Hyundai is looking for more WRC podiums on German tar.
The WRC drivers head to Germany and an all-tar surface at the weekend
AFTER the snow and giant jumps of Finland, the drivers contesting the World Rally Championship (WRC) yesterday started testing their new Michelin tyres in the series’ only all-tar race in Germany, which comes to a head on Sunday.
Following the opening three outings of the five-round series, the title battle is taking shape, with Welshman Osian Pryce and “Flying Finn” Max Vatanen separated by just five points at the top of the standings, having claimed one round apiece, with the latter popularly triumphing on home turf in Finland the last time out.
Both men have strong sealed surface pedigrees, with Pryce having won asphalt events in the British championship and Vatanen clinching class victory at the Monte-Carlo rally last year.
Pryce said on the WRC website: “I’m looking forward to the switch to tarmac — it’s a new challenge for everyone.
“Some of the stages in Germany are difficult and require a good set of pace notes to be competitive. Our aim is to score strong points for the third set of prize drives and maintain our championship lead.”
Pryce and Vatanen may not have things all their own way, with third-placed Jon Armstrong having spent his early years competing on asphalt in Northern Ireland. After winning in Poland, the 21-year-old will be eager to bounce back from an accident in Finland to keep his title hopes alive.
French teenager Nicolas Ciamin — the youngest trophy contender at just 18 — also comes trained on tar.
And fifth-placed Thierry Neuville, who claimed his and Hyundai’s breakthrough victory in Germany two years ago, will be competing on his home turf. Neuville will be joined in Hyundai’s lead squad by Dani Sordo, who secured a similarly emotional success at the rally in 2013, but sat out Neste Rally Finland last month due to injury.
“Rallye Deutschland is the highlight of the season for me. It’s like my home rally, very close to the Belgian border and a lot of supporters come down with Belgian flags.
“It’s the rally we most look forward to, and it’s an event at which we have always been competitive,” said Neuville.
After the South Korean manufacturer missed out on the podium by less than five seconds in Finland, team principal Michel Nandan is hopeful of bouncing back quickly on home turf.
To make what racing cognoscenti consider the most demanding form of car racing even more competitive, points the crews collect in Germany will be added to the tally, with the two highest scorers winning two prize drives in the 2017 WRC.
VW driver Andreas Mikkelson shows his drifting skills around a stack of tyres in Portugal.