Back to business for the C2 Junior Experience After a well-deserved break for the C2 Junior Experience drivers, it's strictly back to business during the first weekend of August. The fourth round of this year's Junior Rally Championship takes ...
Back to business for the C2 Junior Experience
After a well-deserved break for the C2 Junior Experience drivers, it's strictly back to business during the first weekend of August. The fourth round of this year's Junior Rally Championship takes place over the rapid gravel roads of Finland, on the rally which is also well-known as the "1000 Lakes."
The event is the third and final gravel round of the season for the Juniors and it is also one of the quickest and most demanding events on the calendar. Yves Matton, Citroen Sport's customer competition manager, commented: "This rally is far from easy, but our cars have always been competitive in Finland. Dani Sordo's win with the C2 Super 1600 in 2005, and some excellent performances from Kris Meeke and Julien Pressac in 2006 show that Citroen has a great deal of potential in Finland, despite the well-known difficulty of the stages."
The Citroen C2-R2 drivers will welcome a newcomer to their midst in Finland: Yoann Bonato. The Frenchman will drive a C2-R2 run by Bernard Piallat's PH-Sport team for the next two events. Along with his long-time co-driver, Benjamin Boulloud, Bonato aims to make his mark on the C2 Junior Experience. Yoann has made his way up through Citroen's junior formulae over the last five years, and he has much more experience of asphalt than gravel, but the chance to build up some knowledge of Finland's unique stages was too good a challenge for Yoann to miss.
Matton added: "We are very pleased to see Yoann in a Citroen once more. He's a very talented driver who made himself known on the French Citroen C2 Rallye Challenge. His participation in these two Junior Championship events, which was also partly an initiative from the FFSA (French Motor Sport Federation), underlines our key objective: to take young drivers into the World Rally Championship and give them the opportunity to get noticed at the highest level. It's also very pleasing to see that the FFSA also believes the C2 Junior Experience to be an excellent way to promote young drivers in the World Rally Championship."
The current C2-R2 series leader, Shaun Gallagher, will therefore face another strong adversary along with his usual rivals Raphael Auquier, Gilles Schammel and Stefano Benoni. The C2 Super 1600 drivers were hardly putting their feet up during the summer break either. Conrad Rautenbach became the youngest-ever African Rally Champion, aged 22, Aaron Burkart took two class victories in the German Championship, and Martin Prokop took a podium on the Bohemia Rally part of the European Championship. All three are now ready for the challenge of Finland. Rautenbach and Prokop are both competing on the event for the third time, and they hope to take advantage of the absence of their key rivals, Urmo Aava and Per-Gunnar Andersson. Aaron Burkart comes to Finland for only the first time. Despite the tough task ahead, he hopes to finish in the top five.
Matton, eagerly anticipating the rally start on Thursday night with the Killeri superspecial, concluded: "The C2 Super 1600 drivers are bound to match fit for Finland after competing all summer, which will help them greatly. Knowing our car's potential on this territory, I think that Prokop, Rautenbach and Burkart should all be competitive. If they do a good job, there's no reason at all why they shouldn't be on the podium."
Raphael Auquier (B)
Co-driver Cedric Pirotte (B)
Lives in Braine l'Alleud (Belgium)
"Having heard so much about Rally Finland, I'm very keen to find out more about it for myself. I had a break after Sardinia and I've not been back in my C2-R2 since, so I cannot wait to get started again. I've never taken part in the Rally Finland before, but its reputation as one of the big challenges speaks for itself. Together with my co-driver, we've tried to prepare for the event by refining our pace notes, which will be vitally important. Above all, we want to be there at the finish with our car intact. But there is sure to be some very good competition within the category particularly since the arrival of Yoann Bonato, who is an excellent driver. I know that he is practically untouchable on asphalt, but I have no idea about what he is capable of on gravel."
Stefano Benoni (I)
Co-driver Enrico Cantoni (I)
Lives in Brescia (Italy)
"I haven't taken part in any rallies for three months not since Sardinia. That rally ended badly for me, as I broke my car's radiator after a jump. In Finland, I want to get back some of the ground I have lost: my plan is to be quite careful over the jumps and all the other obstacles that have given this rally such a fearsome reputation. It's the first time that I will compete on Rally Finland, so I hope to learn a lot about these very specialised roads."
Yoann Bonato (F)
Co-driver Benjamin Boulloud (F)
Lives in Deux Alpes (France)
"I'm very happy to be able to make my debut in the C2 Junior Experience. I already have plenty of experience of the Citroen junior formulae, and I think that they are the best way to learn all about the sport. I don't know much about my new rivals apart from Shaun Gallagher, who has contested a number of rallies in France with me. So I will go up against everybody for the first time in Finland, which I think will be a very difficult rally. My main goal on the event will be to learn the stage and enjoy myself; then later I would like to score some points on asphalt. If we knuckle down, we can do it!"
Aaron Burkart (D)
Co-diver Michael Kolbach (D)
Citroen C2 Super 1600
Lives in Berlin (Germany)
"During the summer I took part in a few German events at home in order to prepare for Finland which I can't wait to get to know. On those German Championship rallies, I took two class wins from two events. It was useful preparation for Rallye Deutschland, but also an excellent warm-up for Finland. I went there last year to spectate and it made a big impression on me. I can't wait now to get onto those super-fast stages that look fantastic! It's a rally that everybody talks about, so I'm keen to experience it for myself and hopefully get into the top five Juniors by the finish. Nonetheless, it will be vital to be careful, as just a small mistake could have serious consequences."
Shaun Gallagher (EI)
Co-driver Clive Jenkins (GB)
Born 07/06/80 2Single
Lives in County Donegal (Ireland)
"I'm quite nervous starting this event, as I haven't competed at all over the summer. It's also the first time for me in Finland, so I'm hoping for a neat drive as I get to learn these very technical stages which have plenty of very quick bits! I'd like to take advantage of the fact that the two Junior Championship leaders aren't doing this rally, in order to score some points and above all consolidate my place as the R2 category leader..."
Martin Prokop (CZ)
Co-driver Jan Tomanek (CZ)
Citroen C2 Super 1600
Lives in Jihlava (Czech Republic)
"We have a test session planned not too far away from the Finland stages before the start. It is absolutely vital for us to get fully up to speed on these notoriously tricky stages. Before that, we took the start of the Rally Bohemia in order to prepare for asphalt and Rallye Deutschland. We also did the Acropolis Rally in a Group N car, where we got some good gravel experience in a four-wheel drive car. We're hoping for a decent result in Finland, because our biggest rivals won't be there. But it's always vital to keep an eye open for all the local drivers on this event, wh o know the roads off by heart."
Conrad Rautenbach (ZW)
Co-driver David Senior (GB)
Citroen C2 Super 1600
Lives in London (Great Britain)
"We took part in two African rallies after Sardinia: the Zulu Rally and the Zimbabwe Rally after which we claimed the African Championship! Winning at home was a really good feeling. Now I'm just looking forward to Finland, which is one of my favorite events. I know the rally quite well now and I think we've got a reasonable chance of winning, with the main championship protagonists out of the way. We're testing in Finland on the Sunday before the rally starts in order to prepare for these tricky roads. Once we get underway, I hope that all my bad luck this year is behind me now!"
Gilles Schammel (LU)
Renaud Jamoul (BE)
Lives in Niederfeulen (Luxembourg)
"After the first two events of the year, me and my co-driver felt frustrated by our performances so we had to rediscover a bit of self-confidence. In order to help that process we took part in the Belgium Ypres Rally, which we were very pleased with. It was also a good opportunity to prepare for the Rallye Deutschland, which is the first asphalt event of the year next month. I'm quite optimistic about Finland: I know that it's a rally with several very fast sections and this is the sort of territory that tends to suit us. But as always in this extremely competitive series, it's important to avoid punctures, or going off the road!"