Rally Finland: Round nine preview

Often referred to as the 'Finnish Grand Prix', Rally Finland is unquestionably the fastest of the season. Smooth, wide, undulating gravel stages enable drivers to reach breath-taking speeds of more than 200kph, while the numerous 'yumps', the...

Often referred to as the 'Finnish Grand Prix', Rally Finland is unquestionably the fastest of the season. Smooth, wide, undulating gravel stages enable drivers to reach breath-taking speeds of more than 200kph, while the numerous 'yumps', the famous Finnish jumps that feature throughout the route, demand the ultimate in confidence and precision driving. Technically, the event is a difficult one. Jumps can launch a rally car 50 metres through the air and lead directly into blind crests and sixth gear corners. With last year's winner setting an average speed of 120kph, the event demands unwavering commitment and bravery.

Formerly known as the 'Thousand Lakes Rally', the event runs through stunning Finnish scenery and around the picturesque lakes that gave the rally its original name. Finland is regarded as the spiritual home of rallying and each year thousands of spectators flood to the host town and surrounding stages to see the action. In 2003, a staggering eight percent of the country's five million inhabitants turned out to watch.

Since it was first run in 1951, local knowledge has proved a major key to success on Rally Finland. Locals grow up building a detailed knowledge of the specialist conditions and, as a result, only three drivers from outside the Nordic region have ever claimed victory (Spaniard Carlos Sainz in 1990; Frenchman Didier Auriol in 1992; Estonian Markko Martin in 2003).

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


After returning from the southern hemisphere with a splendid one-two finish in the bank, Citroen has entered two Xsara WRCs for the difficult, northernmost round of the championship - Rally Finland - for Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena and Carlos Sainz/Marc Marti.

Sébastien Loeb / Daniel Elena: Apologies.
Carlos Sainz / Marc Marti: Apologies.


Subaru World Rally Team drivers Petter Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen will face some of the fastest and most spectacular roads of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) when they begin Rally Finland, the ninth round of the sixteen-round series. Starting on Friday 6 August from the host town of Jyvaskyla, the three-day event is regarded as one of the all time classics in the Championship. Reigning World Champion Petter Solberg has contested the event five times previously. Having finished third in 2002 and second in 2003, the Norwegian is looking to continue the sequence this year. Driving the second Subaru entry, Mikko Hirvonen will be contesting his home event for only the third time of his career. Following his excellent performance in Argentina, the young Finn will be aiming to score more points for the Subaru team and gain further experience in his Impreza WRC2004.

Petter Solberg / Phil Mills: "Argentina is behind us now and I'm just looking forward to Finland. It's a very, very good rally to drive, let me tell you. The stages are so wide and fast that you need a lot of confidence and have to go flat out from the start. It's the only way to win and so that's my plan for the rally. I'm lucky that Phil (Mills) and I work so well together. Accurate pace notes are very important for this event due to all the jumps and hidden corners and I have every confidence in Phil and I as a team."

Mikko Hirvonen / Jarmo Lehtinen: "Argentina was a very good event for me. It was a little bit faster than those events before and I knew it would suit my driving style, but I also feel that I improved in the slower sections too. I'm much happier with my driving now and without the problem on the Friday I believe I would have been fighting for the podium. I'm really looking forward to the next event. It's always great to compete in Finland; for me it's the best rally in the world and I know I'm going to enjoy it. I've only competed in the event twice before and have only driven ten stages in a WRC car, so it's going to be tough. But, I will have a lot of support out there and my aim is to be close to those at the top."


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.

Markko Martin / Michael Park: 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."

Francios Duval / Stefan Prevot: 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.


Fourth in the Manufacturers' championship with eight rounds to go, Peugeot Sport is determined to turn on the heat to give the 307 WRC every chance of climbing onto the top step of the podium. For Marcus Grönholm, Harri Rovanperä and Sebastien Lindholm, Rally Finland will be a first class opportunity to achieve that goal, while a fortnight later, the French team will have a further chance on the asphalt of the Deutschland Rally.

Marcus Gronhölm / Timo Rautiainen: Three-times winner of the 'Great Race of Jyväskylä' (2000, 2001 and 2002), Marcus Grönholm stands out as one of the big favourites. "It would be great to score the 307 WRC's first win, for the whole team, and also for me. I really feel we have been unlucky in the past few rallies."

Harri Rovanperä / Risto Pietiläinen: Harri Rovanperä is also fired up to give his very best on home soil. "I can't wait for Rally Finland to begin. When you compete in your home event, there is a certain pressure but also a special atmosphere. The testing we did recently was very encouraging for the remainder of the season. Our car has progressed significantly during the past few weeks."


Preparations for Rally Finland were completed this morning when the Mitsubishi Motors Motor Sports crews of Gilles/Hervé Panizzi and Kristian Sohlberg/Kaj Lindström ran the Lancer WRC04s for the final time ahead of tomorrow morning's start and opening leg of competition.

Gilles Panizzi / Herve Panizzi: "This rally is one of the most difficult in the world, but it's also one of the most enjoyable to drive", commented the Frenchman. "The stages are in very nice condition with not so much loose gravel, and it seems that temperatures will remain high for the weekend. During shakedown we ran-in the gearboxes and made some adjustments to suspension settings; otherwise everything else is good".

Kristian Sohlberg / Kaj Lindström: "I feel quite positive after shakedown as I now have the rear diff set-up I have been looking for for a long time", said Kristian. "We also have a new specification for the dampers and improvements have come from this. The car feels a little bit better than in Argentina but it's obviously still difficult to tell where we are in relation to everyone else. We will have to see, but we will certainly be trying our hardest for a good result in front of our home fans".


After an unbroken run of wins from its programme of three national rallies in Germany, Finland and the Czech Republic to test the latest revisions to the Fabia WRC, ^Êkoda Motorsport returns to World Rally Championship competition at Rally Finland (August 6-8). To ensure the best chance of gaining maximum performance data from the most technical rally of the year, ^Êkoda Motorsport will enter three cars for the event, driven as usual by Toni Gardemeister and Armin Schwarz along with 'guest' driver Jani Paasonen.

Toni Gardemeister / Paavo Lukander: "After the Exide Rally win I am quite confident of a good result in Finland. Our performance last month showed we have increased the performance of the car a lot since last season so we will see how we compare to the WRC teams."

Armin Schwarz / Manfred Hiemer: "Rally Finland is actually one of my favourite events despite it being one of the most difficult for me. The nature of the roads makes it hard for visiting drivers to find the pace quickly. The problem then comes because the local drivers already have an advantage and your overall result is compromised from the start. With two Finns in the team for this year's event I think my role will be to chase a solid result and let Toni and Jani push for a place in the points."

Jani Paasonen / Jani Vainikka: "I am really excited about joining the ^Êkoda Motorsport team for my home event. I have tested the car and it feels very good. I made some adjustments for my own driving style as I prefer a little understeer while Toni sets his car up for oversteer but otherwise it felt right from the start. As for the result, I am aiming to be the highest placed ^Êkoda Fabia driver at the finish!"


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Series WRC
Teams Citroën World Rally Team