After eight events on gravel, the FIA World Rally Championship returns to asphalt this weekend for the Rallye Deutschland.

The Trier-based event can be as demanding and unpredictable as the opening asphalt encounter in Monte Carlo. The roads though could not be more different than the French Alpine passes, although the changing nature of the characteristics and surface of the speed tests, along with the threat of rain, make it just as challenging.

The special stages cover three highly-varied types of road. The bumpy, narrow tracks in the Mosel vineyards on the first and last legs comprise fast sections linked by hairpin bends as they rise and fall among the grapes. Corners are frequently hidden by tall vines and there is no rhythm to the artificial roads.

The public roads in Saarland are more flowing, but are often wooded and can be equally tricky in the wet.

But the infamous Baumholder military ranges provide the sternest test. The roads used for tank training by US soldiers are unique to the series. Fast, wide asphalt contrasts with bumpy abrasive concrete which will demand high durability from Pirelli's tyres. Massive kerb stones known as hinkelstein, designed to keep the tanks on the road, sit on the edge and will punish the slightest mistake.

The tracks are always dirty, a mix of sand and gravel making conditions slippery in the dry and treacherous in the wet. The term asphalt is somewhat of a misnomer for Baumholder.

Special notes:

The event is based once more in the western-German city of Trier, which lies just shy of the border with Luxembourg in Germany's Moselwein region.

The rally is an incredibly varied affair; not your normal clear-cut asphalt event. The rally is run on a blend of fast but narrow vineyard tracks normally more used to hosting the local farmers' tractors, and wide and dirty military roads where the cracked and worn asphalt is very abrasive when dry, or incredibly slippery when hit by rain. Slightly slower than Finland, last year's event was won with an average speed of just over 100kph.

Whilst the event is run in the German summertime, meaning temperatures can be 20 degrees Celsius or more, the mountainous surroundings of Eifel and Hunsruck ranges make for sporadic and sudden rainfall. The slick nature of the roads holds water, so they become very greasy very quickly. With fast-starting stages and low tyre temperatures for the first few corners, the risk of sliding off the road is ever-present.

For the most part, the stages are the same as last year and so the drivers will be treading familiar ground. The largest changes focus on reversing stages and running them in the opposite direction, with only a few entirely new sections introduced.

The 19 stages total 352 competitive kilometres, and are preceded by a ceremonial start at the UNESCO World heritage site of Trier's Porta Nigra on Thursday night. The event is brought to a conclusion with a spectator super special stage in the same location.

FIA World Rally Championship news:

Mikko Hirvonen remains in the lead in the race for the 2008 drivers' title despite having to settle for the runners-up spot on his home event two weeks ago in Finland. However with Sebastien Loeb winning the '1000 Lakes' the Frenchman has cut the gap from 3 points to just 1.

Chris Atkinson and Dani Sordo meanwhile moved up to third and fourth in the standings following round 9, with Jari-Matti Latvala dropping to fifth.

In the Manufacturers' championship the BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT continues to lead, although Citroen reduced the deficit from 9 points to 3.

Pre-event quotes:

Mikko Hirvonen [BP Ford Abu Dhabi WRT]:

"Road conditions are the single most important factor on this rally. 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, 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's good to 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."

Sebastien Loeb [Citroen Total WRT]:

"Following our win in Finland, on the home soil of our main rivals, we have no intention of letting them strike back on an event that has always been favourable to us. I have tended to enjoy a certain amount of success on the Rallye Deutschland, but it has never been an easy event to win. It has often been a very close run thing. I am looking forward to this year's visit to Germany because we will no doubt have lots of supporters there. However, it's a rally that calls for great caution because the stages can be extremely treacherous. We will be looking to win; not to take our score to seven consecutive wins in Trier but because that would be give our chances in both championships a big boost. The Citro?n C4 is very competitive on this sort of terrain and we will endeavour to make the most of that. We will also face the delights of tyre choices for the first time in quite a while. I don't know how big an effect that will have on the way the event unfolds, but we will do our best to make the right calls every time."

Chris Atkinson [Subaru WRT]:

"We were fast in Germany last year, but this year we have a new car on new tyres and the first rally on tarmac so it's hard to know where we are speed-wise. The test there went well, and if we can carry the same form we had last year it would be good. It was great in Finland to get a podium as our first points-score with the new car, as it does build confidence - the more time you spend in the car the more confident you get with it. We will go there pushing hard and get a gauge of our performance, and then see how we go from there, but I'm looking forward to it."

Daniel Sordo [Citroen Total WRT]:

"I am feeling increasingly confident on the loose, but it's nice to be back on asphalt. That said, Germany is a special case. The rain and widespread corner cutting can make the conditions so muddy that it is sometimes almost like a gravel event! It's not my favourite sealed surface rally, but I believe we can target a top finish. I was very pleased with my C4 WRC after our pre-event tests, and asphalt tends to suit me. We will be looking for a good result and a podium finish would be a positive outcome for both Citroen and us."

Jari-Matti Latvala:

"I had two really good days, covering 230km on the first day and 200km on the next [during pre-event testing for Germany]. It was 30?C and clear blue skies so I hope the rally is like that. I learned a lot about the tyres and I believe I have a better set-up for this rally than the last asphalt event in Monte Carlo. When the series switches from one surface to another, and especially after a long time away from asphalt, it's important to have the chance of a good test with plenty of kilometres. The weather is so important on this rally. 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."

Petter Solberg [Subaru WRT]:

"Germany is a rally I like, but one I've had mixed experiences on. It's fast, but it's very unforgiving. We have done two days' testing in the new car on asphalt, and Markko has done a few more days, so it's relatively new for us but things so far are feeling good. We've been fast in Germany in the past so we will see what we can do there in the new car. It's a new car on new tyres, so there will be a lot of learning for the team, but it's important ahead of Spain and Corsica."

Henning Solberg [Stobart VK M-Sport Ford WRT]:

"I think this will be a challenging event for me as I have only done the event once before and that was last year. But we still need to collect points and the aim is for a good result. The best way for me to achieve this is to concentrate on improving my performance from last year and get closer to the top guys' times on tarmac. Then we will see how that leaves us in the overall classification. I like the more open, normal road stages but find it difficult on the military ranges. I need to feel the car flowing and on those stages it is very stop and start and you can't really get into a good rhythm."

Gigi Galli [Stobart VK M-Sport Ford WRT]:

"OK my experience in Germany is not as great as some of the other rallies but I know this car is very good on tarmac so I am looking forward to seeing what it can do. Last time we were on tarmac was way back in January in Monte Carlo so I think it will take some stages to get used to the feeling again. Last time we were here was in 2005 and we ended up finishing fifth so another result like this will be fantastic this year. The super special on Sunday will be amazing, it is a beautiful city which is filled with fans who go crazy when the rally is in town!"

Matthew Wilson [Stobart VK M-Sport Ford WRT]:

"We have just come from a difficult rally in Finland and now we are going to another one in Germany. The event is like three different rallies in three days over different types of stages and each with their own unique challenges. We will have a test before the rally which will be a huge benefit especially after not having driven on tarmac since January and for sure that will help to give us a good feeling for the start of the event. As always the weather here can also make a big difference so the safety crews will have a huge part to play."

Francois Duval [Stobart VK M-Sport Ford WRT]:

"In the past I have had some very good results here in Germany and this year I am in the championship winning car so hopefully this can continue. The stages here are quite similar to those in Belgium which I think will also help a lot. The deal we have struck this year is to do all the remaining tarmac rounds which I am excited about because I know I have the best speed on asphalt. Hopefully my addition will help the Stobart team's chance for more points in the Manufacturers' Championship and also mine in the drivers'."

Toni Gardemeister [Suzuki WRT]:

"I like asphalt driving, although Germany is far from typical asphalt. In many ways it is a bit like Monte Carlo, as the amount of grip you get from the roads is always changing and you never know what the weather conditions are going to be like. I'm not really sure why, but these kind of conditions tend to suit me. Although there are some fast bits, this is not a rally that is all about maximum power: instead you need to have a car that is quite good in every area and most of all you need to stay out of trouble. If we can avoid problems this rally could be a very good opportunity for us."

Per-Gunnar Andersson [Suzuki WRT]:

"I think it will be a lot of fun. I don't know the roads so well, but we've already seen many times this year that we are capable of finishing in the points even on rallies that are new to us, providing we have a clean run. My aim is to accumulate more asphalt experience and finish, but I hope we can get points as well."

Junior WRC:

Round 5.

In the FIA Junior World Rally Championship 13 crews have nominated this event, with runaway championship leader Sebastien Ogier amongst them.

Ogier was powerless to stop Suzuki's Michal Kosciuszko from cutting his advantage to just 2 points in Finland two weeks ago. Indeed while the Frenchman took in the '1000 Lakes', he did so in a C2-R2 MAX and was not eligible to score J-WRC points, as it was not one of his six nominated events.

Now though it is Kosciuszko's turn to skip an event - and Ogier will want to make the most of the absence of his key rival, although he knows the Trier-based event won't be easy.

"I think the Rallye Deutschland will be quite a difficult event. The weather conditions are always changing and that will make it quite difficult for us to find good and consistent grip," he explained. "Although there's a high-quality field though, I still think a podium is possible. Our key rivals will be absent, but the other C2 Super 1600 drivers are certain to provide some stern opposition for the top places.

"Given our position in the championship, we can't afford to make any mistakes. So our goal will be to finish as high up the order as we can, without attempting the impossible!"

Kosciuszko isn't the only top J-WRC runner missing in Germany, as fellow Suzuki man Jaan Molder and Renault Clio runners Patrik Sandell and Milos Komljenovic will also be absent.

Martin Prokop, who like Ogier is one of the favourites to take gold in the J-WRC this weekend, is determined to try and take another win, to add to the one he managed in Finland two weeks ago. He also won in Germany last year and so he has every reason to be bullish.

"I'm really looking forward to this event! After winning in Germany last year and winning in Finland 10 days ago, I'm determined to try and win the Rallye Deutschland again," he confirmed. "Having said that, while Molder, Sandell and Koscuiszko won't be there, there are still several other C2 Super 1600s that can win."

Aaron Burkart could be one of those other contenders on home ground, while the likes of Shaun Gallagher, Gilles Schammel and Alessandro Bettega should also figure strongly.

Local star Florian Niegel will be the only J-WRC runner in a Suzuki Swift S1600.

Other significant entries:

87 crews set to start.

87 crews are due to start the Rallye Deutschland, with 25 in World Rally Cars - the highest number to date this year for a single of the World Rally Championship.

In addition to the usual 'works' entries - although not the Munchi's Ford World Rally Team, as the tenth round in the WRC is not one of the Argentine squad's ten events - there will be an additional 11 privateers in World Rally Cars, including Britain's Gareth Jones.

Of the rest as well as the 13 crews in the J-WRC, another 49 runners will take in the round - with 20 in Group N4, 15 in Group N3, as well as various runners in A5, A6 and A7 machines, including ex-Junior WRC front runner Kris Meeke, in a Renault Clio 1600.

Route:

The route shows few variations from 2007. It is again based around the service park in Trier, although the second day includes two remote service areas at Birkenfeld. While the stage locations are broadly the same, several tests are used in the opposite direction to last year. After Thursday's ceremonial start at Trier's historic Porta Nigra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, Friday's action is based in the Mosel. Saturday is split between tests in Saarland and Baumholder before the final day returns to the vineyards. The rally ends with a spectacular super special stage around Porta Nigra with several cars on course at the same time. Drivers tackle 19 stages covering 352,89km in a route of 1174.91km.

Last year:

Sebastien Loeb led practically throughout last year and eventually took the victory in Germany by 20.3 seconds, the sixth year in succession he has managed to come out top.

Marcus Gronholm was on course for the runners-up spot, however in the last stage, he went off the road, while trying to keep in front of Francois Duval, who was on a charge and who won all five stages on the final day. Marcus lost over a minute as a result and dropped down to fourth, behind Duval and Mikko Hirvonen.

Jan Kopecky meanwhile was fifth, while Petter Solberg and Toni Gardemeister were sixth and seventh, the latter having slipped back after a puncture in the penultimate test, something that cost him two places.

Jari-Matti Latvala took the final drivers' point, with Britain's Matthew Wilson and Guy Wilks ninth and tenth respectively.