Hyundai is look­ing for more WRC podi­ums on Ger­man tar.

The WRC driv­ers head to Ger­many and an all-tar sur­face at the week­end

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - AL­WYN VILJOEN

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.

PHOTO: WRC

VW driver An­dreas Mikkel­son shows his drift­ing skills around a stack of tyres in Por­tu­gal.

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