Volkswagen trio heads for the forests

With an unbeaten record so far this season in the gruelling Finnish Championship, the Volkswagen team heads for the forest stages of Wales next week (Mar 22/23) in top form to take the first round of the British Rally Championship by storm.

The trio of 'Colour Concept' Volkswagen Golf GTI 16Vs - backed by Sony In-Car Hi-Fi, Revolution Wheels and Pirelli - will be piloted by Flying Finns Tapio Laukkanen and Jouko Puhakka and by young British charger Ashley Blenkhorn, a combination of talents which gives the Milton Keynes-based team its strongest chance of British Championship success in years.

Laukkanen, 26, has already demonstrated his and the Golf GTI's superb form this year with four out of four 2-litre class victories in the Finnish Championship, including a resounding three-minute win on Saturday's (Mar 9) Jamsa Rally. Laukkanen and co-driver Risto Mannisenmaki now enjoy a commanding lead in the series with four rounds remaining. Tapio is no stranger to success on the Rally of Wales, either - two years ago he was Group N victor in the Principality.

And 33-year-old Puhakka has been showing his class in Finland also - he is the runaway leader of the championship's Group N class after four victories from four outings. Although he and co-driver Marko Lehtinen have no experience of rallying outside Finland and have had little chance to sample the power of their Golf GTI 16V in testing, Jouko is nonetheless expected to fly...

As is reigning Peugeot Masters Champion Ashley Blenkhorn, who will campaign the third car in the Volkswagen squad with co-driver Greg Haynes. Twenty-six-year-old Blenkhorn, from Louth in Lincolnshire, is bidding for the British Championship big time after collecting a string of junior titles during his brief career.

Last season the Golf GTI earned itself a regular top-five place in British Championship events and capped a strong season with a fine fourth-place finish on the Network Q RAC Rally. Further developments over the winter by Volkswagen's partner team, SBG Sport of Daventry, including the fitment of a new, Swedish-developed seven-speed 'sequential' gearbox, should ensure that the colourful trio has an even better chance of success.

Further backing for Volkswagen's Mobil 1/Top Gear RACMSA British Rally Championship assault comes from Trigard, Teboil, Siimesvaara and Brian James Trailers.

Volkswagen rally news --