After a nine-week rally drought over the summer, the FIA World Rally Championship marks its return with two events in two weeks. This weekend, straight after Rally Deutschland, the action moves to the gravel roads of central Finland for the tenth...
After a nine-week rally drought over the summer, the FIA World Rally Championship marks its return with two events in two weeks. This weekend, straight after Rally Deutschland, the action moves to the gravel roads of central Finland for the tenth of the 16 round WRC series.
Formerly known as ‘The Rally of the Thousand Lakes', Rally Finland is regarded as one of the classics of the WRC calendar and features smooth gravel stages that pass through stunning forest scenery and around the lakes that gave the rally its original name. With awe-inspiring stages and a record of producing some of the best drivers in the WRC, Finland is regarded as the spiritual home of rallying and it is estimated that a fifth of the entire population will turn out to watch their round of 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 car 50 metres through the air and lead directly into blind crests and sixth gear corners. With average speeds of around 120kph, the event demands unwavering commitment and bravery.
Event pairing adds another dimension to the challenge for 2006. Most cars are due to arrive in Finland on Tuesday morning and teams will face a race against the clock to transform them from asphalt to gravel specification.A Superspecial at the Killeri horse-trotting track opens the rally on Thursday 17 August, with the first of 19 more ‘proper' stages following on Friday morning. The rally comprises 351.61 competitive kilometres and is due to finish at 1454hrs on Sunday in the host town of Jyvaskyla.
The Subaru World Rally Team will enter two cars in Rally Finland. One of the two Impreza WRC2006's will be driven by Petter Solberg (co-driven by Phil Mills), the other by Chris Atkinson (co-driven by Glenn Macneall).
Petter has driven the rally seven times before. Last year the Norwegian had a heavy landing after a jump on the first day of competition and extensively damaged the rear of his Impreza WRC2005. Subaru technicians repaired the car in the final 45-minute service of the day and Petter went on to finish fourth.
Chris competed in Rally Finland for the first time in 2004 when he drove a privately-entered Group N Impreza. The Australian made his Finland WRC debut last year and set some highly competitive times before retiring on SS19 with a mechanical problem.
"In Finland I'm just going to be patient from the start and do a little fine-tuning as we go on. We've now got to show we can perform, and there's some pressure on all of us to make things work. I hope we will be fast enough to fight for the win - I've been second and third before and know the event very well. I want a good result for the people back in the factory - they are working flat out."
"This will be my third Rally Finland and it's an event I really enjoy. It's good fun to drive, it's so fast and the jumps are incredible.The testing we've done over the summer gave us some valuable information and everything suggests we've made a big step forward with the car. I'm now looking forward to putting it into action on gravel.I'd like to be as competitive as the top five guys; I don't think a podium finish is impossible."
The Car / The Challenge
SUBARU WORLD RALLY SPORTING DIRECTOR, LUIS MOYA:
"We knew Germany would be a difficult rally, but if we compare our performance with Spain or Corsica we've made some real progress with the car. In Finland we hope we will see as great an improvement on gravel as we have on asphalt and we'll be fighting 100% for a win for Petter. The technicians did a great job to repair his car on Thursday and again after his retirement on Saturday. Mechanically the car is perfect - it won't make any difference to his performance in Finland at all. For Chris, I see no reason why he should not get a podium in this rally; he's been very quick on the fast stages this year and knows the event well."
SUBARU WORLD RALLY TEAM DIRECTOR OF ENGINEERING, STEVE FARRELL:
"Despite the ultimately disappointing result in Germany, we can see that the performance showed the testing over the summer had made the car more competitive compared to our previous asphalt form. The signs are good for the gravel events, which have always been our better surface. Finland requires a fast, consistent, stable car and we believe we have got a good package to take the fight to the others. I believe we can be very competitive on each of the next seven rallies and it's our intention to finish off the year on a high. Since Germany and Finland are paired events, there are only a limited number of technical changes we can make. Despite our problems in Germany there won't be any penalty time incurred and the problems should not reoccur."
Between the Events
With only 42 hours between the end of Rally Germany's final stage and the start of the Rally Finland recce, members of the Subaru World Rally Team have had little chance to relax. The Subaru service area was disassembled after cars left service on Sunday morning and some team trucks were on their way to the port of Rostock before the end of the rally. While Chris Atkinson and Glenn Macneall travelled with the team from Germany to Finland, Petter Solberg and Phil Mills flew on Petter's private jet. The duo left Germany on Saturday night following their retirement and, together with Petter's son Oliver, spent Sunday fishing.