51st Neste Rally Finland Official Site: www.akkry.fi/nesterallyfinland/ Round 9 of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship 24-26 August FIA World Rally Championship leader Tommi MÃ¤kinen is one of several contenders for victory on the Rally ...
51st Neste Rally Finland
Official Site: www.akkry.fi/nesterallyfinland/
Round 9 of the 2001 FIA World Rally Championship
FIA World Rally Championship leader Tommi Mäkinen is one of several contenders for victory on the Rally Finland, the ninth round of this year's series which starts tomorrow morning. The local driver is a five-time winner of the event, which is based on fast, wide gravel roads near the university town of Jyvaskyla.
To succeed, Mäkinen will need to overcome challenges from countrymen Marcus Grönholm, Harri Rovanperä and Toni Gardemeister, and drivers like Colin McRae, Richard Burns and Carlos Sainz. The latter trio will be hoping to break a local stranglehold on the event - only two non-Scandinavian drivers (Sainz in 1990 and Didier Auriol in 1992) have ever claimed the honours on one of the WRC's most specialised rounds. The high average speeds, wide roads and huge jumps mean that experience and knowledge of the right lines - even on the straights - is crucial.
Mäkinen, McRae and Sainz all now have 23 WRC victories to their name and all three will be trying to make the record for most wins their own in Finland. The fourth man with 23 successes, Juha Kankkunen, is also present, having been drafted into the Hyundai squad for a one-off appearance. With veterans Stig Blomqvist and Markku Alen also contesting the rally in World Rally Cars, the scene is set for an intriguing battle between today's young chargers and the older generation.
MITSUBISHI (1st - 66 points)
Technical: Mitsubishi's engineers have worked hard to make sure that the current Lancer's revised rear suspension works effectively on the fast Finnish stages. But with development work on the forthcoming Lancer World Rally Car now in full swing before its debut in Sanremo, the current cars are largely unchanged in specification for this event. Ralliart has yet to fully discover why Freddy Loix's car suffered engine problems in Kenya.
Sporting: Current world championship leader Tommi Mäkinen will be aiming to break the record for rally wins on his home event, where he already has an exceptional record. The Finn won this rally five years in succession between 1994 and 1998. Mitsubishi is fielding three Lancers on this event, with Mäkinen joined in the manufacturers' points nominations by countryman Toni Gardemeister. The team's regular second driver, Freddy Loix, is therefore eligible for drivers' points only.
Tommi Mäkinen said: "I want to get my Rally Finland title back again after a couple of bad years here, and I'm quite confident. The car feels good, I know the conditions and stages well and I'm determined. But it'll be a big fight - I think any one of five or six drivers could win."
Toni Gardemeister said: "We've done quite a lot of testing to help me feel comfortable with the Lancer and it's worked. My target here is to get some points for Mitsubishi and myself, and if my times are close to Tommi's pace then I'll be happy."
Freddy Loix said: "The new rear suspension makes quite a bit difference to the handling here and I'm much happier with the car on Finnish roads than I was in 2000. I've never really gone too well here so I just want to see my pace improve."
FORD (2nd - 60 points)
Technical: Ford has produced stiffer suspension for the Focus WRCs here. The team is still unsure of the reasons behind Carlos Sainz's engine failure in Kenya, though.
Sporting: Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae are nominated for manufacturers' points, with Francois Delecour aiming for drivers' points only.
Colin McRae said: "It'd be nice to win here but it's a tough event. Previous experience still makes a big difference here, although some of the traditional stages have been replaced so the Finns have lost a bit of their advantage. We were second here last year so I think the signs are encouraging."
Carlos Sainz said: "In a lot of ways this is the most difficult rally of the season for me. The roads are wide and fast, and knowledge is very important. It's a big challenge."
Francois Delecour said: "This is the hardest rally in the championship for me. It's so crucial to know the roads that you really have to have competed here five or six times before you can think of really challenging."
SUBARU (3rd - 28 points)
Technical: Subaru has introduced revised propshaft joints on the Impreza WRC2001s on this event after concerns over breakages.
Sporting: Subaru has entered three Impreza WRC2001s in Finland. Richard Burns and Petter Solberg will both be nominated for manufacturers' points, while Markko Martin returns to WRC action aiming for drivers' points only. Subaru's fourth driver, Toshihiro Arai, is missing this event although the Japanese star completed the recce.
Richard Burns said: "We've been strong here before and I'm bringing the same attitude here this year - I want to win. We had a big disappointment in Kenya so I can't really think about the championship - I'll just try as hard as possible to win the rally and we'll see what happens."
Petter Solberg said: "I like this event a lot, particularly the jumps and the high speeds involved. But I haven't got a result planned in my head - I just want to drive my own event, see what my pace is and take it from there."
Markko Martin said: "This is the rally in the championship that I've got the most experience of so I'm looking forward to it. There should be quite a few fans from Estonia over here to watch so hopefully I can put on a good show and get a result here."
PEUGEOT (4th - 26 points)
Technical: All three works Peugeot 206 WRCs will feature revised driveshafts after the team encountered problems in that area in Kenya. Marcus Grönholm and Didier Auriol have both opted to fit their 206s with six-speed gearboxes, while Harri Rovanperä uses a five-speed unit in his example.
Sporting: Peugeot has again nominated Marcus Grönholm and Harri Rovanperä for manufacturers' points. 1994 World champion Didier Auriol is therefore aiming for drivers' points only. The team's fourth driver, Gilles Panizzi, will tackle the event in a 206 WRC run by Italian private team Grifone.
Marcus Gronholm said: "We've had so much bad luck this year but I have high hopes for my home rally. We took a good win here last year and the car feels better now than it did then so hopefully our speed will be higher again. Of course it will be difficult - the rally has attracted a really good entry and there will be six or seven drivers challenging for the win."
Harri Rovanpera said: "It was good to get a podium finish on the last rally in Kenya but this will be a very different type of rally! We were good here last year in a private Corolla and finished third, so of course I hope that we do a bit better than that with the Peugeot. But the competition here will be very tough - it's hard to predict anything."
SKODA (5th - 15 points)
Technical: Skoda has made slight revisions to the camshafts on the Octavia WRC's engines, following in-house work by the team's engineers in the Czech Republic.
Sporting: Armin Schwarz and Bruno Thiry will drive Octavia WRCs as usual, although the Belgian will be navigated by Georges Biar instead of Stephane Prevot. Prevot is still recovering from injuries sustained during the pair's accident on the Safari Rally last month. Schwarz himself is unwell - the German has been suffering from an inner ear infection prior to this event. Skoda has also entered an Octavia WRC for 1984 World Champion Stig Blomqvist. The 55-year-old Swede is tackling the Rally Finland for the 19th time this year.
Armin Schwarz said: "I've been feeling really ill, and I hope I get better prior by the time we drive over the ramp tomorrow morning. The car feels really strong and good and even though there's a terrific entry for this event, I'd like to think we can still get a good result."
Bruno Thiry said: "It's the first time in 11 years that I haven't had Stephane alongside me in the rally car and it'll be difficult for Georges to settle in because Finland's such a fast rally. But at least the car feels good during testing and shakedown."
Stig Blomqvist said: "It's nice to be back in a works car again and the Octavia has been working well in testing. I'm looking forward to the start."
HYUNDAI (6th - 10 points)
Technical: Hyundai has extracted a little more top-end power from the Accent WRC2's engine for this event. That aside, the team used its break from the WRC (it missed the Safari) to concentrate on improving reliability and tweaking the dampers and transmission settings.
Sporting: Hyundai is sending three Accent WRC2s to this event. Kenneth Eriksson will be nominated for manufacturers' points as usual, but the second nominated car will be driven by four-times world champion Juha Kankkunen, who has been drafted into the squad for his first WRC outing of the year. Alister McRae will therefore challenge for drivers' points only - the event marks his and navigator David Senior's 50th appearance at world championship level.
Kenneth Eriksson said: "I think this could be a very hard event. On the sandy stages where we're running twice the road will cut up quite badly - I don't think the organisers should have made that schedule. The sandy roads really sap the engine power and that's where we could lose out but the car feels like it's handling quite well."
Juha Kankkunen said: "It's always nice to come back into the world championship, especially when it's Finland. We have to be realistic and say that winning here will be very difficult, but I have been impressed by the Accent. It's got a lot of potential and if the team continues progress it could be fighting for wins next season."
Citroen's Xsara WRCs are not present in Finland, as the French team prepares for its two outings in Sanremo and Corsica in October.
The Rally Finland has attracted 165 entries (150 crews will start), with a host of privately-run World Rally Cars ready to challenge for top ten placings. Among the more fancied runners are current FIA Teams Cup leader Pasi Hagstrom (Toyota), Sebastian Lindholm (Peugeot), Jani Paasonen (Ford), Janne Tuohino (Toyota) and Juuso Pykalisto (Toyota). Finnish veteran Markku Alen is also contesting the event in a Ford Focus WRC. The event is a counting round of the FIA Super 1600 Cup, where Citroen Saxo driver Sebastien Loeb is hoping to continue his unbeaten run in the series. The Frenchman will face competition from local driver Jussi Valimaki (Peugeot), Andrea Dallavilla (Fiat) and Cedric Robert (Peugeot).
Pirelli is supplying its teams with two types of tyre - the K (for hard surfaces) and KM (for soft or sandy surfaces). Michelin, meanwhile, is offering three options - the Z is for clear, hard ground, the ZA will be used on damp or loose surfaces and the ZE is available for damp ground or loose gravel.