Finland Leg One Ford Escort Report

Kankkunen& ...

Kankkunen’s Ford masters Finnish deluge

Flying Finn Juha Kankkunen delighted his home fans by powering his Ford Escort World Rally Car into third position at the end of today’s rain-lashed opening day of the Rally Finland. Despite the weather making driving conditions treacherously slippery, the four-time world champion posted fastest time on the event’s opening special stage and is just 10.2 seconds behind leader Tommi Mäkinen tonight.

Kankkunen, competing on stages just a few kilometres from his home town of Laukaa, was unsurprisingly the favourite of the fans. The Ford World Rally team driver produced a masterful driving display in his Valvoline-backed Escort as the mud-covered gravel roads caught out many of his rivals.

The 39-year-old, co-driven by Juha Repo, has won this 10th round of the FIA World Rally Championship twice and has been in the battle for the lead throughout today’s nine stages, covering 90km, close to the rally’s host city of Jyväskylä.

“Today’s stages have been extremely difficult, even for an experienced campaigner like me,” said Kankkunen. “The heavy rain made the roads very slippery with standing water in some sections which makes it very hard to judge your braking. But these conditions are the same for everyone and tomorrow’s stages will not be so bad. They are wider and faster and on roads I know well. It was a disadvantage to be second car through the stages today but that shouldn’t be the case tomorrow.”

Co-driver Repo added: “It wasn’t easy for anyone in the wet but on the harder surfaces the Escort felt great. We’re very happy with our position tonight. Mäkinen is not so far ahead and tomorrow’s route is on stages we really enjoy so we’ll attack hard.”

Fellow countryman Ari Vatanen, added to Ford’s team for this rally to bring vital experience to the squad, was delighted to finish the leg in eighth position in his Infogrames-backed Escort World Rally Car. Competing on his home rally for the first time in four years, the former world champion and co-driver Fred Gallagher elected a safety-first policy in the testing conditions.

“We were a little bit rusty but it’s difficult for any of us not to be rusty after a day like today!” joked the 46-year-old Finn. “I’ve driven steadily today and while I would like dry weather, the Escort is fine in the wet. I can’t swap times with the leaders but I’m really enjoying myself back on my home event again.”

Belgians Bruno Thiry and co-driver Stéphane Prévot, relative novices on the Finnish stages compared to their team-mates, found it hard to come to terms with the challenging roads which favour experience and home knowledge so much that only two non-Scandinavians have won this event in its 47-year history.

The team softened the front and rear damper settings on the Escort after Thiry slid off the road on the fourth stage and dropped 30 seconds and he ended the leg in 11th position.

“I would like to find more of a rhythm with the car and I’ve struggled a little with the set-up today but we’ve made some alterations and we’ll see what effect that has tomorrow,” said Thiry. “The conditions have only made it harder for me and I think that if the weather had been dry, today would have been very different for me.

Ford Finland driver Sebastian Lindholm made a strong start to hold seventh in his Escort World Rally Car after the opening stage but crashed heavily on the next test and retired. Lindholm hit a rock with the car’s offside rear wheel and the impact sent the car into a double roll. Neither Lindholm nor co-driver Timo Hantunen were hurt.

Ford World Rally team director Malcolm Wilson was encouraged by Kankkunen’s performance. “I’m delighted with the way Juha has nibbled back some time from Carlos this evening. It has given him the confidence to attack tomorrow. All three Escorts are fine and we’ve made significant changes to Bruno’s car to try to give him confidence because conditions have been very similar to New Zealand where he crashed heavily.

“Ari seems very happy. He’s driven sensibly and safely and is looking very good for a top six position which, given the limited number of rallies he has competed on this year, would be good,” added Wilson.

Tomorrow’s second leg is the longest and most demanding of the rally. The drivers leave Jyväskylä at 07.00 and tackle 10 more stages to the south-west of the city covering 194.58km before returning for the final overnight halt at 20.04. The day contains many classic Finnish stages, where wide roads and huge jumps predominate, and three of the tests are longer than 30km.

Leaderboard after Leg 1

1.  T Mäkinen/R Mannisenmaki FIN Mitsubishi Lancer 48min 04.9sec 
2.  C Sainz/L Moya E Toyota Corolla 48min 11.9sec
3.  J Kankkunen/J Repo FIN Ford Escort 48min 15.1sec
4.  M Grönholm/T Rautiainen FIN Toyota Corolla 48min 21.8sec
5.  D Auriol/D Giraudet F Toyota Corolla 48min 26.7sec
6.  R Burns/R Reid GB Mitsubishi Carisma 48min 40.7sec
7.  T Radström/G Barth S Toyota Corolla 49min 07.4sec
8.  A Vatanen/F Gallagher FIN Ford Escort 50min 24.6sec
9.  H Rovanperä/R Pietiläinen FIN Seat WR Car 50min 53.1sec
10  P Hagström/T Gardemeister FIN Toyota Celica 51min 14.5sec
11  B Thiry/S Prévot B Ford Escort 51min 37.9sec

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Juha Kankkunen , Ari Vatanen , Stéphane Prévot , Juha Repo , Malcolm Wilson , Sebastian Lindholm , Timo Hantunen