After a sojourn to South America, the World Rally Championship returns to Europe this week for a brand new event: the Central European Rally.
The first of two all-asphalt rallies to end the season, the event is based in Germany but also visits Austria and the Czech Republic.
It is an event that could decide the destiny of both the WRC and WRC2 drivers’ titles.
There are plenty of unknowns to discover on the central European stages, but here is all the information you need.
Total: 68 crews
10 Rally1 crews
39 Rally2 crews (30 WRC2)
5 Rally3 crews (3 WRC3)
The size of the Rally1 entry remains at 10 cars for this event.
That is because M-Sport is scaling back to a three-car entry after running four Puma Rally1 Hybrids in Chile, while Toyota expands to a four-car lineup with Sébastien Ogier returning to the fold.
Pierre-Louis Loubet will have his final outing of the season in M-Sport’s second Puma before he makes way for Adrien Fourmaux, while Grégoire Munster has a second outing in the third car.
Ogier’s inclusion means that Takamoto Katsuta will not be scoring manufacturers’ points for Toyota.
In the Hyundai camp, Teemu Suninen retains his seat in the third car as he looks to demonstrate his abilities on asphalt and secure a place in the team’s 2024 lineup.
The WRC2 title fight has been whittled down to three realistic competitors, each of whom will be in action for what is effectively a title showdown.
Seeded first is current points leader Andreas Mikkelsen (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) who has won three of the five events he has contested so far and, unlike his main rivals, is also entered for next month’s Rally Japan.
Asphalt ace Yohan Rossel will be second of the WRC2 contenders on the road aboard his Citroën C3 Rally2. With wins on the Monte Carlo Rally and Croatia Rally so far this year, Rossel could start as favorite.
Gus Greensmith (Škoda) for whom, like Rossel, this is a last scoring opportunity, is third seed. Both know they must beat Mikkelsen this weekend.
Škoda duo Kajetan Kajetanowicz and Nikolay Gryazin, the latter having the better asphalt form, each retain a mathematical, albeit highly unlikely, title chance.
Emil Lindholm cannot now retain his WRC2 title but will be chasing his first victory since switching to Hyundai.
Oliver Solberg has completed his WRC2 season and so will not be in action. Sami Pajari and Adrien Fourmaux have also fulfilled their seven-round WRC2 schedules but will still drive their regular mounts in the RC2 class.
Seeded at the lower end of the top 10 WRC2 runners, Mikołaj Marczyk, Georg Linnamäe and Josh McErlean could challenge for podium finishes if there are any slip-ups in front.
Drivers from the three home nations comprise 10 of the 30-strong WRC2 entry. They are headed by Erik Cais (Czech Republic), Simon Wagner (Austria) and Albert von Thurn und Taxis (Germany).
With the Junior WRC season over, there are only a handful of entries in the Rally3 category.
Fiesta trio Filip Kohn, Fabio Schwarz and Martin Ravenščak are registered for WRC3 points.
The entry is supplemented by a pair of non-scoring Rally3 Renault Clios for Mitchel van den Brink and Carsten Mohe.
The all-new cross-border Central European Rally comprises 18 stages over four days, totaling 193 miles.
The event is based at Passau in Germany but its ceremonial start and opening leg of competitive action take place in the Czech Republic.
After a Thursday lunchtime start in Prague, crews will contest a short 1.6-mile spectator stage at the Chuchle Arena. They then tackle the 5.5-mile Klatovy stage before returning to Passau.
Friday’s action, the longest day of the rally, again takes place in the Czech Republic. An eight-mile blast through Vlachovo Březí is followed by two longer tests. Both Zvotoky and Šumavské Hoštice measure nearly 15 miles.
There is no service halt on Friday so crews will have to make do with a stop to fit new tires before repeating the loop in the afternoon.
The competitive mileage on Saturday and Sunday is split between Austria and Germany on both days.
Saturday’s action begins in Austria, with a 10-miler through Schärdinger Innviertel followed by the longest stage of the rally – Mühltal, which measures nearly 17 miles.
Then it’s back across the border to Germany for a 7.4-mile test at Knaus Tabbert Bayerischer Wald. Having stopped for service in Passau, there will be more border-hopping in the afternoon for a second run through the same three stages, the last of which is set to be run in darkness.
Sunday adopts a standard two-stage loop run twice with no service. Böhmerwald in Austria measures nearly 11 miles, while the German Passauer Land stage, which will serve as the powerstage, is only slightly shorter.