Finnish hat-trick for Volkswagen

The Milton Keynes-based Volkswagen rally team and Flying Finn driver Tapio Laukkanen scored a hat-trick of Finnish 2-litre Championship wins on Saturday (Feb 24) with a resounding victory on the Esa Skytta Rally near Helsinki.

Driving the Sony, Revolution Wheels and Pirelli-backed Golf GTI 16V prepared by Daventry team SBG Sport, Laukkanen finished the gruelling 130km rally nearly two-and-a-half minutes clear of his nearest two- wheel-drive rival, Antti Nikkila in an Opel, to claim his third Finnish win of the season and maintain his 100 per cent record in the championship. Laukkanen and co-driver Risto Mannisenmaki now enjoy a 17.5-point lead over Nikkila in the series, with five rounds remaining.

"Once again the Golf GTI ran superbly," said SBG Sport's Steve Bagnall. "Tapio led the two-litre runners virtually all the way and finished an impressive seventh overall. He has a healthy lead in the championship now, but we certainly can't afford to relax yet."

Laukkanen has one further Finnish Championship event to contest before he leads the three-car Volkswagen attack on the Mobil 1/Top Gear British Rally Championship, which starts with the Rally of Wales on March 22. Laukkanen will be partnered in the team by fellow Finn Jouko Puhakka and British ace Ashley Blenkhorn.

Puhakka - himself riding high in the Finnish Championship after notching up his third straight Group N win on Saturday - gets his first taste of British rallying this weekend (Mar 2), when he will contest the Malcolm Wilson Rally in Cumbria for Volkswagen as part of his preparation for the UK season.

Volkswagen rallying on the Internet http://www.demon.co.uk/racing/vwrally.html