Munchi's squad strengthened by local crews in Finland
After sitting out Rally Poland last month, the Munchi's Ford World Rally Team resume their eight-rally FIA World Rally Championship programme next week at one of rallying's classic events, Neste Oil Rally Finland. Along with regular driver Federico Villagra, the team will be attracting home support as Finnish drivers Matti Rantanen and Mattias Therman join the Munchi's squad for this rally.
The rally takes places in familiar territory, the university town of Jyvaskyla that has hosted the event for over 50 years. And the rally's popularity shows no signs of waning with 90 crews entered, a record for the 2009 FIA World Rally Championship season.
Much of the event's popularity stems from its fearsome reputation as one of the fastest and most-challenging rallies in the world. The crowds of fans enjoy gravity defying jumps while the crews have their concentration, precision and sheer bravery tested as they average speeds in excess of 100kph over 345.15kms of hard-packed gravel stages.
Confidence is high in the Munchi's camp following Villagra's fourth-place finish at the gruelling Acropolis Rally of Greece last month. After some time spent regrouping at home in Argentina, the seven-time Argentine champion is ready to take on the high-speed challenge of Rally Finland.
An excellent season so far has the seen the man nicknamed The Coyote earn four points-scoring finishes from the five rallies that he has contested, and he will be keen to extend that record and move up in the Drivers' Championship. Jorge Perez Companc returns to the co-driver's seat after missing the Acropolis Rally due to business commitments.
For Rantanen, Rally Finland represents a chance to shine in front of his home crowd and repeat the performance that catapulted him to a seventh-place finish in the event last year. The promising Finn has been competing in the British Rally Championship this year, honing his driving skills away from the familiar Finnish roads that he grew up on. But he and co-driver Mikko Lukka are keen to return to Jyvaskyla and prove that last year's result was no fluke.
Neste Oil Rally Finland has only been won by seven non-Finns in its 58-year history and local experience is sure to pay off for Rantanen as it did for Villagra in his home rally in Argentina earlier this year. Rantanen will test the Ford Focus RS WRC on Friday to prepare for the event.
Also taking part in the rally will be another Finn, Mattias Therman and his co-driver Janne Perala. The pair are not regular competitors on the WRC circuit but took part in Wales Rally GB in 2008 and are looking forward to the challenge of taking on their home event.
Rally Finland sticks to its traditional start on Thursday night at the Killeri trotting track where the crews will take on a 2.06km Super Special Stage before facing 130kms of blisteringly fast stages on Day 1.
Day 2 provides one brand new stage in the shape of SS18 Kavala and drivers' concentration will be tested by the longest stage of the day SS19 Vaarinmaja at 29.29kms. Day 3 is made up of four short stages totalling just 47.44kms before the drivers arrive at the finish in Paviljonki.
Munchi's Ford WRT driver Federico Villagra said:
"Rally Finland is always a difficult event, but after a great result in Greece I hope that we will be able to maintain some momentum and score good points for the team again. I have competed at Rally Finland twice now and, as experience counts for a lot in this event, I hope that I will be better equipped to cope with its challenges. If I can score points here and improve my position in the Drivers' Championship then I will be very pleased. We have had a good break since Greece. I have competed in a round of the Argentine Rally Championship, which I am currently leading, and I am now looking forward to getting back in the Focus WRC."
Munchi's Ford WRT driver Matti Rantanen said:
"My goal for this year is to drive to a better result than last year. I think that we have a good opportunity to produce an even better result with this great car. At the moment I feel very confident for the rally and my preparation has been good. For me Rally Finland is a really special event because there is such a good atmosphere in the whole city of Jyvaskyla. Also there are many people watching on the stages and almost all my family and friends are there to support me. Of course the biggest challenge in the rally is the mental pressure because I have to drive really fast but still without mistakes. It is difficult because I have much less experience of these cars but I will try to deal with it as well as I can."