RALLY EN DIRECTO
[size=12pt][font=Arial]CLASIFICACIONES Y COMENTARIOS
-[size=10pt][font=Arial]SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM
-[size=10pt][font=Arial]NESTE OIL RALLY FINLAND
[size=10pt][font=Arial]CITROEN TOTAL WORLD RALLY TEAM
After some time off, the Citroen squad are now ready to get back into the action. Heading to Finland, the team are well aware that wins are needed as they take the championship battle to rivals Ford and Marcus Gronholm.
Guy Fréquelin - The eight-week break must have done the team a great deal of good before the final run-in…
"With all the preparation we've been doing for the coming rounds – including testing and Sébastien Loeb's entry in the Donegal Rally plus Dani Sordo's participation in the O.K. Ralli in Finland – the break hasn't exactly been a holiday. True, it enabled everyone at Citroën Sport to take a bit of a breather but we haven't lost any of our motivation and we go to Jyväskylä extremely focused on our objectives."
With eight rounds still to come, Citroën and Sébastien Loeb are second in their respective championships. You face a big challenge…
"We indeed face two big challenges during the second half of the championship. Nothing is over yet and there are still eight rallies to come. We know it won't be easy but our crews and everyone at Citroën Sport intend to give it everything they've got to reverse the trend. Given the points scoring system, we will need to drop as few points to our rivals as possible to stand a chance of winning a WRC title. That promises to be difficult, even though there are four asphalt rounds still to contest. The second half of the season doesn't start with the simplest of events either since Finland is home soil for our rivals.
What makes this rally so special? How do you explain that Citroën and Sébastien have never won here?
"It's a very specific event. The locals know the roads by heart and that will be especially important this year given how much of the total stage distance is new. In addition to the constant high speeds, the frequent blind corners and crests make it even more complicated. In recent years, Sébastien has been very close to Marcus Grönholm and I have every faith in both him and the team. It also seems that the C4 represents a step forward in performance terms compared with our most recent visits. We'll see if that's sufficient to enable us to challenge for victory."
Sébastien Loeb - What does going for almost a month without driving the C4 feel like? Will Finland be a fresh start?
"The break was nice but I wouldn't exactly call this a fresh start because we can't just dismiss all that's already happened this year. It was great to be able to unwind a little away from the stages but it wasn't something I would have liked to see last too long! The difficulty will be finding the ideal pace straight away, especially since Finland isn't the easiest round to get back into the swing of things…"
You are currently in the role of chaser, with eight opportunities to bridge the points gap…
"We will need to hit the ground running and find our marks again as early as the shakedown test. I have nine points to make up and I can't afford to make any more mistakes. To have a chance, Daniel and I will need to beat our rivals which means we will have to push hard. Unlike last year, I will be second on the road on Day 1 and that will enable us to see Marcus Grönholm's lines. That's always a plus."
Winning in Finland was one of your objectives. Is that still the case given your position in the championship?
"It's true that this is an event I want to win but I want to win it against Marcus Grönholm. It wouldn't have the same flavour without him. It's here that he started out and he is doubtlessly more motivated here than anywhere else. It's not that I'm not competitive in Finland, it's Marcus who feels particularly at home! As usual, I will start the rally with the intention of winning. If that means taking big risks, I will ease off. If, on the other hand, it looks as though I can match his pace, I will give it my best shot…"
Dani Sordo - How do you feel after your time off?
"Good, thanks. These breaks are important to give you a chance to take a bit of a step back, so long as they don't last too long! If someone had been forced me to go rallying every weekend, I wouldn't have complained! Staying at home is time wasted. I tried to keep busy by doing a little sport to stay fit. After a month off, you lose the notion of pace and there's a risk of being bit slow on the uptake when you arrive in Finland when, on the contrary, you really need to be raring to go."
How did pre-Finland testing go?
"I'm very pleased with what we accomplished. Everything went well and I believe we are ready. To cover as many different types of terrain as possible, we used a number of different test stages and I immediately found my marks again with the C4. The set-up is reassuring and competitive not only over the fast roads with jumps that we covered at average speeds of almost 145kph, but also over the narrower, slower stuff."
Is Finland one of your favourite rallies? What is your objective for this year's event?
"This is actually only my second attempt at this event in a WRC car. It's a rally that calls for considerable experience if you're looking to finish on the podium. That won't be my case this year. I do like the stages, though, but that goes for any rally driver. They're fast and call for long power-slides, not to mention the jumps… Fantastic! They also demand total concentration however, as well as good notes so that you never find yourself having to hesitate. The O.K. Ralli at the beginning of July helped me gain extra experience of the terrain, but the level of the competition will be completely different in Jyväskylä where I will be looking to score as many points as I can for Citroën."
After an eight-week break, the 2007 World Rally Championship is about to get back into full swing. To get the second half of the season started on a high note, the action resumes with Finland's roller-coaster ride for which Citroën Sport has entered two C4 WRCs for Sébastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Dani Sordo/Marc Martí.
The final run-in to the year sees the World Championship regulars face a programme of eight rounds in the space of just four months, and what better way could there be to get the ball rolling than the year's fastest fixture? The legendary feature of the Jyväskylä region's gravel roads which skirt vast lakes and hug the gently undulating countryside is of course the abundance of jumps that launch the cars high into the air.
"It's an extremely fast rally. You're on the limit from start to finish," says Sébastien Loeb. "And of course there are all the jumps, many of which are followed by concealed corners. The challenge during recce is to gauge just how far you are likely to jump and at what speed you will take off. When the road turns after the crest, it's best to get your landing just right, and facing the right direction!"
The specific characteristics of the championship's ninth round make local knowledge more important here than on any other event visited by the WRC, and that will be especially the case this time round since 46% of the tests are new.
The first leg will take crews west of Jyväskylä, near Keuruu, while Jämsä will provide the backdrop for the second day's action to the southwest.
The final leg will take survivors to the Laukka region, to the north-east. The two Citroën drivers are taking the introduction of new stages philosophically: "The locals learned to drive on these roads," observes Dani Sordo. "They know them by heart and that's a big advantage. I've only done this event one before in a WRC car, so I've still got a great deal to learn."
"Just when I was beginning to find my marks," adds Seb! "It's obviously a key factor that promises to make the weekend even more complex."
For the championship's highest-flying fixture, Citroen's drivers know they will be able to count on an important ally in the C4 WRC. "Straight into our pre-event test programme," reports Seb, "my car felt nicely balanced and that's vital for Finland. We then worked with the team to fine-tune the set-up to make it even more competitive across the full range of conditions."
Dani echoes Seb's comments: "Over the different test stages we used, the C4 responded well. Its consistency and progressive handling are good for confidence and will allow us to push as hard as we choose to."
For Citroën, the mission in Finland will be simple: to maintain contact with its rivals and, if possible, score points. For that, the two drivers have their own approach: "I know I've still got a great deal to learn in these forests," accepts Dani. "It can be easy to make a mistake, and it only takes one… So I won't be out to keep up with the front-runners at all costs. I will endeavour to finish as close to them as possible in order to come away with Manufacturers' points."
Meanwhile, Seb is just nine points adrift of the provisional championship leader and has higher ambitions for the weekend: "It's quite simple really… I will do what I can to win. I will push to begin with and then see where we stand. That said, I can't afford to risk throwing everything away either because that would simply make matters worse. Our situation isn't easy but it could all change very quickly because Marcus Grönholm isn't immune from making a mistake either."
"Finland isn't the easiest of venues to resume the championship because it's one of the most complex events of the year," says Guy Fréquelin. "We will need a top result to keep our chances alive in both championships. Because of his lack of experience, it won't be easy for Dani Sordo. He and Marc Martí must try to score as many points as possible for Citroën. Sébastien Loeb and Daniel Elena are fully aware of the situation and will be out to win, but they also know that complicating an already difficult picture wouldn't be a smart idea."
[size=10pt][font=Arial]BP FORD WORLD RALLY TEAM
Reigning world rally champion BP-Ford resumes its quest for the manufacturers' and drivers' titles in the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship in Finland next week after a busy summer break. A new car, the announcement of a major commercial partnership and a third official driver filled a hectic two-month pause since BP-Ford ended the opening half of the season with victory in Greece in June.
It used the break to complete preparation work on the new Ford Focus RS WRC 07, which will debut in the hands of Marcus Grönholm and Timo Rautiainen and team-mates Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen on Rally Finland (2 - 5 August). The car is an evolution of the hugely successful 2006 model, which won 12 rallies from 25 starts, with development principally concentrating on the engine, bodyshell and weight saving.
The team also strengthened its WRC campaign by announcing a new partnership with Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA). The Focus RS cars will now carry a revised livery bearing Abu Dhabi signage. As part of the agreement Abu Dhabi driver Khalid AlQassimi and co-driver Nicky Beech, leaders of the FIA Middle East Championship, will drive a BP-Ford-entered Focus RS on four WRC rounds during the second half of the season.
BP-Ford goes to Finland with a 28-point lead in the manufacturers' standings after four wins in the first half.
Grönholm leads the drivers' series by nine points with Hirvonen third. Victory in Finland, widely regarded as the sport's spiritual home, is one of rallying's most sought after achievements and the team will start one of the most specialised events of the season with a distinct advantage.
It is based on blisteringly fast roller-coaster gravel speed tests and drivers who grew up on this type of road have an advantage over 'outsiders' who require several years' experience before they can hope to challenge for a win. Both BP-Ford pairings are Finnish and will enjoy the backing of the huge crowds that flock into the countryside amid the lakes and forests near the host town of Jyväskylä.
The wide, hard roads are as smooth as a billiard table and guarantee breathtaking speeds, with last year's rally won at an average of 122.06kph. Technically it is an incredibly difficult event. Precision driving and bravery are more important here than anywhere else. The awesome stomach-churning jumps frequently hide bends just over the crest so accuracy and delivery of pace notes must be exact.
Grönholm is the acknowledged master of Finland. He has six wins to his name and no driver has ever won a full WRC event on seven occasions. "Obviously this is one of my favourite rallies and my most successful," he said. "I'm confident of winning and from the championship view it's important for me to take maximum points in Finland and increase my lead over Sébastien Loeb. Chasing records is good, but the crucial thing here is to beat Seb.
"The new car doesn't look that different to the previous model but the team has worked hard and there are many small improvements. It has improved everywhere and I'm pleased with our testing. The true test comes in competition, however, and I'm sure I'll see the benefits in Finland," he added.
This is Hirvonen's favourite rally and the Finn, who celebrates his 27th birthday on Tuesday, cannot wait for the action to start. "I love this rally," he said. "My early days in the sport were in Finland and I have a good understanding of the roads. When a jump is immediately followed by a bend it's vital to set up the car up for the correct line. When that happens the car flies sideways at full speed and that is the most fantastic feeling in the sport.
"I'm going there to win. But so is Marcus and he has already won the rally six times so it's an easy thing to say but it will be much harder to do. The key thing is not to make any mistakes. The speeds are so high that one small mistake or a problem can rule a driver out of the running. A clear run is a must," added Hirvonen.
Thirty-five-year-old Al Qassimi will drive a 2006-specification car on what will be his seventh WRC start. "As Abu Dhabi's first ambassador in the FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Finland will be a momentous occasion for me. Of course none of this would have been possible without the belief and support of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and His Excellency Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, whose initiative has resulted in our Scandinavian challenge. After all the preparations and testing, I can't wait for Finland to begin and for the world to see Abu Dhabi in WRC action."
Ford World Rally Team
[size=10pt][font=Arial]OMV KRONOS CITROEN WORLD RALLY TEAM
[size=10pt][font=Arial]SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM
After a two-month break, the World Rally Championship is about to resume, and the Subaru World Rally Team will be busier than ever as it prepares to field three cars for the first time this season.
Joining Petter Solberg/Phil Mills and Chris Atkinson/Stephane Prevot behind the wheel of Subaru Impreza WRC2007s will be Xavier Pons/Xavier Amigo, the Spanish pair making their debut for the Japanese manufacturer.
Next weekend's Rally Finland is one of the classic events in the WRC schedule. It's a high-speed thrash along smooth, flowing gravel tracks through pine and spruce forests and past the thousands of lakes which are scattered through the area. The rally is based in Jyvaskyla, a vibrant town which is the cultural and business hub of central Finland. During the 17th century, before the town was founded, the heavily-forested area was a hunting ground for people from southern Finland.
The only hunting going on next weekend will be for the optimum set-up to cope with the unique conditions thrown up by this highly specialised event. On some of the flat-out Finnish tracks, World Rally Cars hit 200kph, while the average speed for the event is about 120kph, making this the fastest event on the calendar. Although the special stages are wide by WRC standards, the presence of trees and large rocks means there is little room for error.
It is essential to have a fast, consistent, stable car which can ride the flat-out crests and jumps at high speeds.
It is not all about which World Rally Car has the best top speed, however. The car needs to be agile, with precise handling, but also needs soft suspension and lots of wheel travel to get grip on the gravel roads. This equation is usually biased slightly towards accurate handling, because it is crucial that the driver has confidence in the behaviour of his machine. If he isn't sure how the car will land after a high-speed crest, he will not be able to push to the maximum.
This year's event will test the concentration of the crews, because a total of 46 per cent of the rally route is new. That will level the playing field, because the more seasoned drivers won't be able to rely purely on experience. Don't be surprised to see some of the younger drivers giving the established stars a fright with some competitive stage times. On the other hand, a home advantage always helps and this event has only been won by non-Nordic drivers on three occasions.
The event commences at 2000hrs on Thursday evening with a 2.06km SuperSpecial based inside the horse trotting track at Killeri. In total there will be 23 timed sections, with a combined competitive distance of 360.34km.
Petter, Chris and Xavier have each been involved in the team's mid-season test and development programme, but they have also taken time out to re-charge their batteries ahead of the second half of the WRC season. Chris took a 10-day trip to Australia to visit friends and relatives, but has spent most of the break at home in Monte Carlo, where he has been running and bicycling to keep fit. Petter has been with his family in Norway and Sweden.
He has been quad biking and fishing with his son and also went to see Rod Stewart at a charity concert. As part of his own preparations for his Subaru rally debut, Xevi Pons has driven the Impreza WRC2007 on roads in Wales, Germany and Finland. But Pons is also able to draw on experience from his previous career as one of the world's top Enduro riders. He has fond memories of the Finnish tracks from when he last competed there on two wheels in 1996.
Subaru World Rally Team
The Subaru World Rally Team has entered three Impreza WRC2007s for the ninth round of the World Rally Championship. Petter Solberg/Phil Mills will drive car number seven, Chris Atkinson/Stephane Prevot will drive car number eight, while Pons/Amigo will be in car number seventeen.
Petter and Phil have contested the event six times with Subaru and have finished on the podium twice. Their best result, second place, came in 2003. This will be Chris's fourth Rally Finland, (albeit his first with Stephane Prevot as his co-driver) and the Australian is aiming to use the experience gained since 2004 to secure a solid points finish.
Xevi Pons may be a newcomer to the Subaru team, but he is no stranger to Rally Finland and has competed there for the last four years. Xevi's best result so far is the twelfth place he scored in 2005.
“It's my first event with the Subaru team and I'm very excited about finally getting to drive the Impreza on a WRC event. The Finland pre-event test last week went very well, I got a good feeling and good balance with the car and I'm feeling pretty confident and ready to go. Rally Finland is certainly a very tricky event, and it's not exactly the easiest place to start my career with Subaru, but overall I'm feeling very positive.”
“Finland is a great event and one of my favourites of the year. There's a good atmosphere, it's well organised and the stages are incredible.
This year I think the rally is going to be very interesting as the level of local competition is so high. There are 28 WRC cars – eight of which will be driven by Finns, and they always seem to go well on their home ground, so I'm expecting the competition to be pretty fierce. The last event in Greece was very positive for us and I really hope to do even better next week. The guys have been working very hard over the summer and hopefully we can show a good pace all weekend.”
“I'm really looking forward to starting Rally Finland; it's a great event and certainly one of the most challenging rallies of the year. The stages are very fast and you have to put a lot of effort into your pace notes, but they are just the type of roads that I like and over the last couple of years my speed there has been good. Over the summer everybody in the team has been working hard and a lot of effort and hours have been put into improving the car. I hope things work well when we get to Finland and we can start to repay all the effort with a good result.”
Richard Taylor, SWRT Managing Director
“We saw in Greece that the Impreza WRC2007 had good pace in certain circumstances and since then we've been focusing on improving its drivability and the consistency of its performance. Over the summer break we have done a lot of work on the car which has been very beneficial and we've learned a lot. We have tested for a total of 10 days in Wales, Germany and Finland, and have also spent a considerable amount of time rig testing and gathering data at a track here in the UK. Our efforts have been focused on steering, dampers and differentials, particularly in the analysis and measurement of some of the chassis and handling issues that affected the car earlier in the year. We have also been preparing for the asphalt rallies that make up 50 per cent of the second half of the season. In Finland we want to see a clear improvement in the team performance, and also that the drivers are able to get a consistent feel from the car and really exploit its potential.”
Paul Howarth, SWRT Operations Director
“Finland is a real drivers' rally and the smooth, flowing stages make it one of the favourites for our crews. But when it comes to lines, precision and commitment to the notes Finland is easily the hardest rally of the year. There is no room for half-hearted commitment - drivers have to attack from the beginning to the end of every stage and have extremely precise pace notes. Finland is not particularly hard on the cars and it doesn't normally wear out the tyres, so drivers don't need to be too tactical or gentle in their approach. Instead, it's all about confidence. There are some changes to the route this year with some new sections to tackle, but the fundamental character of the rally remains the same.”
Source Subaru World Rally Team
[size=10pt][font=Arial]STOBART FORD M-SPORT RALLY TEAM
After a well earned summer break the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team head to Finland next week for the Neste Oil Rally Finland, round nine of the FIA World Rally Championship. The team is currently fourth in the Manufacturers' Championship with Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud sixth in the Drivers' Championship, Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila eighth and Matthew Wilson/Michael Orr in 14th position.
With some mid-season-break testing and various drive days keeping crews on top of their game, the guys will be looking to regain third place in the manufacturers' race as they currently sit just two points behind Japanese manufacturer Subaru.
The fastest rally in the WRC, Finland is loaded with tradition. Finnish drivers have scored the highest number of wins at this event, which is one of the most popular in the championship for both spectators and competitors alike. This year there are 28 different nationalities among the 102 entrants.
Finland is the only event to host its headquarters in the same town every year since the championship first received the designation of WRC in 1973. Last year over 90,000 individual spectators made their way to the Service Park, further proving how rally-mad this nation is.
Roads here are open and smooth allowing for very wide lines and super-fast top speeds but also with sections of narrow, soft gravel roads that have a tendency to rut quite heavily in places.
The event is also renowned for its massive crests such as the famous Ouninpohja jump, the current distance record for which is held by Markko Martin when he travelled 57 metres in the air at a speed of 171kph in 2003.
This year the Ouninpohja stage will be run in its entirety, only with added chicanes, as organisers look to slow down the extremely fast average speed of the event and ensure high levels of safety.
Last year Solberg entered the event after an eleven-week break from the WRC, and despite a variety of brake problems he showed superb form to finish the rally in fourth position overall. This will be the Norwegian's eighth Finnish rally as he looks to begin the second half of the 2007 season at the top of the timesheets.
It's home turf for 22-year-old Latvala on his fifth attempt at the event. In the past the young Finn has had mixed fortunes but this year, in his first fulltime WRC drive, he will have the support of thousands of fellow countrymen as he looks to perform in front of his home nation. Latvala, along with team-mates Solberg and Wilson, took part in a tarmac test in Spain last month keeping up the feel for his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC06.
Wilson will be aiming for points this year round after finishing last year's event just outside the numbers in tenth position. The 20-year-old Englishman has been training hard over the summer gap, spending hours on the bike while keeping sharp behind the wheel with some testing in Spain and three days at the famous Goodwood Festival of Speed, where he entertained the crowd by blasting through the purpose-built forest rally stage over all three days.
“I am very anxious to start the rally, especially with such a long break since Greece. Finland is my favourite rally and a special one for me being my home event, the number of fans that come out to the stages and into the Service Park is incredible and I really want to do well for them. I want to do as well as I can and I guess my goal would be a top five finish, but the podium is always in the back of the mind. I will certainly try my best for the fans but I know I have to finish the rally. I have been working a lot back in my home town over the summer break and keeping a lot fitter through running and also orienteering. Unfortunately I have not had too much time in a car on gravel over the past two months but the test in Spain was probably the best I have ever had on tarmac. I just can't wait for the start of this rally.”
“I have to say I am pleased with the year so far. I am now sixth overall in the Drivers' Championship, just two points behind Petter (Solberg) and four points behind Dani Sordo. I am very happy with that. I was very pleased with the last three rallies too. It is coming. I am struggling a little bit with how the car is for me but I'm taking it step-by-step and am pretty happy now we are getting closer to the top, which is the aim we have. If I can keep my position in the Drivers' Championship and be as close as possible to these other guys, then that would be great. We will try and reach the podium now in the second half of the season. Finland was a strong rally for us last year and hopefully this year will be even better.”
“I'm really looking forward to Finland and getting back in the car after such a big break. I've had a bit of time in the car with the test in Spain and a few promotional drives like Goodwood which, have been really beneficial while there have been no rallies. I have spent some time recently with Robert (Reid) working on my notes and I think with the amount of new rally route this year we will write some fresh ones – so this time with Robert will certainly help us with the notes here; which is a very important aspect of an event like this. Finland is going to be quite warm but I have been keeping my fitness level up over the break and am feeling 100 percent ready to get back into the action.”
Malcolm Wilson, Team Principal
“I think the Stobart team has the potential to do well in Finland. This is Jari's home event and I know he is looking to have a good result here. Henning was fourth here last year and his experience of the event will be very beneficial. He has had some time in the car over the break, with the test in Spain and a PR event with his sponsors and is starting to get a much better feel for it. Matthew has also had time in the car since Greece and has been working a lot on his notes, last year was a good result and finishing the event means he comes in this year with the experience of a full Finnish rally under his belt. Having two Scandinavians in the team is certainly a benefit but it is a difficult rally so finishing the event and keeping out of trouble will be the key to good results.”
Stobart M-Sport Ford
[size=10pt][font=Arial]MUNCHI'S FORD RALLY TEAM
After scoring their maiden manufacturers' point in Greece last month the Munchi's Ford World Rally Team will be aiming to further their tally at next week's Rally Finland, round nine of the FIA World Rally Championship. For both Luis Perez Companc/Jose Maria Volta and Federico Villagra/Jorge Perez Companc this will be their first attempt at the high-speed event.
History has proven Companc performs at best on fast rallies, with his two best WRC results coming from Argentina and New Zealand, notoriously fast events. While this will be the 35-year-old's first look at Finnish stages, his ability to perform on fast gravel roads will certainly put him in the chase for further manufacturer points and his first drivers' point.
Now in the points, the Munchi's WRT has been keeping sharp over the summer break with four full days of testing on both tarmac and gravel. In June both crews headed to Tarragona, Spain, for two days of tarmac work then over to Cardona, where they had two full days of testing on the loose ahead of the remaining five rounds in their 2007 ten event campaign.
Finland is a nation proud of its rallying traditions and rightfully so, it holds the record for the highest number of WRC event wins - per nationality - with a staggering 145 WRC wins spread among just 13 drivers.
Along with France and the UK, Finland is the only other rally to have run every year since 1973 when the WRC was first formed.
The clean gravel event is renowned for its fast-flowing open roads and massive crests. This year over 46 percent of the rally route has changed from 2006, with some sections completely new to the WRC. The addition of chicanes has also been introduced by organisers to slow the exceedingly fast average race speeds for the safety of all involved.
Munchi's WRT manager Martin Christie will play a vital role in the success of his team next weekend having competed on the event six times since 1990. Competing then as a co-driver, Christie will offer valuable insight as the two Argentine crews battle the Finnish roads for the first time in their careers.
Villagra has been keeping in form over the mid-season break by continuing his challenge in the Argentine National Rally Championship, which he currently leads by 18.5 points. In June the 38-year-old took overall honours on round four, Rally de Catamarca, winning the two-day, 141 kilometre event by 18.1 seconds.
Neste Oil Rally Finland is the sixth round of the Munchi's WRT's ten-event campaign – the remaining rounds also include New Zealand, Catalunya, Japan and Rally GB.
Luis Perez Companc
“I would very much like to score points for the team in Finland but I also know that it is not going to be so easy. For sure my experience on fast roads will help but with this being my first time in Finland I will have to be very accurate with my pace-notes because this is a very technical event. Each time you go to a new event you must pay special attention when writing the pace-notes and in this event with jumps and high speed we will try to have notes that can make us go as fast as possible. There are many local drivers that have very good knowledge of the roads and also good notes, but we will try as hard as possible. I had some winter holidays with the family over the break, doing winter sports helps to keep me in shape. The test in Spain was very positive, I had my first drive with the asphalt specification car and what really surprised me was the grip and speed levels around corners. On gravel we came up with some good solutions we hope to apply in the gravel events for the rest of the season.”
“This is my first time in Finland so I will try to do my best and get my first point for the Munchi's team. It will be a great experience for me to drive a fast rally and it's always nice to race in front of lots of spectators. I think the hardest part of the rally for me will be writing good notes as I have not been here before, but if we can make some good ones I think we can challenge and hopefully get some points. I have been racing in the Argentine National Rally Championship over the break so I am ready for this rally. It was very important for me to get miles in the car and the test was a good opportunity to drive fast all the time. We had some time to change different set-ups with the car and this will really help me be quicker right from the start of the rally.”
Munchi's Ford WRT
A red wooden house beside a pine tree-ringed lake... the picture book setting for the WRC's annual Suomi showdown, Rally Finland. Initially known as the Jyväskylä Grand Prix, then the Rally of the 1000 Lakes Rally, the event stands out as a cornerstone of world rallying's calendar, its craziest and fastest encounter that all drivers dream of winning at least once in their career.
Every August, while their Latin rivals prepare for takeoff, the locals sprout wings for their home event. However, contrary to popular belief (in rally circles at least), the original Flying Finns were not actually the country's rally heroes. Despite a score of 13 world titles and almost 150 wins between them, the Mäkinens, Toivonens, Mikkolas, Vatanens, Salonens, Aléns, Kankkunens and Grönholms of this world merely inherited a nickname initially given to the first generation of great Finnish long distance runners - Hannes Kolehmainen, Paavo Nurmi and Ville Ritola - who amassed no fewer than 25 Olympic medals in the early decades of the 20th Century. They were the true Flying Finns.
Another frequent misconception is that Finns have always dominated their WRC round. Again, not true, of course: Latins Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol have both triumphed in the Nordic nation and these last two years have seen Sébastien Loeb give Marcus Grönholm more than just a good run for his money.
Last season even saw the Frenchman claim the celebrated Ouninpohja test, Finland's most famous launch-pad that the fastest drivers swallow up at an average speed of 128kph. The record for the longest jump on the same stage remains the effort of Estonia's Markko Martin who leapt a full 57 metres in 2004!
Another unfounded preconceived idea is that tyres do not play an important role on the Rally Finland. On the contrary, its ultra-quick stages and impressive jumps call for tyres (the only point of contact between the ground and the car rocketing down tree-lined tracks at more than 200kph) that ensure impeccable cornering precision and are also capable of soaking up the huge dynamic forces generated upon landing after the countless jumps.
"The issue here isn't so much tyre wear and resistance to punctures as it is in Sardinia and Greece," points out BFGoodrich's Rally Programme Manager Matthieu Bonardel. "The high speeds and, above all, the incessant landings make huge demands of the casings. In Finland, and for the first time in 2007, BFGoodrich tyres feature a rigid construction capable of withstanding the impacts and guaranteeing accurate steering response, while the choice between soft and medium compounds provides optimal grip."
Although punctures are quite rare on this event, thanks notably to the mousse insert fitted between the rim and the tyre on WRC cars, they nonetheless had a major influence on the outcome of the 2005 and 2006 events. On both occasions, Sébastien Loeb's hope of conquering six-time winner Marcus Grönholm were dashed by an encounter with a rock.
This year's fight promises to be as thrilling as ever and the entry is exceptional, with no fewer than eleven Ford Focus WRCs (including new 2007 cars for Grönholm and Hirvonen), two Citroën C4 WRCs and three Prodrive-entered Subaru Impreza WRC2007s.
It seems like only yesterday when we left Athens, Greece for the two month break of the 2007 FIA World Rally Championship season.
After a well deserved rest, the WRC field is ready to tackle the last eight rounds of the series.
The end of the first half of the season was somewhat unpredictable as most of us expected to see Citroen's Sebastien Loeb at the top of the drivers' championship table. Instead, BP-Ford's Marcus Gronholm was the one who took the honours, holding a nine point advantage over the Frenchman going into the summer break.
Neste Oil Rally Finland is the first event of the second half of the season. The rally is based in Jyvaskyla located in central Finland. It is one of the favourite events among fans and WRC crews in the championship.
Finland hosts some of the most impressive high speed jumps of the series and the atmosphere is nothing but a hundred percent rallying. World Rally Cars can reach up to 200kph, while the average speed is about 120kph, making it the fastest rally of the pack.
The route is made up of smooth gravel with flowing tracks that run along thousands of trees and lakes scattered through the area. It takes commitment, bravery, and experience to be successful on the difficult roads of this classic round.
The event has always been dominated by Scandinavian drivers and Gronholm is the one with the most impressive record. The Flying Finn has won the rally six times in seven years.
BP-Ford World Rally Team will be introducing its new Ford Focus RS WRC07, a World Rally Car that promises to be even more competitive than its predecessor. Gronholm and team-mate Mikko Hirvonen will be the favourites to win. They both will be trying to score the first victory for the newest version of the Focus and claim glory on home soil.
After the team's partnership announcement with Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, FIA Middle East Championship leader Khalid AlQassimi will be joining the BP-Ford drivers in a Focus RS in Finland, as well as three more rounds during the second half of the season. All three cars will now carry a revised livery bearing the Abu Dhabi signage.
Reigning world champion Loeb has been one of the few non-Scandinavian drivers to produce strong results in Finland; therefore, he will be going flat out right off the bat to try and regain lost ground on his closest championship rival.
Team-mate Dani Sordo, a still young and inexperienced driver, will concentrate in gaining knowledge on the difficult event and help his team take as many manufacturer points as possible.
Subaru World Rally Team hopes to have better days during the second half of the season and Finland will be a clear indication of the kind of improvements the team has made during the mid-season break. The results by Petter Solberg in Greece have given a big boost to the team; therefore, the Norwegian should enter Finland on a high and be able to produce some more positive results with the Impreza WRC07.
Chris Atkinson has shown his speed on several occasions but his results during the first six months of the season have not been as good as he expected. The Australian will be looking to prove that he has what it takes and try to benefit from the improvements of the Impreza.
Joining the blue boys for Finland and for the rest of the season will be Spain's Xavier Pons. After a few appearances at the beginning of the season, on board a privately entered Mitsubishi Lancer, Pons will be behind the wheel of a full works Impreza and be co-driven by Xavier Amigo.
Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Rally Team will be looking to keep improving its performance and try to catch up Subaru in the manufacturers' race. Jari-Matti Latvala will be the one to watch out for in Finland as he will be on home turf. Henning Solberg will be another strong competitor; however, he will need to temper his threat as his confidence with the Ford Focus RS is still not a hundred percent.
Young Matthew Wilson continues to learn the ropes of the big league and, with Finland being one of the most difficult rallies of the championship, the Brit will look to take things one day at a time.
OMV Kronos Manfred Stohl will be again the sole standing soldier for the team. The Austrian has struggled with the Citroen Xsara during the first half of the season but he will be looking to improve his pace starting with the Scandinavian event.
Munchi's Ford World Rally Team makes its first attempt at the high speed round with drivers Luis Perez Companc and Federico Villagra. However, after scoring its maiden manufacturers' point in Greece, the team will be in a positive mood and looking forward to improve its results.
Neste Oil Rally Finland kicks off with the Killeri superspecial stage Thursday, 2nd August 20:00 local time, 17:00 GMT.