MÃ¤rtin aims to tame Flying Finns for second season Twelve months ago Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko MÃ¤rtin and Michael Park conquered one of rallying's great challenges when they became only the third pairing to break the Nordic ...
Märtin aims to tame Flying Finns for second season
Twelve months ago Ford BP Rallye Sport drivers Markko Märtin and Michael Park conquered one of rallying's great challenges when they became only the third pairing to break the Nordic stranglehold by winning the Rally Finland (5 - 8 August). Now they face arguably an even tougher task as they return in their Ford Focus RS World Rally Car bidding to become the first outsiders to win for a second time in a country viewed as rallying's spiritual home.
An estimated 10,000 Estonian fans are due to make the short journey over the Baltic Sea to support their fellow countryman and his British co-driver on what is regarded as the most spectacular rally in the 16-event calendar. Their black, blue and white flags will again decorate the switchback forest roads to rival the Finnish fans, who turn out in tens of thousands to cheer the home drivers in one of the highlights of Finland's sporting year.
Märtin and Park will be joined by Finland's Janne Tuohino and Jukka Aho, driving an official Ford-entered Focus RS for the second time this season. Regular team-mates François Duval and Stéphane Prévot will drive a third Focus RS but the Belgian duo will only be eligible for driver points.
The rally is revered by Finns in the same way that the marathon has become a Greek legend. Wide, flowing gravel roads and a super-smooth surface guarantee breathtaking speeds on this fastest rally of the season. Spectacular roller-coaster jumps and stunning scenery among the lakes and forest where the action takes place act as a magnet to fans.
Technically it is an incredibly difficult rally. Precision driving and bravery are more important here than anywhere else. The awesome switchback jumps frequently hide bends just over the crest so pace notes must be extremely precise. "Pace notes and knowledge of the stages are the most important things in Finland. The roads are the fastest in the championship, so making accurate notes is vital," said the 28-year-old Estonian. "You commit to a line going over a jump and that's it. Once you're in the air, you land where you've decided to before you took off, it's too late to change that landing!"
Märtin, still recovering from his high speed accident earlier this month in Argentina said, "We won the event last year, so if anything we're under less pressure this year. We'll just go and do the best job that we can for us and for the team. Unfortunately, we've not had the easiest run up to the event. Torrential rain was creating rivers through our test stage on Wednesday so we had to cancel it at lunchtime but we drove for 230kms yesterday (Thursday). I've been suffering from some blurred vision since Argentina, but it's improving everyday. It may be a bit difficult on the first run through when you have to judge braking distances but I'm sure we'll be on the pace."
Tuohino is looking forward to being part of the team again, "I'm excited to be back in a factory car, especially on my home event. We were the highest finishing privateers, in seventh place, last year in a Focus WRC 02 and this year we're aiming for the podium. I really think that's possible for us, especially now that we've got the opportunity to do the Pirelli Rally this weekend. The stages are so similar to the ones we'll be faced with next week. If I think too much about it, then I guess we're under a bit of pressure, but we'll just do our best and see what happens. We really want to score points for the team."
For Belgian duo Duval and Prévot, the aim is simply to finish. "It's really important for me to get to the end to gain the experience. On such a fast event, to have a good set of pace notes is crucial and that's what Stéphane and I will be concentrating on. We made a new set of notes last year, so we'll be making improvements to them."
"We drove 300kms on the test on Tuesday and I've got a really good feeling with the car and my setup for the rally. It's important for me to learn how to drive in Finland for the future because I find the event very difficult. All the crests and jumps and high speeds are very difficult to judge," said 23-year-old Duval. "Not being nominated for manufacturer points means that we're under no pressure. It would be nice to finish in the top eight though," he added.
* Janne Tuohino will compete on the Pirelli Rally in Tampere tomorrow (Saturday) as a warm up for Rally Finland. Markko Märtin and Michael Park were due to take part, but have been advised to rest before Rally Finland. 145 crews will cover six competitive stages, totalling 100kms during the one day event.
* The team has completed a four day test in preparation for Rally Finland. Tuohino and Duval have spent one day each in the car while Markko Märtin has done two days testing the Ford Focus RS WRC. In total they've driven in excess of 800kms on the gravel roads around Jyväskylä to prepare their car set-up, suspension testing and tyre work with Michelin.
Organisers have made few alterations to the successful format based around a single park in the host town of Jyväskylä. However, there will be no opening super special stage at the Killeri trotting track on Thursday evening. Instead the short test will be held at the end of both Friday and Saturday's legs. The opening day takes competitors north and west of the town. The second leg can be regarded as the classic day of the season. Run over wide, flowing roads to the south-west, it comprises 167.80km and includes some of rallying's greatest stages. It includes two passes over the awesome 33.24km Ouninpohja, a roller-coaster stretch of road full of blind crests and huge jumps and viewed by many as rallying's ultimate test of driving skill. It is also one of the longest days of the season with more than 16 hours behind the wheel. Sunday's final leg comprises just two loops of two identical stages to the north. Drivers face 22 stages comprising 382.71km of competition in a route of 1577.16km.