PHOTO: Volkswagen drivers Ogier, Latvala and Mikkelsen aim to do well in their home rally this weekend (Volkswagen pic)
WORLD Rally Championship drivers in Germany this weekend face one of the biggest tests of their gruelling season – and the result will set the scene for Coates Hire Rally Australia just three weeks away.
ADAC Rallye Germany, based at Trier in the Mosel wine region, will be the first event of the year run fully on a tarmac surface and holds many challenges for the drivers.
Waiting to catch the unwary are fast, narrow roads between hillside vineyards linked by tight hairpin turns and the infamous hinkelsteins, huge concrete kerbstones at the Baumholder army tank training ground.
The rally, Round 9 of the WRC, will get underway tomorrow and cover 18 Special Stages over three days, after a non-competitive Shakedown session late today, Australian time, and a festive start ceremony in Trier.
The results in Germany will determine how close the WRC battle will be when teams arrive on the New South Wales Coffs Coast for Coates Hire Rally Australia on 11-14 September.
In Germany, Volkswagen Motorsport aims to do well on its home ground, but the fight will be as much between its two leading drivers Sebastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala as with rival teams.
Ogier, with five wins to Latvala’s three – Volkswagens have won every round this year – leads the drivers standings by 44 points. Latvala’s confidence is high after he won Rally Finland three weekends ago.The other Volkswagen driver, Andreas Mikkelsen, is third.
Ford Fiesta RS driver Robert Kubica is predicted to draw on his experience as a Formula 1 race winner to be among the front-runners in Germany. Last month he won 10 out of 12 stages in a non-WRC Italian tarmac rally and M-Sport team boss Malcolm Wilson says the Pole is ready for his first win.
Focus will be on WRC’s newest team, Hyundai, which is based in Germany and is facing the first real tarmac test of its i20 WRC.
Although it’s yet to win a rally in its debut season, Hyundai has a driver line-up with immaculate Rallye Germany credentials – last year’s winner (in a Citroen) Dani Sordo and the man who almost beat him on the day, then-Ford driver Thierry Neuville.
Neuville is not predicting a win, though it won’t be for lack of support from his Belgian countrymen.
“There is one stage that is 30km from my home so I guess there will be a lot of supporters from Belgium watching there,” he said.
The threat from Citroen’s Kris Meeke was rated highly this week by none other than Ogier.
After Meeke’s career-best third place in Finland recently, Ogier told Autosport magazine he would be watching the Northern Irishman, who was “damn quick” and high on confidence.
Rallye Germany also will see an entry in the WRC3 category by the Australian crew of Adrian Coppin and co-driver Dale Moscatt, in an Italian-run Citroen DS3.
Coppin is using the event as preparation for Coates Hire Rally Australia.