With seven rallies to go, the focus of the WRC season switches from gravel to tarmac. Here's what to expect from the top teams in this weekend's Rally of Germany.

With seven rallies to go, the focus of the WRC season switches from gravel to tarmac. Here's what to expect from the top teams in this weekend's Rally of Germany.

So far this season, there have been five different winning drivers, four separate manufacturers claiming the top step of the podium and just a single point between Peugeot's Richard Burns and Citroën's Carlos Sainz in the drivers' title race.

The Rally of Germany is based in Trier, in the south west of the country, and the service park is at Bostalsee. Theoretically, the rally is a tarmac event, but the event visits three distinct areas, each with its own characteristics.

The narrow stages amid the Mosel vineyards comprise blisteringly fast straights linked by tight hairpin bends and square junctions, many hidden by tall vines that provide "tunnel" visibility. They contrast with the wider, smoother and more flowing roads of the Saaland region, which are similar to the Catalunya Rally.

Of course, there are also the treacherous Baumholder stages - combinations of cobble stones, old and new tarmac, old or broken concrete, grassy junctions and gravel.

There should be an interesting inter-team battle at Peugeot in Germany. CARtoday.com reported last week that asphalt-specialist Gilles Panizzi should be in his element in Germany, but he will be disadvantaged because he missed the event last year because of a shoulder injury. Baumholder, the military land used by US soldiers for tank training, is like nothing else in the championship. The surface of the roads changes all the time and lying at the side of the stage are these massive hinkelsteins. Panizzi broke a rib recently after crashing into one of these steins during testing, so he could well be wary of them.

World Champion Marcus Gronholm was on form in Germany last year and challenged the winner of the event, Citroën rookie Sébastien Loeb, throughout the rally. Gronholm is looking to score his first win on tarmac and Deutschland could well be the place to do it. Meanwhile, Burns will be desperate to keep the championship lead he has held since Turkey - and there could be high drama.

Like Peugeot, the battle between team-mates at Citroën will be almost exciting as the rally itself. Loeb won here last year and dearly wants to repeat his win and Sainz knows a strong finish in Germany could give him the lead of the championship.

Colin McRae hasn't set the championship on fire since his move to Citroën, but he was fast on Monte Carlo's icy tarmac and looked strong in the Focus last year in Germany. Philippe Bugalski has not competed in the championship for nine months, but expect him to set some quick times for as long as he stays in the rally.

Subaru's success in Germany may well depend on the weather. A dry rally could make life difficult for Petter Solberg and Tommi Makinen, reports, because the team's "tyre supplier Pirelli may struggle on dry asphalt. If it's wet, however, the Imprezas will be a match for any of their rivals".

Solberg has the momentum of his win in Cyprus, but Makinen just might be the driver with the most to prove. The four-time world champ has not had a blistering season so far and he could kickstart what could be his last few months in the championship with an impressive performance in Germany.

The Rally of Germany will present the 2003-spec Ford Focus with its first taste of tarmac. If Markko Martin and Francois Duval set times close to the Peugeots and Citroëns, things bode's well for the team when it heads to the back-to-back-to-back tarmac rounds in October. Duval says the vineyard stages remind him of the roads he began his rallying career in Belgium, so it's perhaps time for Duval to step out of Martin's shadow, who has had the upper hand at Ford so far this season.

Skoda believes its brand new Fabia World Rally car now needs the heat of competition to develop it further. Technical problems and reliability are always a worry when a new car is launched and it would be a massive achievement if Didier Auriol and Toni Gardemeister made it to the finish in Trier on Sunday.

With a glut of Peugeots and Citroëns in the rally, if one of the Fabias can set times in the top eight, it will be a massive boost for the team. Armin Schwarz had one of his biggest smashes of his career in Baumholder last year and team-mate Freddy Loix's luck wasn't much better.

The pace will be fast in Germany and, barring a few hinkelsteins catching the unwary in Baumholder, retirements should be low. This could make scoring driver points in Germany extremely difficult for Schwarz and Loix.

Original article from Car