This week, Subaru World Rally Team drivers Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson will tackle some of the fastest and most spectacular roads of the FIA World Rally Championship when they begin Rally Finland, the tenth of the sixteen-round series.
This week, Subaru World Rally Team drivers Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson will tackle some of the fastest and most spectacular roads of the FIA World Rally Championship when they begin Rally Finland, the tenth of the sixteen-round series. Starting on Thursday 4 August from the host town of Jyvaskyla, the three-day event is regarded as one of the classics of the WRC calendar.
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 speeds of more than 200kph, while the numerous 'yumps', the famous jumps that punctuate the route, demand the ultimate in confidence and pace-note accuracy. 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.
Formerly known as 'The Rally of the Thousand Lakes' the event runs through stunning Finnish scenery and around the numerous lakes that gave the rally its original name. Finland is regarded as the spiritual home of rallying and it is estimated that a fifth of the entire population turn out to watch their nation's round of the World Rally Championship. Since it was first run in 1951, local knowledge has proved a major key to success. 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 and Estonian Markko Martin in 2003).
Once again, the base for this year's rally is the university town of Jyväskylä: home to many of Finland's greatest champions. The rally starts on Thursday 4 August with a sprint around a Superspecial stage at the Killeri horse-trotting track. The rally comprises three legs, 355 competitive kilometres and 21 timed stages. The winning car is expected to cross the finish ramp at 1450hrs on Sunday 7 August.
Subaru will enter a two-car ream on Rally Finland. The two Impreza WRC2005's will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills) and Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall). Both Petter and Chris will be eligible to score points in the 2005 FIA Manufacturers' Championship.
Petter has competed in Finland six times before. His best result came in 2003 when he finished second. Currently second in the battle for the 2005 World Championship for Drivers', Petter is aiming for a strong points finish next week. The Subaru team's latest signing, Chris Atkinson, tackled Rally Finland for the first time last year. He finished the rally in 33rd place at the wheel of a Group N specification Subaru Impreza. Next week will mark Chris's Finland debut at the wheel of the more powerful WRC specification Impreza.
"Finland is a great event and one of my favourites of the year. There's a good atmosphere, it's well organised and the stages are incredible. After Argentina the feeling in the car is pretty good now, and I'm hoping that the final preparations at the test this weekend will mean we're very competitive on the rally. I've got my fingers crossed that everything will be perfect for a good rally, but for this one it's a little bit cautious too. For sure you have to attack, but it's not a good idea to start Finland feeling over confident. I'm ready to give it my best shot, and I hope it will be a good show for the spectators. A lot of my supporters come across from Norway and hopefully we can give them something to cheer about."
"I'm really looking forward to it. I completed the route last year in a Group N Impreza so I've already got some experience of the stages, which I think will be of some benefit. But in Finland you really can't underestimate the value of experience. It's one of those events that you need to do time and time again before you get close to the experts. The roads are pretty challenging, very fast, with lots of blind crests and jumps, but they're a type of road that I like. The speed doesn't faze me; I guess it's something I've become comfortable with after so many events in Australia where the roads are often just as fast. I'm hoping to get a good set-up at the pre-event test on Friday, one that will enable me to push a little harder on the rally and show some good speed."
The Car / The Challenge
Subaru World Rally Team Principal, David Lapworth
"Rally Finland is all about confidence. It's a real drivers rally and one that sorts the men from the boys. In terms of driving line, precision and commitment to the notes, it is the hardest of the year, but the smooth flowing stages also make it one of the most popular. There is no room for half-hearted commitment - I mean that technically and in terms of attitude - drivers have to attack from the beginning to the end of every stage and have extremely precise pace notes. A lot of the corners are blind and most are very fast. The nature of the event is fairly consistent from Friday through to Sunday and, compared to some of the recent Mediterranean rallies, it isn't a car-breaker. It's not particularly hard on the cars and it doesn't normally wear out the tyres, so drivers don't need to be too tactical or gentle in their approach, this one is all about performance.
The ideal car for Rally Finland is one that gives the driver plenty of confidence at high speed, but also has lots of grip. Unfortunately these two characteristics are slightly contradictory, and that's the technical challenge. I've said this before, but the ideal for Finland is a vehicle that handles like a sports car and rides like a limousine. The car needs to be agile, with sharp reactions and precise handling but, on the other hand, it needs soft suspension and lots of wheel travel to get grip. In preparing cars for Chris and Petter we're trying to find a recipe that provides the maximum grip together with high-speed precision and stability. Because it's so easy to get caught out over a jump or a corner on a crest, the tendency is to bias this mix towards the response and high speed confidence. Regardless of the amount of grip, it's no good if the driver isn't sure how the car is going to correct itself after a bad jump, or if it goes light over a crest.
To fine-tune the handling of the Impreza WRC2005 for the conditions, we are holding a three day pre-event test in Finland during which we'll be trying out some new suspension components and set-ups. Finland is an event I believe we can win and, of course, that's the result we're aiming for. But, in terms of strategy, we're keeping an open mind as a lot will depend on the conditions on the day."
Between the Rallies
Directly after Rally Argentina, Petter Solberg spent a week in America on a Subaru promotional tour. The first stop was Philadelphia, then it was on to Subaru USA's head office where he met staff and gave demonstration drives and passenger rides in the latest high-performance Subaru road cars. His final stop was Indianapolis where a crowd of 500 people joined him at the opening of a new dealership. On his return home to Europe, Petter and his family spend a couple of days visiting Norway's largest theme park before he headed off to the Finland pre-event test on Friday. Chris Atkinson spent the last two weeks in the UK. He attended the MotoGP motorcycle race at Donnington on 24 July and had a short break in London to catch up with friends.