Kilometre after kilometre of full throttle and huge jumps that seem to brush the trees lining the route
Volkswagen lines up at the FIA World Rally Championship’s (WRC) own ‘Formula 1 in the Forest’ – the Rally Finland – full of confidence. From 01 to 03 August, the three Polo R WRCs and the driver/co-driver pairings of Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F) and Andreas Mikkelsen/Mikko Markkula (N/FIN) will be put through their paces on one of the most unique and demanding gravel rallies of the season. Despite this, Volkswagen is far from short of confidence going into the 23 special stages, totalling 324.21 kilometres against the clock. The team starts as the leader in the Manufacturers’ Championship, Sébastien Ogier leads the Drivers’ Championship, and Julien Ingrassia tops the co-driver standings in the World Championship.
“For many, the Rally Finland is the epitome of rallying and one of the World Championship’s icons,” said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. “Top speeds of about 200 kilometres per hour, jumps at 170 km/h with roughly 60 metres of air time – it does not get any more spectacular than this, and up to 100,000 enthusiastic fans flock to the route to follow the action live every year. It is a point of honour that Volkswagen should not only put on a good, fair show for its fans. The Polo R WRC must also prove itself in these difficult conditions and with a high percentage of the route at full throttle.”
Virtual home event for Volkswagen with an unwritten law: “Finnish first”
Once principle exists like an iron law at the eighth round of the season: Finnish first! The Rally Finland has been staged 62 times to date, with a Finnish driver emerging victorious on an astonishing 52 occasions: Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila claimed their first and, to date, only home win in the World Rally Championship back in 2010. Jari-Matti Latvala currently has eight wins to his name in the pinnacle of rallying – most recently with the Polo R WRC at the Rally Greece.
A question of precision: every millimetre counts at 200 km/h
The correct angle of approach before lifting off over a crest, the precise announcement of the detailed pace notes – the extraordinary Rally Finland demands a flawless performance from both driver and co-driver in its own unique way. Back in 2003, for example, Markko Märtin set the world record of 57 metres for the longest jump in the history of the WRC on the “Ouninpohja” special stage. 57 metres without a wheel touching the floor, 57 metres without the driver having any influence on the car. Only those who can combine absolute control over their car with hitting the crest at exactly the right angle will emerge successful. Any mistake is punished immediately and severely. While the mere thought of the “Ouninpohja” stage on the final day (Saturday) is enough to give rally fans goosebumps, the Rally Finland has plenty of other genuine challenges in store for the drivers before they reach that point – such as the “Ruuhimäki” stages, on which Wednesday’s qualifying will be held, and “Mökkiperä” on Friday.
Typical Rally Finland: 1,000 lakes and thousands of fans
Between 1951 and 1994, the Rally Finland was held under the title of the “1000 Lakes Rally”, before it was renamed at the request of the main sponsor. The 2013 rally will once again live up to its old title: the “Palsankylä” special stage takes the competitors past several picturesque lakes on the Saturday of the rally – although the drivers themselves will see little of the water, which is usually hidden by trees. The fans, on the other hand, enjoy the special Finnish flair: the rally capital of Jyväskylä, in which about 30,000 of the 130,000 residents are students at the town’s universities, is overrun by thousands of fans during the rally.
Trio fired up and ready to go: Ogier, Latvala, Mikkelsen
Magic numbers: two for Jari-Matti Latvala, one for Sébastien Ogier and three for Andreas Mikkelsen – the Volkswagen drivers are highly motivated to add a special statistic to their already impressive records. Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila have their sights firmly set on a second win at the Rally Finland, which would also be there second in Volkswagen colours. The Finnish works duo currently lies second in both the driver and co-driver standings within the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). They will have to wait until after the Rally Finland if they want to wrestle the number one spot from their team-mates Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia. The Frenchmen have opened up a large enough lead to guarantee they will still top the standings after the eighth round of the season. This is certainly no cause for Ogier/Ingrassia to take their foot off the gas even the slightest bit: their goal is to clinch their first win at the Rally Finland. One, two or three – up-and-coming duo Andreas Mikkelsen/Mikko Markkula are aiming for another milestone in their own development: the first podium in the WRC. The Norwegian/Finnish pairing arrives in Finland with the wind in its sails, following the outstanding fourth place in Greece.
The three Volkswagen duos will again face tough opposition: their rivals at Citroën have won three of the last five events in Finland, and also have a driver with home advantage among their ranks, in the form of Mikko Hirvonen. M-Sport Ford can point to two wins in the past five years (one for Hirvonen and one for Latvala), and their young drivers Østberg, Novikov and Neuville are obviously bent on making life as difficult as possible for the established stars.
Quotes ahead of the Rally Finland
Jari-Matti Latvala, Polo R WRC #7
“As far as the atmosphere is concerned, the Rally Finland is the best in the entire championship. It is a prestigious rally – like the one in Monte Carlo – and one that every driver wants to win at least once. It is quite simply ‘Formula 1 in the Forest’. The gaps between the drivers are very small and it is an exciting battle from the word go. You have to hit the ideal line in order to achieve the perfect jump or drift. The Recce is very important in order to be able to correctly assess the jumps. The braking points before and after the jumps are also very important. You have to hit the majority of jumps at full throttle. And if you want to win, you sometimes have to give 105 per cent.”
Sébastien Ogier, Polo R WRC #8
“I would obviously like to hold onto my lead in the World Championship until the end of the season. The comfortable position we find ourselves in allowed us to enjoy the summer break. I want to go on the attack again in Finland, primarily to score important points, but also to put myself in contention for my first win there. I love this rally. However, the Finnish drivers will represent a very stern challenge, particularly my team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala. It is the fastest rally on the calendar. The environment is beautiful and the route very smooth. There are also an awful lot of quick crests and blind corners in Finland. The Finnish drivers are used to this type of route. This year, we will take on the ‘Ouninpohja’ special stage again – a very famous place in Finland. I will be driving a World Rally Car there for the first time, and am really looking forward to it.”
Andreas Mikkelsen, Polo R WRC #9
“I have already taken part in the Rally Finland four times, but it is a while since I drove a World Rally Car there. The speeds there are higher than at any other rally. I really like this kind of route, with its hard subsurface, and am very much looking forward to it. As a Finn, my co-driver Mikko Markkula knows the rally’s special stages very well. He knows where you can drive fast and how to take the different corners. That is an advantage, as the rally really is out of the ordinary. ‘Ouninpohja’, for example, is a very special stage. There are so many fast crests and corners that you cannot see coming. For this reason, it is essential to get the pace notes spot on – if not, you will not be on the right line. If you don’t get the entry correct, then you can find yourself flying off the road on the way out of the corner. You have to show a lot of courage.”