Rally Finland Starts Tomorrow

FIA World Rally Championship 20 - 23 August 1997 48TH Neste Rally Finland Thursday 20 August 1998 The Neste Rally Finland, tenth round of the FIA World Rally Championship starts tomorrow, Friday 21 August, from the city centre ...

FIA World Rally Championship 20 - 23 August 1997 48TH Neste Rally Finland Thursday 20 August 1998

The Neste Rally Finland, tenth round of the FIA World Rally Championship starts tomorrow, Friday 21 August, from the city centre of Jyvaskyla, 280 kms north of Helsinki, at 13h00 and finishes back there on Sunday 23 August at 16h10.

The 1271 km route of the three days event has been made more compact than ever, to allow the competitors for an easier recce and comprises 24 special stages with a total length of 384 km.

To encourage the spectators with a better accessibility, the event also features three superspecial stages, Harju and Hippos (twice), running in the town area, where thosands of the enthusiastic Finn fans are expected.

The traditional forest roads, broad, fast and undulating, will be the theatre for the other stages, strongly challenging the self-confidence and courage of the record 120 competitors of 26 different nationalities who have entered the rally.

From this event onwards there are five teams registered for the FIA World Rally Championship, with the Spanish manufacturers Seat joining the ranks of championship teams with two entries for its new World Rally Car, the four-wheel drive, turbo charged model based on the Cordoba.

Of the nine rounds run so far only Ford has yet to score a win, while Mitsubishi, Subaru and Toyota have each won three and, in the Manufacturers' Championship, Toyota lead second placed Subaru by 11 points, as well as their driver, Spaniard Carlos Sainz, leads Scot Colin McRae by three points in the drivers' championship.

The Neste Rally Finland being the first of the only four rallies now to come, this is the moment when the season warms up Ford With its new WRC on sight, the British team has suspended any major development on this year car. Nevertheless the team, further to the usual Escorts of Finn Juha Kankkunen and Belgian Bruno Thiry, has entered an extra car for their reserve driver, Ari Vatanen.

"I'm just glad to be here and grateful for this opportunity, "said the Finn. "Experience is the key to this rally and Finnish drivers have an advantage over those not used to the roads of my country."

Kankkunen spent a week testing in Finland last month and completed the preparation winning the Channel Four Rally, a round of the national championship. "We now know the ideal set-up for the car and we know it goes well on the Finnish roads, so I'm confident about Ford's chances," he declared.

Like many other non-Scandinavians, Bruno Thiry is still building on the experience of only three outings. "This rally is difficult for foreign drivers to come to term with, because if you cut a corner by just 10cm too much, you can end up in a heavy accident, "he admitted, "but, nevertheless, it's perhaps the most beautiful event in the championship, so fast, so challenging and so enjoyable when a stage goes well." Mitsubishi With four victories in a row Tommi Makinen is definitely one of the hottest favourite in his home event. "Of course there is a lot of pressure to keep winning and the opposition is very strong," said Makinen, who was born and bred close to the rally's host town, Jyvaskyla, "but the car is really good now and I think we can win again."

British team mate Richard Burns, driving a Carisma GT, is contesting the rally for the first time and intends to treat it as a learning exercise. "You have got to have a very good idea of the road ahead and although I have practised this rally last year, there is no substitute for doing it at high speed. I'll be lucky if I get to score a point, but that's what I'm aiming for."

The team can also depend on young German Uwe Nittel, who has previous experience of the rally and will try to challenge the local stars strongly. Subaru The regular 555 Subaru World Rally Team number one driver Colin McRae, will be joined by local star Jarmo Kytolehto, bringing his experience and knowledge to the team, in the only event missing from Subaru roll of honour. "Our roads are very fast, with lots of jumps and the lines are very important because of the amount of flying through the air," said the Finn, who has scored here three overall positions (1995-1997). "You never know exactly where you are going to land on the road and it is important to know that."

With only three outings, Colin McRae is philosophical about Finland: "Obviously you always try to win, but it will be very difficult to beat the locals and, at this stage in the championship it's more important to finish and pick up some points," admitted the Scot. Seat After this morning's last tuning tests, the new-born Seat WRC is ready for its debut in the FIA World Rally Championship. "The moment we have all been waiting for, has come at last," said Finnish driver Harri Rovanpera. "At the beginning it will not be easy, but I hope this is only the start of another successful period for the team."

Spanish team-mate Oriol Gomez is well aware that debuting in one of the most difficult events of the championship with a new car, is not the easiest task: "My target is to learn about the car and the stages," said Gomez. "I believe we are on the right track towards a Seat WRC capable of fighting for the title in the next season."

"The debut of the Seat WRC covers one of the two targets the brand has set at the beginning of 1998. The second goal, to win the third consecutive FIA 2-Litre World Cup, is nicely paced and we expect to come a step closer with the three Ibiza Kit Car we lined up here in Finland," said Seat Sport President, Vicente Aguilera. Toyota Only two non-Scandinavian drivers have the accolade of victory in the Neste Rally Finland, formerly known as the 1000 Lakes Rally and they both now drive for the Toyota Castrol Team. Spaniard Carlos Sainz and Frenchman Didier Auriol took victories in 1990 and 1992 respectively and hope to celebrate the first anniversary of competition for the Corolla WRC with another success in the Finnish race.

"Victory in Finland remains one of the biggest successes of my career," said Sainz, "and winning now is even more important. It seems like the championship is going to go right down to the last round, but I'll do my best to try and win it earlier!"

Team-mate Didier Auriol, after improving his results along the season, is keen to score his second win of the year. "We all know the Corolla is strong on this kind of roads," said the Frenchman. "Look at the second day in New Zealand, the roads were a little similar to the ones here and Carlos (Sainz) and myself won all the stages that day..." Other Teams Local driver Marcus Gronholm will also contest his home event, where he led last year until retiring on the last day. His Corolla will be in the colours of Toyota Castrol Team Finland. Other competitors to watch for, are the Finnish Sebastian Lindholm (Ford Escort WRC),and the Swede Thomas Radström (Toyota Corolla), the latter competing for the Toyota Sweden in the FIA Teams' Cup. Others FIA Teams' Cup entry the leading team Grifone (I), with Portuguese Rui Madeira (Toyota Corolla), Toyota Saudi Arabia, Toyota Mobil Team Turkey, Uruguay en Carrera, Sawfish Racing and Frederic Dor Team.

In the 2-Litre category, Seat will align three Ibizas for Finn Toni Gardemeister, Welsh Gwyndaf Evans and Swede Jorgen Jonasson. Hyundai has entered two Coupe Kit Car2 for Swede Kenneth Eriksson and Australian Wayne Bell and Renault put its hopes in the two Maxi Megane for Jonas Kruse (S) and Tapio Laukkanen (FIN).

The Group N category see the leader Gustavo Trelles of Uruguay challenged by a flock of other Mitsubishi. STATISTICS The 48th Neste Rally Finland is the tenth of 13 events in the 1998 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers and Manufacturers. Entries: 120 (71 Group A + 49 Group N) Nations (first drivers): Austria 2, Andorra 1,Australia 1,Belgium 1, Switzerland 1, Chile 1, Czech Rep. 1, Germany 3, Spain 4, Estonia 2, France 5, Finland 65, Great Britain 8, Italy 2, Ireland 1,Japan 1, Morocco 1, Holland 1, Portugal 1, Poland 1, Uruguay 1, Russia 5, Sweden 9, Saudi Arabia 1, Turkey 1. Cars: Citroën 2, Ford 13, Honda 3, Hyundai 2, Lada 1, Mazda 1, Mercedes 1, Mitsubishi 23, Nissan 4, Opel 10, Peugeot 7, Renault 4, Rover 1, Seat 9, Skoda 7, Subaru 9, Suzuki 4, Toyota 11, Volkswagen 8. RALLY TIMETABLE Friday 21 August Leg 1 leaves from Jyvaskyla, City Centre, at 13h00 and covers 307.18km, including 90.08km, on 9 special stages. The first car is expected in Laajavuori, Hotel Rantasipi, at 19h53. Saturday 22 August Leg 2 starts from Laajavuori, Hotel Rantasipi at 07h00 and covers 539.13km, including 194.58km on 9 special stages. The first car is expected in Laajavuori, Hotel Rantasipi, at 20h04. Sunday 23 August The third and final leg starts from Laajavuori, Hotel Rantasipi, at 07h00 and covers 424.79 km, including 99.44km on 6 special stages. The first car is expected on the finish podium of Jyvaskyla, City Centre, at 16h10. Totals The rally covers 1271.10km, including 384.10km on 24 special stages (four run twice, two run twice in part). All stages are on gravel public roads (stage 6 and 9/18 partly on asphalt), closed to other traffic. TOMORROW Friday 21 August Leg 1 leaves from Jyvaskyla, City Centre, at 13h00 and covers 307.18km, including 90.08km, on 9 special stages. The first car is expected in Laajavuori, Hotel Rantasipi, at 19h53. Weather forecast Cloudy, with possible rain during late morning and afternoon.

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Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Richard Burns , Didier Auriol , Marcus Gronholm , Thomas Radstrom , Juha Kankkunen , Kenneth Eriksson , Gustavo Trelles , Ari Vatanen , Frederic Dor , Gwyndaf Evans , Sebastian Lindholm , Rui Madeira , Uwe Nittel
Teams Citroën World Rally Team