Michelin's 200th in sight Everything about Rally Finland is extreme. Not only does it feature exceptionally high speeds, hard braking, hard re-acceleration and hard, all- wheel drift cornering, there are also of course its awesome jumps and ...
Michelin's 200th in sight
Everything about Rally Finland is extreme. Not only does it feature exceptionally high speeds, hard braking, hard re-acceleration and hard, all- wheel drift cornering, there are also of course its awesome jumps and a corresponding number of heavy landings! The action is enough to make your head spin, while the entry itself is divided into two camps: the locals, focused on just one thing - impressing in front of home fans -, and the 'foreigners' whose recurrent dream is to beat the home-grown stars at their own game. This is a rally that sorts the men out from the boys. Big hearts and bucketsful of talent are a must. But at the same time, the cars and tyres must be up to the job and capable of soaking up all the constraints thrown at them. in all three axes. This year, Michelin will be aiming for its 18th win from 21 visits. If it succeeds, it will also be its 200th success in world class rallying since the creation of the World Championship in 1973.
1. In its bid to become the first tyre manufacturer to reach the score of 200 WRC wins in Finland, Michelin can count on a number of trump cards: its unrivalled experience of the discipline, a range of proven, competitive products for this highly specific terrain, plus a long list of prestigious partners whose line-ups feature a long list of masters of Finland's legendary roller-coaster ride.
2. Of the leading locals - or very close neighbours -, Michelin will be able to count on the likes of Marcus Grönholm, Harri Rovanperä, Toni Gardemeister and Markko Märtin, not forgetting those whose destiny was not to be born in this northern tip of Europe.
3. Victory this weekend is a long way from being a foregone conclusion for Michelin however. Indeed, it would be foolish to overlook the very real threat represented by two extremely capable drivers competing on a rival brand of tyres: four-times World Champion and five-times Rally Finland winner Tommi Mäkinen and his team-mate Petter Solberg, a thoroughbred Scandinavian from nearby Norway.
The scrap promises to be particularly fierce therefore, and Michelin's 200th could well only come in Australia, or Italy, or at an even later date still. But it would be such a fitting symbol if it came at the end of a flagship event like Rally Finland, especially in a year that has all the ingredients of being more frenzied and spectacular than ever!
On the technical front
So sensitive. The products developed by Michelin for the fastest round of the calendar are above all appreciated for their. sensitivity. Steering sensitivity that is. For at average speeds of 121.8 kph (in 2002), they must be capable of reacting to instructions from the steering wheel in a fraction of a second.
At these speeds, the time that elapses between the moment the driver turns in and the moment the tyres transmit his instruction to the ground must be minimal. Around a 100th of a second! Even along 180 kph straights, the drivers can make up to a dozen or so micro steering-corrections at the wheel every second. These are barely perceptible, but the tread blocks feel them. And their response needs to be practically instantaneous and extremely precise for the driver to feel totally at one with his car and tyres. For the final result is to a large extent dependent on this osmosis.
17 from 20 in Finland. The high-speed precision and grip of Michelin tyres have contributed to the launching of successive generations of Flying Finns (and Didier Auriol) over Rally Finland's celebrated jumps and onto the highest step of the podium in Jyväskylä. Marcus Grönholm's hat-trick success for Peugeot in 2002 took Michelin's Rally Finland/1000 Lakes track record to 17 wins from the past 20 events!
Flashback. The latest Rally Finland evolution of the successful Michelin ZA tyre combined with the Peugeot 206 WRC and the remarkable talent of the men behind the wheel to hold the top two places from start to finish and secure a total of 15 fastest stage times from 16 during the first two days before Marcus and Richard lifted for the final leg.
Just as significantly, the margin between the leading Peugeot (Burns) and the best-placed non-206 WRC driver (Solberg, Subaru) by the end of the opening leg had reached more than half-a-second per kilometre! Such huge gaps are highly unlikely this time round however...
Que calor.! Michelin's pre-Finland testing with its partners took place in the middle of the heat wave that affected much of Europe earlier in the summer. Temperatures were significantly superior to the average figures recorded during recent Rally Finlands which means that it was difficult to validate 100% the new evolutions developed for the Nordic round.
The countdown continues. Sébastien Loeb's exciting win in Germany with the Citroën Xsara WRC took Michelin's score in the 2003 World Rally Championship to seven wins from the eight rounds organised so far (on ice/snow, smooth gravel, rough gravel, asphalt).
It also took its total since the creation of the championship in 1973 to a record 199 wins. Its next success will therefore be its 200th in world class rallying.
The 2003 Rally Finland in brief.
Unsurprisingly, the organisers of Rally Finland have kept more or less to the same formula as last year with a single service park at Jyväskylä's Congress Centre, a super-special at Killeri on Thursday evening and three legs laid out in a clover-leaf pattern around the host town on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The first full day will see competitors get their first taste of the legendary high-speed gravel stages and jumps that have forged the Finnish round's reputation. Eight stages and more than 130 km of against-the-clock action will be tackled north of Jyväskylä before the caravan returns to Killeri for a second run through the super-special on Friday evening.
Saturday's long leg (167.92 km) moves on to classic territory to the south- west and includes two attempts at the famous Ouninpohja roller-coaster ride (33.24 km), followed by Moksi-Leutsu (40.96 km), the longest stage of the weekend.
The event finishes on the Sunday afternoon with a little over 100 km of stages to the west. These will take crews over just two loops of three stages, although the first group is the longest of the rally (59.30 km).