Having won on all eight occasions that Germany has hosted a round of the World Rally Championship, few would bet against Sebastien Loeb making it win number nine when the rally concludes next Sunday.
Loeb took his first WRC victory in Germany back in 2002 and remains undefeated on the Trier-based event he once considered to be his ‘home’ rally due to its close proximity to the Alsace region in France where he grew up.
The only slight question mark for Loeb is whether his Citroen DS3 WRC will pack the same punch it has demonstrated on the previous seven rounds this season. By his own admission, the French make has done limited running on asphalt and its pre-event test took place in July and in completely dry conditions.
Although rain hasn’t been a factor in Germany in recent years, the Mosel and Saarland regions are known for their inclement weather, which could have a bearing on the end result. However, Loeb has proved on numerous occasions that he is a master at battling against adversity so it’s highly unlikely that he would come unstuck if it rained.
Ford, conversely, is testing in Germany this weekend when mixed weather conditions are forecast. The Blue Oval’s Fiesta RS WRC set the pace on the limited amount of asphalt sections that featured in Portugal and Argentina earlier in the year. However, on both occasions crews were using gravel tyres and settings so the true pace of the car is unclear, while drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala have yet to win on asphalt in the world championship.
Sebastien Ogier, Loeb’s Citroen team-mate, has also yet to triumph on a sealed-surface rally at world level. Like his Ford rivals, Ogier has prepared for Rallye Deutschland by receiving coaching at a race circuit. The ex-Junior world champion has stated that he must beat Loeb in Germany to stand any chance of taking the drivers’ title at the end of the season so expect a major push from the very first stage.
Petter Solberg is expected to be the fastest of the three works-supported Citroen drivers and enjoyed a successful test in Germany last week. Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 Formula One world champion, and Peter van Merksteijn Jr will also be equipped with DS3 WRCs. Raikkonen has been growing in stature on each round this season, although van Merksteijn Jr has endured a troubled campaign to date.
Mads Ostberg will be determined to put on a strong showing on what could be his final appearance in the WRC this season at the wheel of his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta. The young Norwegian doesn’t have any more cash to continue in the semi-works Ford team, where he is partnered by Matthew Wilson. Briton Wilson has been a consistent point-scorer throughout the year and will be expected to increase his tally in Germany.
Henning Solberg and local hero Aaron Burkart will also compete under the M-Sport Stobart banner. Burkart, the last driver to win the Junior world championship, has never driven a Fiesta RS WRC before so will face a steep learning curve.
The MINI WRC Team impressed in Finland and with asphalt ace Dani Sordo on board, another encouraging performance is expected from the Prodrive-developed John Cooper Works WRCs. Sordo’s team-mate Kris Meeke has also impressed on outings in Germany in the past but fears his lowly road position of 15th will hold him back if it rains on the opening day due to the possibility of mud and gravel being dragged onto the road.
Other MINI drivers in action in Germany include Armindo Araujo, Patrik Flodin and Daniel Oliveira, who will line up for the Brazil World Rally Team. Araujo topped the Production Car World Rally Championship classification in Germany last season so will be a threat. Flodin is making his first start in the World Rally Car version of the MINI having driven the S2000 model in Sardinia back in May.
Pierre Campana, a 26-year-old from Corsica, will also be at the wheel of a MINI WRC after being handed a dream opportunity by the French motorsport federation, which his helping to fund his seat. Entered by the French Drive-Pro organisation, Campana is preparing for Rallye Deutschland by contesting the asphalt-based Richard Burns Memorial Rally in the United Kingdom this weekend.
Dennis Kuipers will be a contender for a top 10 finish for the Dutch FERM Power Tools World Rally Team operation, which will enter a second Fiesta RS WRC for his father Rene.
Ken Block starts his first WRC event since Rally Argentina at the end of May. The American, who will drive a Monster World Rally Team Fiesta, was in an impressive ninth overall in Germany last year when a technical failure forced him out on the final morning.
Volkswagen Motorsport will continue its WRC initiation in Germany, running a brace of Skoda Fabia Super 2000s for rising stars Christian Riedemann and Hans Weijs.