Hyundai Motorsport has its sights set on victory in Rallye Deutschland, as the WRC returns to tarmac this weekend for the first time since April's Tour de Corse, where the team scored the first of its three wins of the 2017 season to date.
The German round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) which starts today and finishes on Sunday, 20 August, is the tenth event of the season and a home rally for Hyundai Motorsport, whose headquarters in Alzenau is about two hours from the service park.
Leading the way
Rallye Deutschland, the scene of its first WRC victory in 2014, has always been a successful event for Hyundai Motorsport. Thierry Neuville and Dani Sordo had two podiums apiece at the event: a 1-2 in 2014, led by Neuville, was followed last season with a 2-3, headed by Sordo.
The 2017 edition will have extra poignancy for Hyundai Motorsport with Neuville leading the Drivers' Championship on 160 points, equal with the reigning champion, Se?bastien Ogier.
All three crews - Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul; Sordo and Marc Martí; and Hayden Paddon and Seb Marshall - would like to bounce back after a difficult Rally Finland and reassert the team's championship credentials.
Return of tarmac
Rallye Deutschland joined the WRC in 2002 after being part of the European Championship since 1982. Although there are many new elements to this year's event, it retains its unique combination of tarmac stages - from twisty vineyards to the multi-surface Baumholder military roads, including the dreaded concrete Hinkelstein boulders, to country roads.
The service park has moved from its Trier location to Bostalsee, with Thursday's ceremonial start and opening Super Special Stage being held in Saarbru?cken. Rallye Deutschland, with 309,17 km of special stages, is one of the shortest rallies on the calendar, but run over 21 stages there are plenty of challenges and demands for crews to negotiate.
To prepare for the rally, all crews have tested the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC on tarmac with car settings varying significantly from the recent run of gravel rallies. Two days of running at Baumholder in July were followed by four days in the vineyards at the start of August.
Team principal Michel Nandan said: "Rallye Deutschland is one of the highlights of the season for Hyundai Motorsport. It is our home event, and an opportunity for us to bring the WRC action closer to everyone who works so hard in the Alzenau factory.
"We had a tough weekend in Finland, but we are determined to return to form in Germany, where we scored our first victory in 2014 and a double podium last year. We don't automatically assume we will be able to repeat that sort of performance - especially with the competition in this year's championship - but that's certainly our aim. With Thierry leading the Drivers' Championship, we are all motivated to secure a strong combined team result."
Crew Notes: Paddon/Marshall (no. 4 Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC):
Rallye Deutschland will be the first tarmac event of the season for Paddon and Marshall as a crew, who showed their potential on gravel with a podium in Rally Poland.
Paddon said: "Rallye Deutschland is a unique rally, almost three events rolled into one. We have vineyards, public roads and the classic Baumholder military sections, which combine to make it an interesting challenge. We will be using the rally as a way to develop ourselves further and to build up confidence and performance on tarmac."
Crew Notes: Neuville/Gilsoul (no. 5 Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC):
Championship leader Neuville has scored more WRC victories than any other driver this season, with wins on tarmac in the Tour de Corse, and on the gravel roads in Argentina and Poland. Alongside co-driver Gilsoul, he will be looking to extend his advantage in Germany, where he has taken a win and a third place in the past three seasons.
Neuville said: "Germany is usually a really good event for us, as a crew and as a team. We have great experience and memories from there, particularly from our first WRC win in 2014 with Hyundai Motorsport. Heading into this year's event as championship leader is something new, but I am really looking forward to opening the road. Hopefully, we can enjoy another strong performance, and increase our lead."
Crew Notes: Sordo/Marti? (no. 6 Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC):
Sordo and co-driver Marti? are relishing a return to tarmac for the first time since scoring an impressive third place in Corsica. The Spanish crew has two second-place results to their name in Rallye Deutschland as a Hyundai Motorsport crew - in 2014 and 2016.
Sordo said: "It will be enjoyable to get our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC back on tarmac after a long run of gravel rallies. Germany is a nice event with some tricky roads. The wider 2017-specification WRC cars will be a challenge on some of the narrower vineyard roads, and we will also have an eye on the weather."
Rallye Deutschland at a glance
The second tarmac rally of the season is run over 21 stages and a total competitive distance of 309,17 km.
The first complete day takes in narrow, hairpin bend filled vineyard roads overlooking the Mosel. For 2017, three runs of a new super special will be held at Wadern-Weiskirchen.
Saturday moves onto the military Baumholder roads for the Panzerplatte tests, with mixed tarmac surface and the traditional, unforgiving Hinkelstein rocks lining the stages.
Sunday has a new-look itinerary with stages held on country roads near the French and Luxembourg border, as well as stages close to the Bostalsee service park, including the new St Wendeler Land Power Stage.