Mikko Hirvonen faces a massive challenge on the Rallye Deutschland next week, as he will need to ensure he beats Sebastien Loeb if he is to stay top in the race for the 2008 drivers' title.

Following his failure to win on home ground in Finland last weekend, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT man now has just a slender one-point cushion and the tenth round in the World Rally Championship couldn't be more favourable for his rival.

Indeed Loeb has won Trier-based event every year since it joined the WRC back in 2002 and as such, Mikko is going to have to do something extremely special to break the Frenchman's run.

The Rallye Deutschland is an extremely demanding and tough event too, and it is just as unpredictable as the opening asphalt encounter in Monte Carlo back in January. Furthermore the changing nature of the characteristics and surface of the speed tests, along with the threat of rain, make it especially difficult.

Mikko main's concern though is the weather and the Finn would definitely prefer things to be dry, ahead of his fifth outing there.

The only plus is that he will run first on the road and unlike on gravel, that could work to his advantage. He will also use the new 2008 spec Focus, another small boost.

"Road conditions are the single most important factor on this rally," said the 28-year-old, who took his best result on the Rallye Deutschland last year when he finished third. "If the weather is dry then it's an enjoyable event with some fast and flowing stages. But if it rains the roads can be treacherous.

"The rain is often localised as well which would make it difficult to judge what compound of tyres to use. It's good to be first in the start order here though, although on asphalt the advantages and disadvantage aren't as great as on gravel.

"The first cars pull mud and dirt onto the road so it makes it harder for those lower down the order. It is good we have had a test just before the rally, especially after a fast, smooth gravel event like Finland. Baumholder is always rough and bumpy, while the Mosel stages are fast and the car can bounce around a lot. So it's good to get used to these conditions in advance."

Hirvonen's team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala concurs that rain is something that could have a real bearing on the outcome of the event. He is however, still targeting a position in the top-five.

"The weather is so important on this rally," said Jari. "If it's wet then the countryside stages in Saarland are difficult, if it's dry the vineyard stages are the trickiest.

"They're very technical roads with many tight junctions and the surface is always dirty. There will be many asphalt specialists to battle with here but I posted good times on the final day in Monte Carlo so a top five finish is my target next Sunday."

Khalid Al-Qassimi meanwhile will take in his seventh event of the year in the third BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT entry and he wants to continue to gain experience. He is also hoping to improve on the 16th place finish he managed on the Rallye Deutschland in 2007.

"Asphalt isn't my favourite surface but you have to adapt your style and technique to suit different terrains. I learned some important lessons last year which will help my pace notes and speed. I finished 16th so I'm aiming to improve on that.

"The field is huge so breaking the top 10 will be tough but if I can finish in the top 14, keep learning, post some fast stage times and enjoy myself, I'll be happy," he summed-up.