Preview: Rallye Deutschland

Citroen's Philippe Bugalski is the man to beat on this weekend's Rallye Deutschland, the dress rehearsal for the event's likely promotion to full World Rally Championship status in 2002, but Ford's Francois Delecour looks like pushing him hardest.

Preview: Rallye Deutschland

The rally is based in Trier, near to Germany's border with France, with its 18 all-asphalt stages playing into the hands of the two acknowledged sealed-surface experts. But following the stunning pace set by the Citroen Xsara on its WRC asphalt debut, the Catalunya Rally, Bugalski edges it in the favourites stakes.

"We have a car that's proven to be the best on asphalt," said the Frenchman, "so naturally we're aiming to win."

Delecour is still recovering from a wrist injury sustained in the run-up to the Acropolis Rally, but is confident of a good result.

"I haven't rallied in this area before," he said. "But it sounds like the roads are similar to those in Belgium where I started my career."

With the rally on the verge of WRC status, several of the series' manufacturers are contesting the event to gather data on the nature of the stages. Format-wise, Rallye Deutschland runs to the WRC template, with a compact route, repeated stages, centralised servicing on each of its three legs and a superspecial at St Wendel.

Reigning world champion Marcus Gronholm is entered by Peugeot in a 2001-spec 206 WRC, while Germany's top rally driver Armin Schwarz flies the Skoda flag.

Peugeot sporting director Corrado Provera said of the decision to send its world champion: "For Marcus, who is not seen as an asphalt expert, it represents an excellent opportunity to gain additional experience of this surface."

Germany and Austria's top national stars will be out in force too, with Manfred Stohl, Armin Kremer and Isolde Holderied fielding Toyota Corolla WRCs, Raimund Baumschlager driving a Ford Focus and Matthias Kahle hoping to continue his run of success in his SEAT Cordoba.

Interest from outside Germany and Austria has been high and Lancastrian Neil Wearden could be a dark horse for a podium on his second outing in a Grifone-run Peugeot 206 WRC.

In the battle for Super 1600 honours, former British champion Martin Rowe pitches his Ford Puma against the Citroen Saxo of French rising star Sebastian Loeb.

The rally starts from Trier at 10:00 local time (09:00 BST) on Friday, with five special stages around the town and a leg one finish at 17:55.

Saturday's leg two starts from Trier at 08:00 and sees seven stages based around Aulenbach, with a return to Trier at 21:50.

After a 07:00 start from Trier, Sunday's five stages are based around St Wendel, with the event's final stage a second running of a superspecial in the town. The finish is at 16:00 in Trier.

If the event is deemed a success and incorporated into the WRC schedule next season, it will be the fourth true asphalt rally in the series, joining Catalunya, Corsica and Sanremo.


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