Rally Finland: Subaru preview

The Event 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) next week when they begin Rally Finland, the ninth round of the ...

The Event

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) next week 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.

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).

Including 382.71 competitive kilometres and 22 stages, the event will be contested over three days. On Leg one, drivers will tackle ten stages, including a sprint around the Killeri Super Special, which at 2.06km is the shortest of the event. Leg two includes a further eight stages, including two passes through the formidable Ouninpohja, while Leg three concludes the rally with a further four stages. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp in Jyvaskyla at 1456hrs on Sunday.


The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two cars in Finland, to be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Mikko Hirvonen (co-driven by Jarmo Lehtinen).

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.

Driver Quotes

Petter Solberg
"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
"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."

The Car / The Challenge

David Lapworth , Team Principal
"Finland is the most hotly contested rally of the year. It runs at a furious pace and the stages are fast and a real test of a driver's speed and commitment. The Finns have dominated the event over the years and it's the one they all want to win. While, in contrast, the non-Finns want to beat the Finns in Finland! It makes it a great event to watch.

"As the roads are such good quality, car damage usually tends to be as a result of driver error. The roads are very fast and flowing and very difficult in the way that they disappear over crests into blind corners and jumps, it's a real test of confidence. You have to be completely in the right frame of mind to compete there, you have to be very confident and push like hell from the first stage. The difference between winning Finland and coming third or fourth is confidence. You have to have that extra bit of commitment to win.

"Due to the importance of high speeds, the set up of the car for Finland is a bit of a compromise. Fast events normally require the car to be run quite stiff to make it more responsive and allow the driver to feel he's in control. However, stiff suspension means less grip so you have to balance the two. On the one side you're trying to make the car feel almost like a racing car to give the driver confidence at high speed, but to get the grip you need to run the car as soft as possible.

"Looking to the drivers, this is an event that Petter wants to win. Over the last couple of years he's shown he's strongest on technically difficult gravel rallies and although Finland doesn't give him that advantage, he's good on gravel. He did well last year and beat Richard Burns in a fantastic battle on the last day, so his primary target for 2004 will be to win. That said, we'll obviously be keeping an eye on Sebastien and adapting our strategy as we see fit. For Mikko, this is his home rally and we're interested to see what his ultimate pace is on an event where he knows the stages, knows the car and knows the team. However as the expectations from the Finns and his supporters are likely to be great, we will try to balance that with more solid foundation work."

Between the Rallies

Following the conclusion of the Argentina Rally, Petter travelled directly to Germany to complete a day of testing with the team, before setting off for Denmark to enjoy a well deserved break with wife Pernilla and son Oliver. When we caught up with the Norwegian on Tuesday (27 July) he was back at home with his family. As temperatures were around the mid-20s, Petter had bought a paddling pool for his son and was mid-way through blowing it up. The plan for the rest of the day was to relax and spend time with Oliver before continuing with his physical training programme. Petter is now in Finland participating in a pre-event test and preparing for the forthcoming event.

Mikko also travelled to Germany after Argentina to carry out testing duties before returning to his home in Jyvaskyla. Unfortunately, once back in Finland, the young driver suffered with flu-like symptoms over the weekend, but reports that he's now feeling much better. As well as spending time with his sisters, completing media interviews and attending some meetings, the Finn has been preparing for this weekend's Finnish test and making plans to commemorate his 24th birthday on Saturday.


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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Carlos Sainz , Richard Burns , Didier Auriol , Petter Solberg , Mikko Hirvonen , Jarmo Lehtinen , Markko Martin