After a long series of six gravel rallies, the World Rally Championship returns to tarmac in Germany. Having won nine times here since 2002, the Citroën Total World Rally Team has really savoured this event in recent years, and it is also a rally that is very popular with French fans.
Winners on their last four outings in the WRC this season, Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena will be looking for a 74th world championship victory. Although contested on a less familiar surface than in their native Finland, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen will also be keen to match their performances in recent events.
Based in Trier, not far from Luxembourg, Belgium and the Lorraine region of France, the Rallye Deutschland attracts hundreds of thousands of rally to the heart of Europe. With stages through the Mosel vineyards and the Baumholder military camp, this is very much a multi-faceted rally. “People often say that this is my home event, because it was the closest rally to my native Alsace when the Tour of Corsica was still on the WRC calendar. I really like this rally, because there are always a lot of friends there to support me… and also because I have won there eight times”, smiled Sébastien Loeb. “I still don’t find it easy, especially if it rains. Mud gets dragged onto the racing line and that leads to radical changes in grip that can be difficult to manage on such narrow and fast roads.”
As ever, day one will feature stages through the vineyards that slope down towards the Mosel. The second leg looks set to be a long and exhausting day for crews and mechanics alike, with two runs on the 46km-long Arena Panzerplatte stage and two remote service periods in Birkenfeld, with a return to the main service park in between. Sunday will see the final sprint for home, with two stages in the former French department of Sarre preceding the Power Stage held in the streets of Trier.
After he was beaten by his then team-mate in 2011, Sébastien Loeb is determined to add a ninth win to his impressive record here: “At least everyone has stopped asking me how many times I could win here in a row! Last year, I was on course to win, but I was a bit unlucky to pick up a puncture on a long straight section. Michelin has responded since then, introducing new, tougher tyre carcasses. Since July, we have devoted a good amount of time in testing to adapting the ground link technology to the tyre upgrade. I am pleased with the progress we’ve made. We might be a little bit slower on the uneven sections, but that will be true for everyone.”
After finishing runner-up five times in the first eight rallies this season, Mikko Hirvonen also lies second the World Championship standings, 43 points behind his team-mate. As third place is his best result in Germany (2007), the Citroën driver hopes to do better this year: “I’ve always liked racing on tarmac. I was fairly competitive in Corsica and Germany a few years ago. I feel very confident in the Citroën, more than I have ever done on this surface. I had that feeling on the dry stages in Monte-Carlo. When I got back in the DS3 during testing, I could see the vast experience of the team on this type of surface. Of course, I tried to describe what I thought about the handling to the engineers, but I didn’t feel the need to make any changes to Seb’s set-up at all! We’ll have to wait and see during the first few stages to find out what level of performance I can achieve. If the conditions remain dry and consistent, I think I can be in contention to at least finish second!”