Suomi showdown A red wooden house beside a pine tree-ringed lake the picture book setting for the WRCs annual Suomi showdown, Rally Finland. Initially known as the Jyvâ€žskylâ€ž Grand Prix, then the Rally of the 1000 Lakes Rally, the event...
A red wooden house beside a pine tree-ringed lake the picture book setting for the WRCs annual Suomi showdown, Rally Finland. Initially known as the Jyv„skyl„ Grand Prix, then the Rally of the 1000 Lakes Rally, the event stands out as a cornerstone of world rallyings calendar, its craziest and fastest encounter that all drivers dream of winning at least once in their career.
Every August, while their Latin rivals prepare for takeoff, the locals sprout wings for their home event. However, contrary to popular belief (in rally circles at least), the original Flying Finns were not actually the country's rally heroes. Despite a score of 13 world titles and almost 150 wins between them, the M„kinens, Toivonens, Mikkolas, Vatanens, Salonens, Al‚ns, Kankkunens and Gr"nholms of this world merely inherited a nickname initially given to the first generation of great Finnish long distance runners Hannes Kolehmainen, Paavo Nurmi and Ville Ritola who amassed no fewer than 25 Olympic medals in the early decades of the 20th Century. They were the true Flying Finns.
Another frequent misconception is that Finns have always dominated their WRC round. Again, not true, of course: Latins Carlos Sainz and Didier Auriol have both triumphed in the Nordic nation and these last two years have seen S‚bastien Loeb give Marcus Gr"nholm more than just a good run for his money. Last season even saw the Frenchman claim the celebrated Ouninpohja test, Finland's most famous launch-pad that the fastest drivers swallow up at an average speed of 128kph. The record for the longest jump on the same stage remains the effort of Estonia's Markko Martin who leapt a full 57 metres in 2004!
Another unfounded preconceived idea is that tyres do not play an important role on the Rally Finland. On the contrary, its ultra-quick stages and impressive jumps call for tyres (the only point of contact between the ground and the car rocketing down tree-lined tracks at more than 200kph) that ensure impeccable cornering precision and are also capable of soaking up the huge dynamic forces generated upon landing after the countless jumps.
"The issue here isn't so much tyre wear and resistance to punctures as it is in Sardinia and Greece," points out BFGoodrichs Rally Programme Manager Matthieu Bonardel.
"The high speeds and, above all, the incessant landings make huge demands of the casings. In Finland, and for the first time in 2007, BFGoodrich tyres feature a rigid construction capable of withstanding the impacts and guaranteeing accurate steering response, while the choice between soft and medium compounds provides optimal grip." Although punctures are quite rare on this event, thanks notably to the mousse insert fitted between the rim and the tyre on WRC cars, they nonetheless had a major influence on the outcome of the 2005 and 2006 events. On both occasions, S‚bastien Loeb's hope of conquering sixtime winner Marcus Gr"nholm were dashed by an encounter with a rock.
This year's fight promises to be as thrilling as ever and the entry is exceptional, with no fewer than eleven Ford Focus WRCs (including new 2007 cars for Gr"nholm and Hirvonen), two Citro‰n C4 WRCs and three Prodrive-entered Subaru Impreza WRC2007s.
QUOTA: Priority 1 drivers have a maximum quota of 56 tyres, of which they will be able to use up to 40 (rally + shakedown). These tyres were registered with the FIA on July 25.
26 WRC CARS: The entry for the Rally Finland is once again exceptional with some 26 World Rally Cars registered for the start.
TESTING: The factory teams profited from the twomonth break to carry out testing for the two highly specific rounds to come, namely Finland and Germany. The regulations permitted these tests to take place in the respective countries of these events. Dani Sordo (Citro‰n C4 WRC) contested the Finnish Championship's OK Auto Ralli.
COME-BACKS: Spain's Xevi Pons, who was Loeb's team-mate in 2006, is to return to the WRC. He will contest the last eight rounds of the season in a works Subaru Impreza WRC alongside Solberg and Atkinson.
NEW AT FORD: There has been plenty of news from the BP-Ford camp, beginning with the launch of the new Focus RS WRC07. This evolution of the WRC06 will be driven by Gr"nholm and Hirvonen in Finland. The team has also announced a partnership agreement with Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) for next season.
THE JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP: After a long break from mid-May to early August, competitors in the BFGoodrichbacked Junior Championship will compete in back-toback rounds in Finland and Germany. Series leader Andersson did not nominate the Rally Finland.
BFGOODRICH AND THE IRC: The American tyre brand has won two rounds of the new Intercontinental Rally Challenge in recent months. Luca Rossetti (Peugeot 207/BFGoodrich) took top honours in Ypres in June, while Anton Al‚n, son of the great Markku, claimed his first international success in Russia in July with his BFGoodrich-equipped Abarth Grande Punto. The fifth round of the season, the Rali Vinho da Madeira, takes place on the same weekend as Rally Finland.
BFGOODRICH IN RALLY-RAIDS: BFGoodrich tyres continue to be successful on the rally-raid front, too. Larry Ragland handed the brand further success on June's Baja 500 which saw former WRC driver Armin Schwarz finish fifth in 'Class 1 Unlimited'. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi's St‚phane Peterhansel added another Baja Espana win to BFGoodrich's record in July. Mitsubishi and Volkswagen were both in Morocco recently, too, as part of their pre-2008 Dakar test programmes.