The FIA World Rally Championship returns from Kenya to Europe this weekend, for Rally Finland, the fastest and one of the most spectacular events on the calendar. The ninth round begins this evening on the Killeri superspecial stage, before crews...
The FIA World Rally Championship returns from Kenya to Europe this weekend, for Rally Finland, the fastest and one of the most spectacular events on the calendar. The ninth round begins this evening on the Killeri superspecial stage, before crews head into the forests tomorrow morning. This event is famous for its high speeds and enormous jumps, and has been dominated by Finnish and Scandinavian drivers throughout its history. Championship leader Marcus Gronholm will be keen for this trend to continue, after a recent poor run which has allowed Scottish Colin McRae to close to within seven points of his tally. If Gronholm wins this weekend, it will be his third Rally Finland victory in a row. Mitsubishi and Skoda will also be hoping for improved fortunes - both have brought newly homologated cars to Finland. This event is likely to be one of the most closely fought events of the year, with several local drivers taking part who could challenge the established manufacturer entries.
Peugeot (1st - 83 points)
Technical: The main development for Peugeot this weekend is the introduction of new electronically controlled anti-roll bars. Marcus Gronholm and Harri Rovanpera will use them. All three cars on this event were previously used in Cyprus.
Sporting: Peugeot has entered three 206 WRC machines at this event, for Marcus Grönholm, Richard Burns and Harri Rovanperä. All have been nominated for manufacturers' points. Gilles Panizzi was also due to take part, but has withdrawn after breaking a bone in his shoulder in an accident at home. He has undergone an operation and should be fit for Rally Deutschland on August 22-25.
Quotes: Marcus Grönholm said: "I'm not trying to think about the championship. It should be a strong rally for us, but other drivers will be quick, especially Tommi, Harri, Richard and Colin. This is the first time I have used the new suspension and the feeling is good, although the times are the same."
Ford (2nd - 69 points)
Technical: After surviving rough rallies in Greece and Kenya, Ford is allowing its Rally Finland cars to be geared more towards performance than strength. It has introduced a flatter cross member, to allow the Focus's ride height to be lower or higher, dependent upon requirements. Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae have new cars, Markko Martin uses Sainz's Acropolis car, and François Duval drives Martin's Safari machine.
Sporting: Ford has entered four Focus WRC02 models for this event. Regular drivers Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz and Markko Martin are nominated for manufacturers' points, and a fourth car has been entered for François Duval. The young Belgian had a big crash in testing which destroyed the test car he was due to use. Instead, the team has re-prepared the car used by Markko Martin on the Safari Rally.
Quotes: Carlos Sainz said: "This is a difficult rally, one where you have to need to feel comfortable in the car straightaway. It's going to be tight. It's been tough all year and here the Finns are very competitive It's important for us to finish on the podium."
Markko Martin said: "I think we have a good chance, the car has improved a lot. I want to be the first non-Finn to finish, but there are a lot of quick drivers and it will also be interesting to see how Citroen do."
Subaru (3rd - 35 points)
Technical: No major technical developments for Subaru. Tommi Makinen has a new car, Petter Solberg drives an Impreza previously used at Corsica, Catalunya and Argentina.
Sporting: Subaru has entered two Impreza's for Tommi Makinen and Petter Solberg, both are nominated for manufacturers' points. It has also been confirmed that Kaj Lindstrom will continue to navigate for Tommi Makinen during the rest of 2002. Risto Manninsenmaki is still recovering from an accident in Corsica last year, and has been advised not to return yet.
Quotes: Tommi Mäkinen said: "I did two days testing for this rally and the car seems to be very fast. If we get good points here, we still have a chance in the championship, and being at home makes this a special rally. There is no point in taking extra pressure from our finishing record, so we'll try to do our work with a relaxed feeling."
Skoda (4th - 8 points)
Technical: The Czech manufacturer introduces its third generation Octavia WRC this weekend. It has a new inlet manifold, throttle body and exhaust. There are also small modifications to the front bumper and bonnet.
Sporting: Skoda enters two Octavia WRCs for Toni Gardemeister and Kenneth Eriksson. The car shared by Stig Blomqvist and Gabriel Pozzo will not be seen again this year. Skoda has terminated its agreement with David Sutton Cars, which was responsible for the preparation of this additional machine.
Quotes: Toni Gardemeister said: "The new engine is an improvement, although we had a small problem with the turbo this morning. I like my home event, but it is no more important than any other rally. If everything goes well, maybe we can score some points, but certainly we hope to be in the top 10."
Mitsubishi (5th - 7 points)
Technical: A new Step 2 homologation of the Lancer Evo WRC makes its debut this weekend. It features a modified rollcage, new suspension uprights, and stronger mounting points. The engine has been lowered by 15mm, and has lighter internal components. A hydraulic system will be introduced, together with a semi-automatic gearbox later in the year.
Sporting: Mitsubishi has entered two brand-new Step 2 Lancer Evo WRCs for Alister McRae and François Delecour. Jani Paasonen will drive a converted Step 1 car. All three drivers are nominated for manufacturers' points.
Quotes: Alister McRae said: "For me I would have liked more testing, but you can never do enough. It feels stronger in the mid-range and you can 'drive' the car more, it's easy to play with it. The old car was very difficult to drive when it was bumpy and twisty. For sure we're going to be higher than we were before." Jani Paasonen said: "The feeling is much better. The car is better to turn in and I feel more confident with it."
Hyundai (6th - 6 points)
Technical: The team has undergone a four-day development test in Finland with work concentrating on damper development. Aside from that the Accent WRC3s have no major updates for this event.
Sporting: Hyundai sends three Accent WRC3s to Finland, to be driven by Armin Schwarz, Freddy Loix and Juha Kankkunen. All three drivers are nominated for manufacturers' points.
Quotes: Freddy Loix said: "At every event we've driven in the top six, so why not here? There are lots of good local drivers, but I am hoping to take the luck back that I have been missing this year. We had two very good days of testing and the engine has the power as long as we keep the revs high. "
Juha Kankkunen said: "This car is a lot better than the one I made my Hyundai debut in last year. It's completely different and I have had more time to test. I'll tell you after tomorrow what is possible!"
Citroen (not scoring for the championship)
Technical: Both Xsara WRCs are brand new for this event. Thomas Radstrom won the recent Mantta Rally, a traditional 'warm-up' event for Rally Finland. Citroen has also explained that its damper problems on the Safari Rally were down to the fact that the event was even harder than they expected.
Sporting: Citroen enters two Xsara WRCs for this event, on its last loose-surface gravel event this year. Swede Thomas Radstrom and young Frenchman Sebastien Loeb will drive the cars.
Quotes: Sebastien Loeb said: "The Xsara WRC is very different to the Saxo I used here last year. Its faster, you jump much further and the balance is much better. We have to learn, and my aim is to finish in the top 10. We want to take experience away from here. These stages are fun to drive, but difficult as well."
Thomas Radstrom said: "A win would be nice but I think we need to do a few more gravel rallies before that., but our good result at the Safari Rally has given everybody confidence."
Regular World Rally Championship drivers will face stiff opposition from local experts this weekend. One driver who has already received a boost is Juuso Pykalisto, a protégé of Marcus Gronholm. The 27-year-old Finn has signed a three contract to test for Peugeot yesterday. He will also drive a Bozian-run 206WRC on five events next year. He drives a 206 WRC this weekend.
Another man to watch is Gronholm's cousin, Sebastian Lindholm who also drives a Peugeot. Janne Tuohino has impressed this year in a Ford Focus RS WRC 01, and gets another opportunity in Finland. And former works Peugeot driver and world champion Timo Salonen returns to top flight competition, driving a Bozian-run 206WRC in a one-off appearance.
In the Production Cars World Rally Championship, the leader Karamjit Singh (Proton) will face strong opposition from runner-up Raymon Ferreyros (Mitsubishi).