FOUR-time world champion Sébastien Ogier and comeback king Thierry Neuville lock horns in Germany this weekend in the latest instalment of the WRC’s thrilling title fight.
With nine rounds gone and three remaining until the finale at Kennards Hire Rally Australia, the duo is locked together at the top of the standings ahead of the all-asphalt encounter at ADAC Rallye Deutschland, which starts today.
Neuville holds a nominal advantage, courtesy of three wins in his Hyundai i20 to Ogier’s two at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta.
That could prove key as the Belgian starts first in Friday’s opening leg through narrow vineyard tracks on the banks of the Mosel river. Conditions will worsen with every car as dirt is dragged onto the road, leaving Ogier at a disadvantage one place behind.
Neuville acknowledged the benefit, but denied he would try to pull as much mud onto the road as possible.
“There are a lot of cuts and so the road will get dirty. I won’t take more risks of a puncture just to dirty the road. If I drive fast I know the time will be good. With the cuts we’ll be taking, the road will be dirtier and make it more tricky for him,” he said.
“I think we have to continue to attack. We have to be clever, like we did on the last seven or eight rallies, and watch the progress of our rally against Ogier and focus on him.
“The target remains to finish ahead of him to get more points rather than try to win,” added Neuville, who has recovered from a disastrous start to the season which left him trailing Ogier by 38 points after three events.
There are few more difficult asphalt challenges than Germany. Bumpy vineyard tracks, multi-surface tank-training roads in the Baumholder military area and narrow country lanes test drivers’ adaptability to the maximum.
The hilly Saarland region is susceptible to heavy rainfall, which can transform road conditions in minutes. Accurate tyre selection is problematic and precise information on the state of the roads from route note ‘spies’ is essential.
“Germany presents some of the most challenging sealed-surface roads on the calendar. It’s a difficult rally and you have to find the right mind-set and the right set-up for the many different characteristics,” said three-time winner Ogier.
“In the wet, it’s even trickier and mistakes are very rarely forgiven. It’s important to be fully focused and to work closely with the route note crew so as to be prepared for everything the stages have to offer.”
The rally starts with a spectacular speed test in the heart of Saarbrücken on Thursday evening. Competitors face 21 stages covering 309.17km before the Bostalsee finish on Sunday afternoon.