The return of World Rally Championship action to German roads for the first time in four years has been hailed as “special” by Hyundai Motorsport's Team Principal, Cyril Abiteboul.
A brand-new affair, the Central European Rally is the penultimate round of the 2023 season and will comprise special stages in Austria, Czech Republic, and Germany – the home country of Hyundai Motorsport's factory where Abiteboul and his colleagues are based in between rounds.
Crossing three borders over the space of a weekend is a first for the Championship; Thursday and Friday's action will take place in Czech Republic before alternating between Austria and Germany for the penultimate and closing legs of the closed-road fixture.
Following Wednesday's shakedown stage, 18 speed tests covering a competitive distance totalling 310 kilometres await crews, with Friday the longest day (121.80km).
“The introduction of a brand-new rally to the calendar, and one as remarkable as this, always presents a challenge to teams and crews,” said Abiteboul. “Bringing a World Rally Championship event back to Germany is special for us as a homecoming round, and also for the German fans that have not seen top-flight rallying action in their country since 2019.
“Uniting three countries in one round is something the World Rally Championship has never done before, for three countries with such a huge rallying heritage to play host is exceptional.”
In spite of the unknowns that await crews – in particular the changing weather from country to country – and the wide variation in surface characteristics, Abiteboul is once again expecting top-three performances from his lead driver Thierry Neuville, who can still mathematically finish runner-up in the drivers' standings if results go his way in Europe and the Far East.
“Podium finishes in our two previous Tarmac rallies this season means that we are confident we can replicate, if not better, Thierry and Esapekka's third places at Monte and Croatia,” added the Frenchman.
So far this campaign, Toyota Gazoo Racing has triumphed on the two asphalt rounds, with Sebastien Ogier making it a record-extending ninth Rallye Monte-Carlo victory back in January and Elfyn Evans conquering Croatia Rally for the first time alongside Scott Martin three months later.