging weekend at Neste Rally Finland, the Korean manufacturer switched focus from gravel to asphalt and put its i20 through a test programme on roads in the rally hosting Saarland region.
The action centred on a mix of Mosel vineyard tracks and military roads in the Baumholder tank training complex, 200km west of the team’s HQ in Alzenau.
Neuville and Sordo both ran for two days, the latter back in the car for the first time since Vodafone Rally de Portugal, while Mikkelsen rounded off the five-day test on Monday. The team’s fourth driver, Hayden Paddon, will sit out Rallye Deutschland but will be back at the following round in Turkey.
Tile outsider, Ott Tänak, is chasing another win at Rally Germany. He claimed a full-house 30 points with a dominant victory in Finland last month and needs a similarly commanding performance in Germany to keep alive hopes of a maiden drivers’ crown.
“We’ll go to Germany with a high target after our win in Finland. I want to take it event-by-event, try to get the maximum out of each rally and see whether we can get back into the championship fight,” said the Toyota Yaris driver.
Tänak’s second win of the season, allied to off-colour performances from leading duo Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier, allowed the Estonian to narrow the gap in the standings. He trails leader Neuville by 46 points and Ogier by 25 points, with a maximum 150 available from the final five rounds.
The series reverts to asphalt after four gravel fixtures. Tänak enjoys the difficulties thrown up by unpredictable weather in south-west Germany and three distinct types of special stages, which often make tyre choice and car set-up a gamble.
“I like the challenge of having many different kinds of roads. We’ll need to keep an eye on the weather because when I won the rally last year, tyre choice made a big difference,” said Tänak, whose success 12 months ago came in M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta.
The battle continues this time on the tight and twisty tarmac tracks of Germany and is the next challenge for the WRC cars. The drivers will have to tread carefully through the ever-changing, challenging terrain, where one small mistake can prove costly.
Rally Germany is the final fully sealed surface test of the campaign, a mix of smooth tarmac, dirty roads and rough concrete.
Moving a few kilometres east last year from its previous home in Trier to its new base at Bostalsee, but retaining its unique appeal as an event of contrasts. It is considered to be the original three-in-one rally.
There is the beauty of the vineyard stages, then there are the military stages, like Panzerplatte, and finally, there are the road stages. Another aspect of Rally Germany is, of course, the weather, invariably changeable, and very often wet.
Rally HQ is at Bostalsee, from where teams will take on 18 stages, run over a competitive distance of 325km, starting Thursday evening at St. Wendel, with the crews driving through the start arch in the castle square, followed by a brand-new 2.05km Super Special Stage in the town’s Wendelinuspark amusement park.
Friday this year, features more vineyard action than ever, with Mittelmosel the longest stage at 22kms, is part of two repeated stages, on narrow roads with tight hairpin bends. Stein Und Wein and a pair of tricky super-special stages will complete Friday’s action.
Saturday, and the annual blast through notorious Baumholder tank training complex, almost 100kms of stages on the intimidating Panzerplatte tank training tracks, lined by the infamous roadside hinkelsteins, which must be avoided at all costs.
Sunday features just three final stages, total concentration will be required for two runs through the 29km Grafschaft, flanking the Mosel river, before the big finale with the last run through the power stage, before finishing just outside St. Wendel.
Skoda Motorsport driver Jan Kopecký can take the lead of WRC 2 if he maintains his 100% record with a fourth victory of the season at this week’s Rally Germany.
The Fabia R5 driver trails team-mate Pontus Tidemand by 18-points, but with the Swede skipping the season’s final asphalt round, Kopecký could claim a seven-point lead with a victory, with second-place also enough for the Czech driver to move to the top of the standings.
However, Kopecký will face stiff competition in Germany from a high-quality field of 19 entries that includes his 17-year-old team-mate Kalle Rovanperä.
Rovanperä was the star of last month’s Neste Rally Finland and was on course for a home victory before broken suspension dropped him to fourth. In Germany however, the youngster will face a fresh challenge when he drives the works Skoda on asphalt for the first time, at a rally he has never tackled before.
Despite a massive crash during pre-rally testing Gus Greensmith has been given the green light to compete this weekend. The Ford Fiesta R5 driver is currently third in the championship standings.