On the original 2020 World Rally Championship schedule, this weekend should have been Rally Germany, where ideally the title battle would have taken another twist and turn before the final two events of the year in Wales and Japan.
Now considered a classic rally on the WRC schedule after its introduction in the early 2000s, Rally Germany has produced some of the most iconic moments in recent WRC history.
So, we thought we’d take a trip into the not too distant past to relive six unforgettable editions of Rally Germany.
Loeb’s first ‘real’ WRC victory (2002)
Had it not been for an illegal tire change in the overnight halt on the Monte Carlo earlier in 2002, Sébastien Loeb would have arrived in Germany already a WRC winner. The fact he wasn’t yet mattered little as the inevitable duck was broken in some style on the asphalt of Rally Deutschland.
With Citroën not registered for the Manufacturers’ Championship in 2002 – as it wasn’t competing in all the events – Loeb largely had free rein to go all out for victory on what was then his preferred surface.
Loeb led for all but two stages all rally and built up a healthy advantage over Peugeot’s Marcus Grönholm, who later copped a 30-second penalty for arriving three minutes late to a time control.
While Grönholm fell by the wayside, team-mate and reigning world champion Richard Burns took up the fight admirably, bringing Loeb’s 14-second lead down to 10 by the end of a wet day two, and then to eight on the final day.
But Loeb had enough left in the tank to open that margin back out to 14.3s by the finish to claim his first proper win. And this time he kept it.
Solberg’s altercation with a Hinkelstein (2004)
Loeb won the 2004 edition of Rally Deutschland by 29 seconds over Ford’s François Duval, but the rally is not remembered for that or the fact that Cédric Robert secured a sensational fifth place for Peugeot – his best ever WRC finish.
Instead, it is perhaps best remembered for Petter Solberg’s monstrous crash on the Panzerplatte stage on the Saturday morning of the event.
Solberg slid wide on a fast left-hander, dipping his Subaru Impreza into the undergrowth next to the former military road.
Unfortunately, lying within the weeds was a hinkelstein…normally used to stop tanks, it abruptly ended Solberg’s rally and virtually destroyed the car in a series of sickening rolls.
That he and co-driver Phil Mills escaped without serious injury was possibly the best news to come from the weekend.
Xavier Pons’s heated argument ends in the vineyard (2006)
Carlos del Barrio was an ecstatic winner on the most recent round of the WRC this season, taking victory as co-driver to Dani Sordo in Sardinia.
But in 2006 things certainly didn’t go his or his driver Xavier Pons’ way in Germany.
Del Barrio was left devastated at the end of a stage after getting lost in his pacenotes, calling the wrong corners for a significant amount of time. Anyone who has seen Pons in action will know that he was particularly known for having a short fuse and the Spaniard started yelling at poor del Barrio during the stage, before promptly chucking the Kronos-run Citroën Xsara off the road and into a vineyard.
Pons managed to get back on the road, but the car was covered with vines and enough grapes to make a half-decent wine. Del Barrio’s grief was evident at the end as the co-driver burst into tears.
Holy Cow! Grönholm’s near-miss (2007)
Speaking to DirtFish recently, double World Rally Champion Marcus Grönholm revealed that he still held regrets over his missed opportunities to add a third title in both 2006 and 2007. Grönholm highlighted the final two rounds of the latter season as crucial slip-ups but another chance of big points went begging on the final stage of the German event.
He’d been second, just over 20 seconds adrift of Loeb but under increasing pressure from the privately-run Citroën Xsara of François Duval.
Along the final Moselwein stage, a stray cow had managed to get onto the side of the road, forcing marshals to show a yellow flag to alert crews approaching it.
Grönholm had barely passed by the cow before sliding off road on a fast left-hander, ripping the rear spoiler and bumper off his Ford Focus WRC07.
The off-road excursion cost Grönholm two places and gave Duval second to Loeb, with Mikko Hirvonen inheriting the final place on the podium.
The start of the Loeb/Ogier rift (2011)
The headlines warned us all of the impending Ogier/Citroën split. This was the beginning of the end. Ogier’s first asphalt victory came under a cloud of team orders favoring the team’s lead driver, and then seven-time champion, Sébastien Loeb.
Loeb led the way on the first day’s action, heading Ogier by just 7.4s. But Ogier was instructed to back off and “manage” the gap to his team-mate, causing outrage from the other Séb.
Saturday morning, Ogier was just 0.4s off Loeb’s early pace and closed the gap to his illustrious colleague to under two seconds before receiving a phone call from the top brass.
Talks of a confrontation between the two drivers between stages ruffled more feathers with Ogier complaining that “[Loeb] will just cry and ask to fix the positions. In the past, [Loeb] made me dream, now it’s not the case anymore.”
Loeb’s retort? “Maybe he [Ogier] talks too much.”
Ogier’s outburst proved unwise, as team principal Olivier Quesnel was joined in Trier by the Citroën big cheese Jean-Marc Gales. Both of whom were suitably miffed.
The long and short of it is that Ogier did indeed depart the PSA Group outfit at the end of the year, joining Volkswagen’s WRC efforts for 2013 in a deal which required a year in a Škoda Fabia S2000 for 2012.
Neuville completes unlikely maiden win as rivals falter (2014)
This rally had more twists and turns than the Mosel Valley itself and it produced a spectacular finish to an unpredictable event. It was not just Hyundai’s first WRC win but also the first victory for Thierry Neuville, secured on a thrilling final day.
Neuville also became only the second Belgian to win a WRC event, following François Duval’s success on Rally Australia in 2005.
That was achieved after Sébastien Loeb crashed out on the first day and Neuville’s first win came as another Séb – this time Ogier – also crashed out at high-speed.
For Neuville, getting to the first stage had been touch and go following a roll in shakedown, but at least he made to the finish, as Ogier suffered a huge accident on day one, vaulting over the armco barrier and into retirement.
Having taken victory on the previous round in Finland, Ogier’s Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala was looking for his first asphalt win and his first back-to-back victory in the WRC. He was leading until a mistake on the final morning sent him into the vineyards, handing Citroën’s Kris Meeke the lead.
But Meeke also crashed in tricky conditions, which gave Neuville the win from his Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo by just over 40 seconds.