FSTi battle gains pace as championship moves to Finland
Competition in the Fiesta SportTrophy International is heating up as competitors prepare to take part in the fourth round of the championship at Neste Oil Rally Finland. The high-speed challenge is sure to be a test for all nine Fiesta STs entered, as the battle for the title gains pace.
FSTi leader Patrick Anglade will be defending his position at the top of the standings, although Rally Finland sees the return of Round 1 winner Craig Breen who will be attempting to renew his title challenge. Team Abu Dhabi drivers Bader Al Jabri, Majed Al Shamsi and Ahmed Al Mansoori are all battling for podium places, currently lying second, third and fourth in the standings respectively. They will be joined in Finland by Castrol Ford Team Turkiye drivers Emre Yurdakul and Burcu Çetinkaya and Russia's Denis Grodetskiy. Finnish newcomer Jussi Kumpumaki makes up the last of the FSTi competitors and will be an unknown quantity as he makes his FSTi debut on his home event.
One of the oldest and most popular rallies on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar, Rally Finland is also the fastest, and will provide a stern test of the FSTi competitors' driving skills, concentration and bravery as they take on the scorchingly fast stages around the host town of Jyvaskyla in the Finnish lake district.
Anglade (21), along with co-driver Bjorn Rohm (29) has dominated the last two rounds of the championship, extending his lead at the top of the standings to 45 points over nearest challenger Al Jabri. The young German showed maturity and reliability in racing to his record-breaking victory at Rally Poland. But with limited gravel rally experience, the ultra-fast stages in Finland will be a new challenge for him.
Breen (19) and co-driver Gareth Roberts (21) were clear winners in Portugal, but in order to maintain their hopes of taking the FSTi title, they must aim for victory again in Finland. Only the best four results for each driver will count towards the title and, as Breen is entered in just four events this season, he cannot afford to drop points to his rivals.
Al Jabri (24) is locked in a battle with his Team Abu Dhabi compatriot Al Shamsi and will again be looking to prevail in that fight. With second-place finishes under his belt in Sardinia and Poland he and co-driver Steve McAuley will also be looking to stay ahead of Breen and put pressure on Anglade.
Al Shamsi (29) and co-driver Allan Harryman will be aiming to pick up where they left off in Poland and continue to pressure the championship leaders. Meanwhile, Al Mansoori (22) and co-driver Killian Duffy (26) have shown good pace so far this season, but will be aiming to find the consistency that has so far eluded them in order to stay in touch with their team mates.
Burcu Çetinkaya (28) suffered from gearbox problems at Rally Poland which put paid to her challenge for a podium finish. But, with regular co-driver Çicek Guney (27) returning in Finland, she will be looking to challenge the leaders again with the same early pace she showed in the last round.
Her Castrol Ford Team Turkiye team mate Emre Yurdakul saw his rally ruined by electrical problems in Poland, but a series of stage wins proved that the reigning champion still has the pace to challenge for overall victory.
Despite a series of problems in Poland, Denis Grodetskiy and co-driver Safiony Lotko produced a confident performance to complete the rally in sixth place. Having shown improving pace throughout the season so far the Russian duo will be looking to maintain that momentum as they take on the high-speed challenge of Finland.
Series newcomer Jussi Kumpumaki (18) grew up competing on the hard-packed gravel roads that feature in Rally Finland. His experience could catapult him and co-driver Mikhael Korhonen into contention for a strong finish in his first ever WRC event.
Away from the stages, the all-new Fiesta R2 will also be on show in Finland as it continues on its tour of Europe. The car will be on static display in the Ford WRC Service area for the duration of the rally.
FSTi leader Patrick Anglade said:
"Jussi Kumpumaki has enrolled in the FSTi and he will probably decide the pace of the rest of the FSTi field. For us it is important to achieve valuable points and to finish the race without any accidents. We have already won twice and came second once. The best four results will be taken into account and, after Finland, there are still two rallies ahead. So, there is no reason to take a risk on this rally."
FSTi Driver Goals (Rally Finland):
Patrick Anglade (GER) is aiming to defend his lead in the championship. He will have to be on top form with Craig Breen back in the championship and local man Jussi Kumpumaki likely to be making a charge.
Bader Al Jabri (UAE) is locked in two exciting battles. The first is for a podium finish in the championship as he defends his second place behind Anglade. Meanwhile, he will be aiming to stay ahead of his Team Abu Dhabi team mates.
Majed Al Shamsi (UAE) will be looking to get the better of Al Jabri after being edged out by his team mate in the last two rallies.
Ahmed Al Mansoori (UAE) must now add consistency and reliability to the out-and-out pace that he has shown in flashes so far this season. The high speeds of Rally Finland should suit Al Mansoori, but concentration will be key,
Craig Breen (IRE) - a strong finish is vital for the Irishman who is only contesting four rounds of the championship. His goal is to take victory to add to the win achieved in Portugal earlier this year.
Denis Grodetskiy (RUS) -- the Russian's improved speed was hampered by mechanical problems in Poland. If he has a trouble-free run in Finland then he can challenge for stage victories.
Burcu Çetinkaya (TUR) -- the only female in the championship will be aiming to put pressure on the leaders with more of the pace that she showed on the opening day of Rally Poland.
Emre Yurdakul (TUR) -- after the disappointment of his result in Poland, reigning champion Yurdakul will be looking to get his challenge back on track with a strong finish as he competes in Rally Finland for the third time.
Jussi Kumpumaki (FIN) -- home advantage should play into the hands of the young Finn who will be more familiar with the roads around Jyvaskyla and he could spring a surprise on the other competitors.