Rally Finland Preview…. Round Eight

This is a very important rally. It’s one of the absolute classics. Formerly known as the 1000 Lakes Rally, the roads are so specialized that it took years for someone not born in the region to win. First held in 1951, it took till 1990, when Carlos Sainz won driving a Toyota Celica GT-Four.

The drivers with the most wins are Hannu Mikkola and Marcus Gronholm, each winning the rally seven times.

Now this event features one of the most spectacular stages in the world. It’s called Ouninpohja. It is 33km (21 miles) long and is a real roller coaster of a stage! This year it features twice on Saturday and the drivers will need to be ready, as it is the first stage on Saturday morning! That will make them wake up for sure! It’s also being run in the opposite direction this year, so this adds a further twist!

Here are the details of this year’s stages.

Thursday evening

SS1 Harju 1 2,31km 19h00

Friday Morning

SS2 Mökkiperä 1 13,84km 07h13

SS3 Halinen 7,07km 07h46

SS4 Jukojärvi 1 21,24km 09h02

SS5 Surkee 1 14,95km 10h39

SS6 Horkka 1 15,01km 11h32

Friday afternoon

SS7 Äänekoski-Valtra 7,39km 14h10

SS8 Mökkiperä 2 13,84km 15h08

SS9 Jukojärvi 2 21,24km 16h38

SS10 Surkee 2 14,95km 18h15

SS11 Horkka 2 15,01km 19h08

SS12 Harju 2 2,31km 20h30

Saturday morning

SS13 Ouninpohja 1 33,00km 08h08

SS14 Päijälä 1 23,50km 09h11

SS15 Pihlajakoski 1 14,51km 10h34

SS16 Saalahti 1 4,23km 11h52

Saturday afternoon

SS17 Ouninpohja 2 33,00km 14h48

SS18 Päijälä 2 23,50km 15h51

SS19 Pihlajakoski 2 14,51km 17h14

SS20 Saalahti 2 4,23km 18h32

Sunday

SS21 Lempää 1 6,83km 08h28

SS22 Oittila 1 10,15km 09h21

SS23 Lempää 2 6,83km 11h15

SS24 Oittila 2 (Power Stage) 10,15km 13h08

The total competitive distance of the stages is 333,60km over the three days and this promises to be an exciting weekend of fast and flowing stages and hopefully a big battle for the win.

We can expect the drivers from the Nordic states to be near the front, so watch out for Jari-Matti, and Andreas from Volkswagen to challenge for the podium. The other driver I expect to be near the front, if not in the lead is Ott Tanak. After his total domination last time out in Poland, and finishing 4th last year in this rally, he will want to fight at the front again.

This was the result from last year

J.M Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) 2:33:03.8

S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +13.7

M. Østberg / J. Andersson (Citroën DS3 WRC) +1:36.8

T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:58.7

O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:29.3

J. Hänninen / T. Tuominen (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:44.3

M. Prokop / J. Tomanek (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +6:20.3

E. Lappi / J. Ferm (Škoda Fabia R5) +7:11.2

P. Tidemand / E. Axelsson (Škoda Fabia R5) +8:52.2

L. Bertelli / L. Granai (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +9:37.4

D. Sordo / M. Martí (Hyundai i20 WRC) +10:17.8

Here are the thoughts of the drivers ahead of shakedown then.

Volkswagen

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1

“The Rally Finland is unquestionably one of the highlights of the year. I love driving there, because rallying is everything in Finland. I am also looking forward to Finland, because the Finns manage to produce perfect route conditions. The roads are not only beautiful, but are tailor-made for rallying. The starting order has denied me any realistic chance of winning any of the gravel events this year. As such, the weather situation will also play a major role again in Finland. Let’s wait and see, and keep our fingers crossed that it is nice and damp. Admittedly, what matters most in the end is that we defend our title. We are looking good in that regard at the moment, but it would be nice to have another fair shot at winning a rally in similar conditions. Particularly as the series is blessed with some very strong drivers at the moment.”

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2

“The Rally Finland is obviously the highlight of the season for me. I am really looking forward to it, even though the pressure is naturally greater than at any other rally. That can also serve as a motivation, as you obviously want to do well in front of your home crowds. The expectations of the Finnish fans are huge, particularly as I have only won once so far this year. The characteristics of the rally suit me. Fast gravel roads and big jumps – that is my kind of rally. The keys to this rally are ensuring the pace notes are correct and choosing the right line for jumps and fast sections. I will relax ahead of my home race in a very Finnish manner – in the sauna.”

Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9

“The way I see it, it will not be easy to repeat our victory in Poland at the Rally Finland. The rally has a completely different character. The surface is much harder and there are many more crests and jumps. On the whole, the rally is far more demanding than the one in Poland. It is particularly important to get the pace notes spot on. As such, we will focus hard during the ‘Recce’ to get the pace notes as accurate as possible. Because there are a lot of blind crests, you need to know exactly what to expect on the other side. That then gives you the confidence you need to be fast. One of the new features this year will be the ‘Ouninpohja’ stage, which we will drive in the opposite direction to recent years. That will add a bit of extra spice to the occasion.

Hyundai

Thierry Neuville said: “Finland is probably one of the most challenging rallies of the season. Everybody is always a bit nervous going there. It’s a very fast event with huge grip and big jumps. You need to get everything 100% right to be fast and not make any mistakes. It’s very enjoyable once you get a good feeling and you are ‘on it’. It is the rally where you get the best sensations. But, it can be a difficult rally if you don’t find the best settings and get a good feeling, then it can quickly turn into the worst rally of the season! Nicolas and myself have had some positive results recently, so we want to build on that in Finland.”

Hayden Paddon said: “The result in Poland was really important for us and allowed us to bounce back after two tough results. I think Finland is the one we always look forward to the most. It’s like the home of rallying, the Monaco Grand Prix of the World Rally Championship. It’s a rally that I aspire to win one day, it’s very high on my list! We have a good car and a good package this year, so for sure we are going to try and fight right up near the front. But the Scandinavians on home turf are also very fast so we’ll have our work cut out for us. We’re feeling up for the challenge.”

Now, Dani Sordo was injured in pre event testing in an accident, so Kevin Abbring will be stepping into the i20 for this weekend. He’s not driven the new generation i20 competitively yet.

Kevin Abbring commented: “First of all, I would like to wish Dani a speedy recovery and thank Hyundai Motorsport for this opportunity. Our debut in the New Generation i20 WRC will be at rallying’s most challenging event. We’re obviously really excited for it, but we know that it’s a tall order. Rally Finland is just special; the roads are really fast and the fans are passionate about rallying. It has such an amazing atmosphere! The plan will be to continue to gain as much experience as possible and get more acquainted with the New Generation i20 WRC – I cannot wait to tackle the amazing stages this week.”

M-Sport

Mads Østberg said:

“It’s time for a comeback and we’re fully focussed on Rally Finland. We’ve all been working really hard in the lead-up to this event, and myself and Ola have spent a lot of time preparing. We’re determined to return to the stage-winning pace we showed in Sardinia.

“Eighth place in Poland was not what we came for, but I was ninth there last year and ended up on the podium in Finland. We need to keep that in mind and focus on being as competitive as we can from the very first stage.

“This is one of the events that everyone looks forward to. It’s such an adrenaline rush and when you hook up that perfect stage there really is no better feeling. We’re looking forward to that, and I can promise you that we’ll be aiming for a strong result. If everything goes to plan, there is no reason why we can’t be challenging for the podium again.”

Éric Camilli said:

“Rally Finland is a very special event, and I can’t wait to discover these stages for the first time in a world rally car. We have some knowledge of the rally from last year, but this year will be a completely new challenge. The speed of the world rally cars on these roads is incredible. We really enjoyed our test and did a lot of work with our engineer which should see us well-placed for the rally.

“Even though the event didn’t go to plan for us last year, we were pleased with our speed. With only a few gravel events under our belt, we were still discovering what it takes to perform on that surface but were able to set some really competitive times.

“We’re keen to keep up the same level of progress that we have shown recently. We’ll take everything in our stride and focus on our own rally, but I hope to build on the speed we had in Poland.”

Elfyn Evans said:

“The WRC 2 field is extremely strong at the moment and it will be a challenge to beat the Scandinavians on their home turf. This is probably one of the most competitive events of the year, but we’re ready to give it our all. We’re feeling well prepared and ready to challenge for the win, but we know it won’t be easy.

“Speed and precision is what we’ll need. The stages are so fast that any time loss is hard to recover. You need to have precise notes and the confidence to drive to the maximum. We’ve shown some pretty good speed here in the past so, if we can couple that with a clean run, anything is possible.”

Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT

Kris Meeke (#7): “Finland is a unique moment in the WRC season. I have excellent memories here, such as my first race with Citroën Racing in 2013 and my podium finish the year after. Every year, I take pleasure, above all, in driving on the most amazing routes in the world. I’m not competing in every race this season, but I was determined that Finland should be part of my programme. It’s a rally that often comes down to just a few tenths of a second and it will provide a good opportunity for me to work on my turn of speed. I won in Portugal, but I don’t have any particular goals. I’ll be doing my best to learn, understand and enjoy myself at the wheel. The weather forecast is for rain every day in Jyväskylä, which will no doubt have an influence on performances depending on the starting orders. But once again, it doesn’t really matter to me, as I don’t have any special aims this season. I think it’s going to be a big challenge from reconnaissance on. There are a lot of new special stages, including Ouninpohja, which we are going to be taking on in the opposite direction from usual. We’ll have to forget our usual markers and approach that sector as if it were totally new.”

Craig Breen (#8): “Obviously, I feel much better prepared for this race than for my first two rallies with Abu Dhabi Total WRT! I’m going to be able to draw on my experience from a month ago and my aim will be to pick up where I left off at the end of Rally Poland. For this rally to be a success for me, I’ll have to produce a consistent race, without making any mistakes, and attacking a little harder when I feel able. I’m familiar with Rally Finland as I’ve already taken part six times. Two years ago, I was at the wheel of a WRC, but in a totally different context, with my dad working on the car and my mum doing the catering! That family effort has got me here and I fully intend to take this new opportunity.”

Khalid Al Qassimi (#24): “I can’t wait to be back in Finland. It’s a really special event for the WRC. The course is known for being fast and for its high-speed jumps. We will be able to draw on our experience from last year, but more than half of the special stages are new and we will have to be focused from reconnaissance on to make sure we take good notes. It will be important to feel good at the wheel again, particularly after such a long break since Portugal. You need a lot of commitment for this rally and we will be working hard to gradually get to grips with the car. I hope we will enjoy ourselves and that Kris and Craig will do the Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team proud.”

D-Mack

Ott Tänak said: “Finland is always a highlight of the season and all the drivers love the high speeds and rollercoaster roads. Our confidence is good after Rally Poland and once again we will push as hard as possible. I’ve done the rally quite a few times now and have a strong level of experience so, if things feel good, then we should have a chance.”

Karl Kruuda said: “The feeling is quite good after Poland and I’m looking forward to some fast stages again. The aim is to try and be up there with the other guys and pick out a few stages where we can beat them, but Finland is still a tough and sometimes daunting place. Poland highlighted a few areas where we can make some changes so we will aim to improve further.”

Marius Aasen said: “Finland is one of my favourite rallies and I have always dreamed of participating there in a R5 car. This will be my fourth time doing the rally, but I know the Fiesta R5 is much faster than the cars I have driven there before, so it will be a big difference. After our crash in Poland I think we will need some stages to get back into the good rhythm. This time we will use some of our pacenotes from last year and I’m sure that will help us.”

So, can Ott and Raigo challenge at the front again? Will Jari-Matti continue his winning form at home? Can Mads find some good form, and finish on the podium like last year, or will he beaten by his teammate, Eric? What about Kris Meeke, who is back in an DS3? Could we see him challenge at the front? After all, he won in Portugal.

I strongly recommend you follow this event. It is astonishing!

Enjoy!

Warren Nel

27th July 2016

@Warren_S_Nel

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