Finns have won the World Rally Championship 11 times in the last 20 years, and are clearly the most successful nationality in rallying. On their home event they have dominated, winning eight times in the last ten years - the last "foreign" winner...
Finns have won the World Rally Championship 11 times in the last 20 years, and are clearly the most successful nationality in rallying. On their home event they have dominated, winning eight times in the last ten years - the last "foreign" winner was Didier Auriol in 1992.
So this is the prize that every rally driver wants to take home - victory against the Finns on their home ground.
The drivers most likely to succeed in beating the "locals" are two Britons and a Spaniard. Championship leader Richard Burns was very quick here last year, pushing his Subaru Team-mate and eventual winner Juha Kankkunen all the way - the veteran winning by just under ten seconds. Burns' form has been even stronger this year, and he will certainly fancy his chances. But after a stunning start to the season his new Subaru has proved fragile on the last two rounds in Greece and New Zealand, so his commitment will be total as he bids to extend his lead in the title race.
As Burns' car faltered Colin McRae's Ford Focus has shown improving form. The team appears to have overcome reliability problems to take wins in Spain and Greece and a strong second in New Zealand. But the Scot does not have a good finishing record in Finland - two accidents and two engine failures stopping him on the last four outings. McRae recently signed a new two-year contract with Ford, so all he has to concentrate on now is winning! Carlos Sainz, in the second Focus, has been close to McRae's pace on recent events and has a strong record here, winning in 1990 and finishing on the podium for the last two years.
World Champion Tommi Makinen has had a dispiriting mid season in his Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart Team's Lancer but has expressed great confidence in the revised car which the team will use here. Although still an Evolution 6 model it is believed to have many of the features to be incorporated in next year's car, and the team has accumulated encouraging test data. Makinen won the rally for five years on the run until last year, when sidelined by transmission failure. Fourth in the Championship, he must win here if he has any chance of retaining his title with a late season charge.
If a Finn is to succeed yet again - and the bookmakers will surely make one favourite - the newest star in rallying's firmament, Marcus Gronholm, is the most likely on recent form. Second in the Championship by just four points he has shown both raw speed and sensible restraint in his Peugeot this season.
He led this rally for the French marque last year and is growing in confidence and maturity with every rally; his performance in New Zealand, winning against drivers with much more experience over the terrain underlined his stature as a future Champion. The 206 is improving all the time and could dominate, although Juha Kankkunen could prove to be Gronholm's toughest "local" opponent in the second Subaru.
The Manufacturers Championship is Peugeot's priority, and to gather maximum points they have nominated the experienced Finn Sebastian Lindholm to score points alongside Marcus Gronholm. He has long experience - and two fourth places - here and should be able to keep the 206 in the points. Regular Peugeot driver Francois Delecour is also likely to be in the hunt, but only for driver's points, and if leading one of the nominated drivers close to the finish could be asked to give way.
Freddy Loix has not had the best of luck with the second official Mitsubishi this year, and has only been here twice before. He will be looking for a trouble free run through the fast gravel stages hoping to improve on his tenth place last year.
The Seat team will be hoping that this rally is a turning point for their programme. The Cordoba has been outgunned in almost every department lately and the Spanish marque trails the Czech Skoda team in the points table - a particularly sore point as both companies are owned by VW, and the Seat operation has been competing at this level for much longer. The new Cordoba E3, which makes its debut here, is claimed to be more powerful and with better handling; drivers Didier Auriol and Toni Gardemeister will certainly be hoping so.
The British based Hyundai Team was much encouraged by the performance of the Accent in New Zealand, when Kenneth Eriksson finished fifth and the car was consistently quick, winning a stage for the first time. Finland is quite a different proposition, being a good deal faster - the winner's average speed will be about 120 km/h against 95 in New Zealand. So the more fully developed cars are likely to have a bigger edge. Eriksson and Alister McRae will have a horde of very quick private entrants - the majority in Toyotas - to beat if they are to finish well.
Richard Burns leads Marcus Gronholm by four points, with Colin McRae four points behind. Just 15 points separate the top five drivers. Subaru leads Ford by a single point with Peugeot a further 16 points behind. All that could change when the cars pass the flying finish of Rally of Finland's last stage on Sunday, August 20.
Rally route & format
Jyvaskyla hosts the Rally of Finland, just as it hosted it's predecessor, the 1000 Lakes. This is the rally's 50th anniversary. The compact route takes competitors to the north of the city for the first leg, centred on the service area at Tikkakoski.
Legs two and three are to the south west of the city over the fast gravel public roads which ensure this rally's classic appeal. Service is centred on Halli for both these legs which comprise almost 70% of the total competitive distance.
<pre> Friday 18th August
10.00 Start - Jyvaskyla City 10.31 SS 1 - Kuohu 7.67 10.59 SS 2 - Parkkola 20.11 11.59 SS 3 - Mokkipera 13.39 12.34 Service A - Tikkakoski 13.57 SS 4 - Muittari 13.57 14.20 SS 5 - Konttimaki 13.08 14.53 SS 6 - Palsankyla 13.9 15.45 Service B - Tikkakoski 16.21 SS 7 - Valkola 8.4 17.04 SS 8 - Lankamaa 23.44 17.57 SS 9 - Laukaa 12.37 18.54 Service C - Tikkakoski 20.29 SS 10 - Killeri 2.23 20.57 Leg 1 finish - Jyvaskyla
Leg 1 Total 128.1 kms
Saturday 19th August
06.00 Start leg 2 Jyvaskyla 07.57 SS 11 - Juupajoki 30.34 09.15 SS 12 - Vastila 17.43 09.50 SS 13 - Pajiaa 12.81 10.47 Service E - Halli 11.56 SS 14 - Ehikki 1 19.08 12.59 SS 15 - Leustu 1 23.58 14.21 Service F - Halli 15.16 SS 16 - Ouninpohja 1 34.21 16.19 SS 17 - Vaheri 1 25.43 17.29 Service G - Halli 20.00 SS 18 - Killeri 2.23 20.28 Leg 2 finish - Jyvaskyla
Leg 2 Total 165.11 kms
Sunday 20th August
06.00 Start leg 3 Jyvaskyla 08.29 SS 19 - Ehikki 1 19.08 09.02 SS 20 - Moksi 8.53 09.41 SS 21 - Leustu 2 1 23.58 11.03 Service I - Halli 11.58 SS 22 - Ouninpohja 2 34.21 13.01 SS 23 - Vaheri 2 25.43 14.21 Service J - Halli 16.41 Finish - Jyvaskyla City
Leg 3 Total 116.97 kms
Rally total, 23 SS - 410.18 kms