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WRC Finland expected to be dominated by Finns

WRC Finland expected to be dominated by flying Finns


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Finnish rally drivers Mikko Hirvonen (seen here in action in Sweden earlier this year) and Jari-Matti Latvala – both driving for BP Ford – are the odds-on favourites to win Neste Oil Rally Finland this coming weekend.
Credit: www.worldrallypics.com

31 July 2008

Attention: Sports Editors

WRC Finland expected to be dominated by flying Finns

One of the most popular events on the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar is in the land of sixty thousand lakes – Neste Oil Rally Finland – which takes place this weekend, 31 July – 3 August 2008.

Following the six-week mid-season break, Rally Finland is the ninth of 15 rounds on the 2008 calendar. Competitors have two events in two weeks with Rally Deutschland taking place 15-17 August, before teams pack up and travel down-under for Repco Rally New Zealand in late August.

Rallying is very much part of life in Finland with the annual WRC round based in the city of Jyväskylä for almost sixty years. In that time, the sport locally has grown to see many Finnish nationals – Hannu Mikkola, Markku Alen, Ari Vatanen, Juha Kankkunen, Harri Rovanpera, Tommi Makinen and Marcus Grönholm – become rally stars on a global scale.

Continuing his countrymen’s tradition, Mikko Hirvonen is one of five Finnish drivers in the current WRC line-up. Hirvonen turns 28 this week and can celebrate going into the second half of the WRC season holding a slender lead – just three points –on the WRC drivers’ leader-board over arch-rival Sébastien Loeb.

“I’ve stood beside these stages since I was a kid watching heroes like Markku Alen and Ari Vatanen driving. My family and friends will all be out watching and it would be a fantastic feeling to stand on the top step of the podium in front of them on the Sunday afternoon,” said Hirvonen.

“But there are other drivers who are capable of preventing me from doing that. There is a little more pressure on me to win in Finland than on other rallies but it’s nothing I can’t cope with. I can’t wait because it’s the first time that I will start my home rally leading the championship. This rally is all about bravery, trust in the pace notes and accuracy. There is simply no room for mistakes.”

Sandwiched between two Finns on the points’ table – Hirvonen’s BP Ford team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala is third – the four-time world rally champion will undoubtedly be striving for his first win in Finland. Loeb has won in Scandinavia before - on the snow in Sweden in 2004 – but a victory in on the first gravel roads of Finland must have particular appeal for the competitive Frenchman and the Citroen team.

However local experience counts for much and the BP Ford team-mates look best placed to continue the Finnish custom of winning their home event.

With 76 per cent of the countryside forested, wide roads with a very smooth surface reward drivers with prior knowledge of the flat-out brows, crests and high-speed kinks. It is these traits that see the event dominated by Nordic crews who have spent their life honing precise driving skills on the very roads used in Rally Finland.

Contesting 24 stages over the three days, crews start with the 2.06km Killeri Super Special Stage on the Thursday evening. Friday’s ten stages are set west of Jyväskylä with nearly half of the rally distance contested on the Saturday. Again near the district of Jämsä, half of the day’s ten stages are new with changes to the route see the traditional 33km Ouninpohja stage dropped from the 2008 schedule. Sunday is a relatively short three-stage test east of Jyväskylä bringing the competitive total distance covered to 340km.

Rally Finland is also a round of the Production World Rally Championship (P-WRC) and the Junior World Rally Championship (J-WRC), the three championship classes have helped push entries to a record for the season with 111 teams registered to start.

Included in the P-WRC line-up is the Ralliart New Zealand entry for Finnish pairing Juho Hänninen and co-driver Mikko Markkula. Repco Rally New Zealand is also a round of the P-WRC and the Ralliart duo will debut a brand-new Mitsubishi Lancer EVO IX in New Zealand, their fourth of six rounds in the 2008 P-WRC.

ENDS

Drivers’championship points – after round eight of 15
1, Hirvonen/Lehtinen (Ford) 59
2, Loeb/Elena (Citroen) 56
3, Latvala/Anttila (Ford) 34
4, Atkinson/Prévot (Subaru) 31
5, Sordo/Marti (Citroen) 30
6, P. Solberg/Mills (Subaru) 20
7, Galli/Bernacchini (Ford) 17
8, H. Solberg/Menkerud (Ford) 16

Manufacturers’championship points – after round eight of 15
1, BP Ford World Rally Team, 99
2, Citroen Total WRT, 90
3, Subaru WRT, 53
4, Stobart VK M-Sport WRT, 41
5, Munchi’s Ford WRT, 19
6, Suzuki WRT, 10

More information on Repco Rally New Zealand can be found on the website: www.rallynz.org.nz


ENDS

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