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Rally Finland WRC (P & J) - 31-03 Aug 08

Posted: August 6, 2008 5:46 PM - 6708 Hits

Round 9 - 2008 World Rally Championship

Atkinson retakes championship third after pivotal podium in Finland

Posted: August 6, 2008 5:48 PM

The Subaru World Rally Team entry of Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot clinched a crucial third place on Rally Finland with a resolute fight-back after they slipped to ninth position on the opening day. The result marks the first points-score for the duo in the new Impreza WRC2008, and moves them back up into third position in the drivers’ championship.

The final day of Rally Finland was a short, sharp affair that consisted of only three stages, as opposed to the eleven and ten run on Friday and Saturday respectively. Today’s gravel stages were just as loose and slippery, keeping yesterday’s battles alive as crews pushed hard in front of tens of thousands of rally-crazed Finnish fans. The second of the morning’s stages was an entirely new challenge, placing a greater emphasis on each crew’s confidence in their pacenotes, and the last stage was the most spectacular of the event with a perilous succession of high-speed jumps, ensuring Sunday was no leisurely drive to the finish of the aptly-named Great Race.

“We used Greece and Turkey as part of extended test programme, so this is the first event in which we’ve really focussed on our performance on gravel” said David Lapworth, Subaru World Rally Team technical director. “It’s been our first chance to really see how the car performs on gravel and how the work done in testing translates to a rally, and it is clear we’ve made good progress. Chris did a great job, and we learned a lot that we will take into New Zealand in particular, as the next gravel rally, as we continue the steep part of the learning curve that we are currently in.”

Having doggedly worked himself into third place by a gap of just one second yesterday, the Australian and Citroen’s Dani Sordo started this morning prepared for a flat out battle for the podium. After the first and longest stage however, Atkinson and Prévot’s performance proved decisive as the duo stretched the gap to a comfortable 13 seconds; sufficient to dampen the ferocity of Sordo’s attack.

On the event that every rally driver most craves success on, Atkinson went one better than his fourth position last year by clinching his fifth podium of the 2008 season, and importantly his first in the Subaru Impreza WRC2008 on its third rally. In a crucial event for their championship campaign, he and Prévot’s impressive performance this weekend was sufficient to propel them back to third position overall in the drivers’ championship.

The event is notoriously difficult for non-Nordic drivers, as the results clearly demonstrate. The event has been unrelentingly dominated by Finns for the last 57 years, making Atkinson’s podium on his fourth attempt at the event, the second alongside Prévot, even more satisfying.

“To finish on the podium in Finland is fantastic, it’s one of those rallies that you really, really want to do well on and it’s great to add it to the CV” said Chris Atkinson. “The guys did a fantastic job, the car was great and I was just able to keep pushing hard. I really want to thank everybody in the team, it’s just really cool to be here on the podium the first time in Finland with the new car, and of course it’s great to be back in third in the championship. It’s been a great weekend, really good.”

“The trophy from this is definitely one to keep!” added Stéphane Prévot. “It’s such a fantastic result because it’s such a fast and difficult rally – one that everyone wants to win. I remember coming here as a spectator when I was 15 and watching people like Vatanen and Alen. It was just fantastic, and since then it’s always been a special place to me, which all just makes this podium even better.”

Meanwhile Petter Solberg set about taking the fight to his elder brother just ahead of him in fifth position. While the gap diminished with each passing stage, it proved a task too far for Hollywood and co-driver Phil Mills, who came home in sixth position to collect their third haul of points from three rallies in the Impreza WRC2008. “Ok, it’s been a tough weekend but we’re sixth and that’s how it is” said Petter Solberg. “When everything was working it felt very good, but I lost the feeling at times yesterday and Friday. Today was much better, but by then we’d lost too much time to be able to climb back up any higher. We have a week until Germany for the team to keep working on the car, and we’ll see what we can do there, the first time on tarmac.”

Retaining sixth position in the drivers’ championship, the manufacturer points they earned keep the Subaru World Rally Team a comfortable third overall in the manufacturers’ championship after nine rounds of 16 in the 2008 World Rally Championship.

Fiesta SportingTrophy - Yurdakul takes maiden victory on Finnish spectacular

Posted: August 6, 2008 5:46 PM

Round 3 of the 2008 Pirelli-supported Fiesta SportingTrophy International series has been won by Emre Yurdakul (25) from Turkey and his co-driver Can Erkal (24) on this weekend’s Neste Oil Rally Finland - round 9 of the FIA World Rally Championship.  He is the third different winner in as many events this season.  

Yurdakul’s debut win sees him advance to second in the standings, just five points behind championship leader Burcu Çetinkaya (27) who put in a solid effort to finish fourth with co-driver Çiçek Güney (26) to maintain her lead.  

Putting in some astonishingly quick times, which unfortunately lead to retirement from the event, was newcomer to the series Jarkko Nikara (22) from Finland and co-driver Petri Nikara (27). Nikara was the fastest Fiesta on all ten special stages on Saturday, setting times comparable with some of the leading drivers in the highly competitive Junior WRC.  

These amazing stage times – which included many top-ten GpN times and a time that equalled that of J-WRC round winner Martin Prokop on stage 22 – were marred when he missed a gear on the second stage of the rally and had to retire from Day 1 with a damaged engine. His remarkably quick 11 stage wins were a fantastic achievement but an awkward landing after one of Finland’s famous ‘yumps’ damaged the suspension and they left the road on the penultimate stage of the rally retiring from the event.  

Second on the event was Koray Muratoğlu (30) from Turkey, along with co-driver Levent Özokutucu (22). The pair put in a measured drive, battling through with a damaged sump on Saturday morning – another testament of the famous ‘crests’ – to achieve their best ever result in the FSTi series. The result also sees Muratoğlu move up to third on the series leaderboard.  

Atte Alanen (20) from Finland and co-driver Tommi Alkula (30) were another notable crew turning heads, winning eight stages and leading the FSTi contingent until the halfway point of the rally. Unfortunately, disaster struck when he severely damaged the engine sump on a rock that was on the racing line of stage 14, having to retire for the day. Alanen finished the event in a creditable fifth in class N3 putting him sixth in the FSTi championship – all this on his first ever WRC event and just his second rally using pacenotes.  

The third new crew to enter the FSTi series this weekend was Teemu Horkama (28) from Finland and his co-driver Vesa Hakola. The pair started the rallywith a tactical strategy to push on the smooth fast sections while taking a very cautious approach on the rough sections. This strategy paid off perfectly as the 28-year-old took the final step on the rostrum on his debut WRC event.

  Denis Grodetskiy (33) from Russia and co-driver Safoniy Lotko began in blistering form and were leading the FSTi contenders after the opening day on Friday. The 11.38 kilometre Mökkiperä 2 test marked a momentous occasion for the Russian as he picked up his first ever FSTi stage win. Unfortunately a collision with a rock on stage 12 put him off the road and out of the event with a damaged radiator. His team then made the decision to retire from the event to preserve their Ford Fiesta ST for the next round in Germany.  

First round winner, Vytautas Baranauskas (24) and co-driver Gediminas Celiešius (36) were unable to start the rally.  

Yurdakul, by virtue of winning the Finnish round of the series, took the spoils in the ‘Expert Award’ supported by the Norwegian electrical retailer and partners of Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team driver Henning Solberg, Expert.  As a result of this, Yurdakul will travel to the next round of the championship in Germany with a new Samsung digital camera as a reward for his efforts.  

Emre Yurdakul (25) from Turkey said:
“I have been waiting the whole year for this and I’m so happy that my first win in the Fiesta SportingTrophy has come on this rally – I love Finland! My plan for this event was not too push for all of the rally, but to wait for other FSTi crews to make mistakes and let the results fall my way. This seemed to work well because we never had to push maximum or take any silly risks. From a championship point of view it is great to be in second and now I will go to Germany with a chance to take the championship lead.”

C2 Junior Experience

Posted: August 6, 2008 5:43 PM

Gallagher Secures Third In Junior World Rally Championship.

Posted: August 6, 2008 5:41 PM

Shaun Gallagher finish fifth in the Rally Finland in the junior World Rally Championship today (Sunday, 03 August 2008). This leaves the Donegal man with 20 championship point and two more rallies left in the World Championship he is placed Third overall. Following 24 stages of the most demanding loose gravel in the world, the Irish pairing of Shaun Gallagher and Paul Kiely finish 31st overall in Finland.

At the end of the rally, Shaun Gallagher said;
"This has been the toughest event I ever faced in my life. We were cutting tires to get extra grip and the harder we pushed the faster the pace seemed to get all over the board. I would have liked to finish higher up the leader board but we are still well placed in the Championship. We have Rally Germany in two weeks so I need to get focused on tarmac rallying and get myself ready."

The Irish team suffered a sustainable crack in the housing of their gear box in their Citroën C2 Super 1600 and lost an additional 4 minutes with an off in day two of Rally Finland. Frenchman and Championship leader Sebastian Ogier dropped Finland from his J-WRC calendar and will be confident heading into Germany of a victory. Meanwhile Michal Kosciuszko of Poland is 2 point ahead of Gallagher with 22 point and second place in the J-WRC.

Tommy Mullen, Chief Executive Officer of World Rally Team Ireland commented;
"The rally is finished and the team needs to regroup and examine all factors to see where we can make up time to push ourselves up the championship.
When you compete at this level if you are not performing at your highest level you will be left behind."

World Rally Team Ireland fly home tomorrow in preparation for the next round of the World Rally Championship in Germany, which starts on Thursday the 15th August 2008.

Citroen Sport Report

Posted: August 6, 2008 5:39 PM

Hirvonen claims second for Ford after epic battle in Finland

Posted: August 6, 2008 5:36 PM

BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen finished second in Rally Finland today after a thrilling duel with arch-rival Sébastien Loeb during the four-day event. The Finns' seventh podium in nine rallies this year preserves their lead in the FIA World Rally Championship driver standings and keeps Ford on top in the manufacturers' series with the record-breaking Focus RS World Rally Car.

Hirvonen and Loeb fought for every second over the blisteringly fast roller-coaster roads of central Finland. The gap between the duelling drivers never rose above 18.2sec over the 24 speed tests covering 340.42km, and despite Hirvonen's final day attack in the forest stages east of his home town of Jyväskylä, he ended this fastest round of the season just 9.0sec behind Loeb.

Finland is regarded as rallying's home and is one of the most specialised events of the season. Famous for its wide, hard roads and stomach-churning jumps, this year's rally also included several narrower sections to test the drivers. Precision driving and bravery are more important here than anywhere else as the fast roads offer little room for error. Such was the pace that average speeds topped 126kph and the fierce battle for victory left third-placed Chris Atkinson more than 3min 15sec adrift.

The battle produced a familiar pattern. As soon as one driver eked out a few seconds over his rival, the other would respond on the next stage to keep the margin stable. Hirvonen won six stages and relished the fight with Loeb, during which he made no mistakes despite constant on-the-limit driving.

"I'm pleased with my driving but I came here to win and Loeb found a few seconds more. We played cat and mouse all weekend and when I won a stage, he usually won the next. For there to be only nine seconds between us after all this crazy driving is amazing. I lost the time by not being brave enough in the narrow sections. It'll be difficult but we must now fight for the win on every round.

"It was a fantastic rally and an amazing fight and it's unfortunate I didn't win in front of my home fans. I pushed right to the end but it wasn't enough. I'm pleased to still lead the championship but one point isn't much. The speed was crazy. Sometimes we could have thrown our pace notes away and just gone for it and I've learned that I could have made my notes quicker," he added.

Team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila finished 39th after a first day accident ended their chances of victory. After breaking a steering arm against a large rock and crashing off the road, the 23-year-old Finnish driver retired from the day, returning to the action yesterday under SupeRally rules with a 45 minute penalty. He concentrated on rebuilding his speed and confidence and went on to claim four stage wins.

"The rally didn't go as I expected unfortunately and I didn't achieve what I wanted, which was a podium. I feel quite empty. It ended for me on Friday morning and that was all due to an error I made on the recce when I didn't mark a rock in my pace notes. At least I got my confidence, rhythm and speed back and drove the new stages which is good for the future. It was difficult to be motivated but the best medicine after an accident is to get back behind the wheel. I know the speed is there so I hope that next year I'll have the chance to fight for a win here," he said.

Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr finished 11th in the team's other Focus RS. "This was an excellent result, especially as I haven't competed for over two months. It was difficult to find the required balance of attacking hard enough and being cautious over the huge crests. One error on the big jumps is enough to drain a drivers' confidence and this is the ultimate 'confidence' event. I'm looking forward to the next rally in Germany which is a very different kind of rally," said Al Qassimi.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi team director Malcolm Wilson said: "This wasn't the result we were looking for but having lost Jari-Matti so early, it made it more difficult for Mikko because he had to think about both championships. He delivered an incredible performance and learned a lot having to battle with Loeb for three days, which will make him stronger. They were 0.5sec/km quicker than the rest of the field and I think Mikko drove better than last year which is a big achievement."

Ford of Europe motorsport director Mark Deans said: "Tens of thousands of spectators packed the forests to see the action, while the service park in the centre of Jyväskylä provided great entertainment in itself for entire families and generated the kind of atmosphere for which Finland is renowned. Once again this rally has shown it is the championship's benchmark that every event must aspire to match."

News from our Rivals

Sébastien Loeb (Citroen) became only the seventh non-Finn to win the rally in 58 years. Behind the top two cars, Chris Atkinson (Subaru) completed the podium after extending his slender overnight advantage over Dani Sordo (Citroen). Stobart driver Henning Solberg (Ford) and brother Petter (Subaru) completed the top six. There were no major incidents or retirements today.

Next round
The championship returns to asphalt later this month for the first time since January's opening round. Rallye Deutschland is based in Trier on 14 - 17 August.

Points for Solberg and Stobart in Finnish WRC spectacular

Posted: August 6, 2008 5:34 PM

Round nine of the FIA World Rally Championship has seen an event of mixed fortunes for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team this weekend. Topping the Neste Oil Rally Finland time-sheets for the team was Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud who finished in a solid fifth position overall.  

Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin cruised into the finish ramp this afternoon as the next best placed Stobart crew just one spot adrift a point scoring position in ninth.  

Unfortunately for team-mates Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini their rally ended in a high speed accident after rolling at 14.3 kilometres into stage 16 - Kakeristo 1 - after slightly misjudging the pace of the road. The same section where the Italians rolled also claimed two other crews including fellow WRC competitor P G Andersson.  

With their Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07 heavily damaged during the incident the pair were unable to restart the event and therefore retired from Rally Finland. Both Galli and Bernacchini were uninjured during the high-speed accident.  

Solberg’s great effort was not without troubles however when he experienced problems with the setup of his rear suspension due to heavy landings on both passes of the Surkee stage on Friday. The Norwegian also picked up a 10 second penalty on Saturday after a mechanically-induced jump-start on the 20.09 kilometre Kakaristo 1 test.  

Without much practice in his Stobart Ford Focus RS WRC07 over the summer break, 21-year-old Wilson struggled early on to find the right confidence on this ultra-fast event. As the event rolled on so did the confidence as the youngster began setting some firm stage times and making full use of his soft compound Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyres on these high speed tests. This build in confidence was prevalent when he posted an amazing fourth fastest time on the 10.92 kilometre Hannula stage - three seconds quicker than rally leader Sébastien Loeb.  

This spectacular event again did not disappoint as crews blasted over 340.42 kilometres of competitive stage distance to the delight of the tens of thousands who flock to the Jyväskylä-based event for one of the all-time greats in the WRC.  

In contrast to yesterday, which saw a mammoth 168.25 kilometre long day over 10 special stages, today’s final leg was fairly mild at just 40.47 kilometres covering three tests. Today also blessed crews with clear blue skies and warmer temperatures after an unfamiliar down-pour on Friday morning; throwing a spanner in the works for crews running down the order who generally benefit in the dryer conditions.  

The next event for the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team takes the squad to Germany for ADAC Rallye Deutschland. For this round the team will be rejoined by Belgian François Duval who will join Galli as the second nominated point scoring driver.    

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said:
“It has been a bitterly disappointing end to the rally here for me. I was just trying to keep our position against Sordo and the accident happened on a tricky left hand corner. My pace notes were slightly out and I ended up sliding into the ditch which then caused the car to roll at high speed into the trees. The car is quite badly damaged and it was obviously a corner that caught out people as two other cars went off in the same place as me. We had got into a good rhythm and found a sensible speed and feeling with the car so I don’t think I was pushing too hard on the stage.”  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“We started the rally off really well and it was good to be on the podium after the first day. The car was working well and it was a fine performance as we had no pre-event testing so I had showed a fast pace right from the start. But we lost the feeling on day 2 and had to settle for fifth position which isn’t too bad and at least it’s some more points; moving me up to seventh in the championship. We got new Expert race suits for this rally so we may not have been the fastest crew but we were definitely the best looking!”  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“This is a really tough rally and we have moved forward with some important setting changes for when the rally comes back here. This event is all about experience and finishing today has certainly helped that. It’s easy to go fast in some places but you need the experience and the confidence to go fast everywhere. Saturday was tough and it caught many people out so it was good to survive and take these positives to Rally New Zealand.”  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“It’s great to have two Stobart cars in the top-10 of this specialised event. Henning showed really good pace on day 1 but unfortunately lost his rhythm on the second day. But to his credit he still scored a very strong fifth place on one of the fastest events in the WRC. Matthew has put in a really solid performance in terms of learning the event and getting the experience and he hasn’t made any mistakes. Some of his splits were really impressive and he showed some great pace on the final day when his confidence was higher. All three crews can take a lot from this event to New Zealand where the setup and conditions are very similar.”  

Stobart Group CEO Andrew Tinkler said:
“It’s certainly been a mixed rally for the Stobart team but Henning and Gigi showed some great pace to be in the top-three at different points during the rally and we have come away with some important points for the team. Matthew upheld British honour with a solid top-10 in what was one of the most challenging events of the calendar and his times improved greatly over the weekend.”

Pérez Companc bows out of WRC after spectacular career

Posted: August 6, 2008 5:28 PM

It was an unfortunate end for Luis Pérez Companc/José María Volta after retiring on their final ever WRC event together at this weekend’s Neste Oil Rally Finland; but the pair will leave the championship knowing their illustrious careers have been filled with fond memories.  

Team-mates Federico Villagra/Jorge Pérez Companc were also unable to capitalise on a Finnish result after leaving the road 200 metres from the end of stage 20 yesterday. In the incident their Munchi’s Ford Focus RS WRC07 caught fire but the pair were fortunate enough to quickly extinguish the flames and were unhurt during the accident. The damage to the car however meant they were unable to continue today.  

Luis Pérez Companc was looking towards posting a solid top-10 finish until a collision with a large rock in stage 21. After finishing the stage, Volta began complaining of pain in his ribs and was taken by helicopter to Central Finland Health Care hospital in Jyväskylä for precautionary checks. He was released on Saturday evening with no broken bones but just some muscular soreness.  

Apart from the collision, which caused some damage to the co-drivers side of Pérez Companc’s Munchi’s Focus RS, it was a fairly smooth and relaxed run. The only other minor issue was an intercom problem on Friday’s opening day.  

Villagra’s accident occurred on the second to last corner of the 21.13 kilometre Juupajoki test yesterday when he left the road and rolled in front of a crowded spectator area. The roll caused a small fire but quick initiative by the crew saw them distinguish the flames almost instantly.  

Rally Finland has again proved to be one of the most spectacular events on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar with massive crowds flocking to its base in Jyväskylä for this ninth round of the 2008 season.  

In total 24 special stages took crews over 340.42 kilometres of competitive distance which included two passes over the spectator-friendly Killeri super special on Thursday and Friday. Weather conditions varied over the course of the rally with rain early on Friday morning which blew through to clear blue skies come Sunday.  

With Pérez Companc bidding farewell to the WRC the next event for the Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team sees them head to Repco Rally New Zealand where Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud will join the team as the second nominated point scoring crew.   

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team Driver Luis Pérez Companc said:
“It hasn’t been the perfect end to my rally career and for sure we would have liked to get to the end of my last rally. But we are in Finland, it is a very special place and as you can see, it can catch out any driver. With the accident we ran wide on a corner into the ditch and hit a boulder very hard on José’s side. I could hear that he was winded and breathing heavily and he waved to continue to the end of the stage. Then the pain got worse and we stopped after the finish as it was too much for José to continue. It was a surprise accident as the rally was going very well for us, we didn’t expect to have been setting those times and it all seemed to be under control.  

“When I look back on my career I would say after my home event of Rally Argentina then this event in Finland is my favourite rally. Argentina is special because of all the local fans cheering me on and that really is a great feeling; myself and José must thank them all for their wonderful support over the years. I also have great memories of Rally Japan last year when we were fighting with Matthew for fourth position, I had a very inspiring drive and was able to push hard and drive very near to my limit without making any mistakes; that really was my best result.  

“In 2004 when we were racing in the WRC I very nearly retired from the sport. But I spoke with Malcolm and saw how the M-Sport team worked and this really changed my mind. We just want to thank him, Ford and all the team at M-Sport for some wonderful times together and putting so much effort in to help the Munchi’s team. I can say that we really will miss them all.”  

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team Driver Federico Villagra said:
“We had a really strange accident near the end of stage 20. We slid wide into the ditch and rolled very slowly along the road. The car wasn’t very badly damaged but it caught fire quickly which we managed to put out. It’s a shame about this problem as we were going well and getting used to the very fast roads here and this was my first accident for many years. Finland is always a very difficult event, especially getting used to the high speeds, but we made a big improvement in our times from last year and for sure I can take these positives to our next rally in New Zealand; also on fast gravel.”


Posted: August 6, 2008 5:27 PM

1. S Loeb/D Elena                        F                  Citroën C4 WRC              2h54m05.5s
2. M Hirvonen/J Lehtinen               FIN               Ford Focus WRC          +9.0s
3. C Atkinson/S Prevot                  AUS              Subaru Impreza WRC       +3m17.0s
4. D Sordo/M Marti                       E                  Citroën C4 WRC               +3m30.9s
5. H Solberg/C Menkerud              N                     Ford Focus WRC          +3m57.7s
6. P Solberg/P Mills                       N                 Subaru Impreza WRC       +4m04.1s
7. M Rantanen/J Löengren             FIN               Ford Focus WRC          +6m11.1s
8. T Gardemeister/T Tuominen       FIN               Suzuki SX4 WRC              +8m18.7s

Shaun Gallagher - Ready For His First Win in World Rally Championship

Posted: July 30, 2008 4:25 PM

Irish man and Junior World Rally hopeful Shaun Gallagher landed in Finland this week to compete in the Finnish round of the World Rally Championship. After the summer break, Gallagher stands in joint second place of the junior World Rally Championship with 16 championship points.

Shaun Gallagher said; "I am ready for a win in Finland. This is my fourth round of the World Championship in 2008 and I want a victory for all my fans in Ireland. It is all about your pacenotes in Finland and the stages are extremely fast and you must be committed for every second of this rally. Finland does not allow for any inaccuracies and I will be happy to see the finish line on Sunday."

With Irish Champion Paul Kiely back in as navigator, the couple will be looking to build on their strong second place finish secured in Jordan earlier this year. The current championship leader & French man Sebastian Ogier had dropped Finland from his calendar and this is another factor the Irish men will be looking to capitalise on. Pundits are predicting a mammoth battle for victory between Gallagher of Ireland, Kosciuszko of Poland and Sweden's Patrik Sandell, the driver who won this event last year.

Tommy Mullen, Chief Executive Officer World Rally Team Ireland, said: "Shaun had a great result here in Finland last year and we hope he can deliver another good result for everyone. Every rally driver starts a rally wanting to win the event, but I have a good feeling that this could be Gallagher's time to shine for Ireland. Your co-driver means so much in Finland and they do not come any better than Paul Kiely so we are extremely hopeful."

Rally Finland will see the Irish paring competing in over 340 km of loose gravel, over three days based around the City of Jyvaskyla. Rally Finland is the quickest World Championship event of the calendar and it is the last gravel of the year for the juniors before they head to Germany in a few weeks.

C2 Junior Experience Preview

Posted: July 28, 2008 9:54 AM

Citroen Preview

Posted: July 27, 2008 3:10 PM

Stobart aiming to fly high on Finnish WRC thriller

Posted: July 27, 2008 3:02 PM

Round nine of the FIA World Rally Championship gets underway next Thursday when the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford rally team heads to Scandinavia for the Neste Oil Rally Finland. Currently fourth in the Manufacturers’ Championship the Stobart squad will be looking for some solid results on anevent all three crews are very comfortable with.  

Seventh in the championship, and leading Stobart crew, Gigi Galli/Giovanni Bernacchini will be searching for a top-five result in Finland especially with their commitment on high-speed events. Henning Solberg/Cato Menkerud will be the second nominated points scoring crew for the team and they currently lie eighth in their respective driver and co-driver championships.  

Running in the third Stobart-entered Ford Focus RS WRC07 are British pair Matthew Wilson/Scott Martin as they take on the event together for the first time. Contesting three Finnish national rallies back in 2005 gives them some extended knowledge of the fast flowing nature of the Scandinavian stages.  

For Galli this will be his eighth attempt at Rally Finland which over the years has seen him pick up GpN class victory in 2004 and a fifth place overall back in 2006. While he did not contest the event last year the Italian will be raring to tackle the fast, wide roads which compliment his committed and flamboyant driving style.  

Solberg is the most experienced of all three Stobart drivers with eight Rally Finland event starts under his belt. He will be looking for a solid display on a rally, close to his native Norway, which attracts numerous Norwegian spectators. This will be Solberg’s 65th WRC event start since he made his debut in the championship 10 years ago.  

With over 100 entries Rally Finland is the only event in 2008 that counts as a round of the WRC, JWRC and PWRC. In total 24 special stages will be contested once again based out of Jyväskylä in the southern region of Finland.  

This year the vintage event offers 340 kilometres of competitive stage distance over typically fast flowing, smooth gravel roads which have become a feature of the WRC since its inception in 1973. It is this fast-paced action and party-like atmosphere which attracts hundreds of thousands of fans to the event each year.  

Rally Finland currently holds the record for the fastest ever rally when Marcus Grönholm won the event in 2005 with an average speed of 122.86kph and the Stobart team will be relying upon the performance of their Pirelli Scorpion gravel tyres as they aim for this incredible feat.  

Weather conditions in Jyväskylä are forecast to be dry with temperatures ranging between 25-30 degrees centigrade and high humidity expected. Rally HQ and Service will again be based at Paviljonki – a versatile congress and trade fair centre in the heart of Finland.   

  Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Gigi Galli said: “I hope that the time will go quickly over the next few days because I have been annoyed sitting at home and not being able to go rallying! We have done this rally many times before and I know it well but it is a bit of a shame that the famous Ouninpohja stage has been cancelled this year because it is one of my all time favourites. It is not going to be easy because Mikko and Jari-Matti will be lightning fast but OK we will try our best and the pace has been very good for us over the last three gravel events, now we just need a bit of luck and a good result. Finland is also a famous rally for all the spectators and there will be lots of Italians there because it is the vacation time in Italy so hopefully most of them will be supporting me. This will be fast, fun and some big jumps but if we can be consistent and stay out of trouble I think we can do well here.”  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Henning Solberg said:
“I have done this event many times before and it is one I love because of the fast speeds and massive jumps. For the last two years we have finished in the top-five so hopefully we can achieve this again and maybe even finish on the podium. Finland is not so far from Norway so this is an important event where lots of people come from my country to watch and this will help having them there. I have been doing a lot of fitness training during the summer break and the hard work with my trainer should help in Finland which can be quite tough because the concentration has to be at a maximum on these fast roads. There are a lot of good drivers doing this event but it is also very easy to get caught out so the main thing is to keep out of trouble until the end.”  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Driver Matthew Wilson said:
“I’m really looking forward to Finland and getting back in the car after such a big break over the summer. I’ve had a bit of time in the car with the a few promotional drives like Goodwood and some drive days which have been really beneficial while there have been no rallies. Scott and I have spent some time recently working on our notes and I think with even more new rally route this year we will need to be onto the ball with our pacenotes; they are such an important aspect of a fast event like this. Finland is going to be quite warm but I have been keeping my fitness level up over the break with the bike ride across Britain and some training back in Cumbria and I am feeling 100 percent ready to get back into the action.”  

Stobart VK M-Sport Ford Team Principal Malcolm Wilson said:
“I’m looking forward to the second half of the season with the Stobart team. We have a strong line-up for Finland and the next few events with Duval scoring for the team on the remaining tarmac rallies. I believe in the second half of the season the Stobart team can achieve its best results to date. Both Gigi and Henning have good experience in Finland which is crucial for achieving good results. The team still has a chance for a podium spot in the Manufacturers’ Championship, especially with Duval’s addition, so firm results in Finland will be a good way to mark the start of the second half of the season.”

Fiestas search for success on Scandinavian soil

Posted: July 27, 2008 2:54 PM

Round 3 of the 2008 Pirelli-supported Fiesta SportingTrophy International series gets underway next week as eight registered crews gear-up for the high speed stages of the Neste Oil Rally Finland - round 9 of the FIA World Rally Championship.  

Currently leading the way in the championship after two rounds is the all-female crew of Burcu Çetinkaya (27) from Turkey and co-driver Çiçek Güney (26) reading the notes. Çetinkaya’s double podium effort on the opening two rounds – which includes a win on her home event in Turkey last month – sees her hold an eight-point advantage in the series. This will be the first time either competitor has competed on Finnish soil and they will be searching for yet another podium result.      

Second in the series and winner of the opening FSTi round in Sardinia is Lithuanian Vytautas Baranauskas (24) and co-driver Gediminas Celiešius (36). The pair dominated the opening round back in May, but a raft of issues caused their retirement in Turkey. However, with four impressive stage wins on the Eurasian event, the 24-year-old will still head to Finland as event favourite with the most WRC and Rally Finland starts of any FSTi driver under his belt.    

A second placed finish on the most recent FSTi round in Turkey has seen Emre Yurdakul (25) from Turkey and his co-driver Can Erkal (24) move to outright third in this highly competitive one-make championship. Yurdakul shone on his home event and was set for an impressive win until an ill-fated puncture on the final stage of the event knocked him back to second. Still, with his impressive speed shown in Turkey he will also be one to watch come next Thursday evening when Stage 1 gets underway.  

Koray Muratoðlu (30) from Turkey, along with co-driver Levent Özokutucu (22) currently lie fourth in the FSTi championship just two points behind countryman Yurdakul. Muratoðlu will be looking to extend on his current gravel for which saw him pick up a podium finish on the opening round in Sardinia.  

Denis Grodetskiy (33) from Russia and co-driver Safoniy Lotko have been keeping on top of the game over the WRC break by competing on the OK Auto Ralli in Finland alongside Jarkko Nikara (22), Atte Alanen (20) and Baranauskas. The two crews will use their recent knowledge of Finnish roads to good effect when they tackle Rally Finland next week. Çetinkaya and Horkama will also be keeping their skills on the ball pre-Finland by conducting a test in the town of Karkkila to the north west of Helsinki.  

Round 3 will see the highest number of FSTi registered GpN Ford Fiesta STs to date in 2008, which means some new faces to the series. Jarkko Nikara from Finland joins the race and will be navigated by older brother Petri Nikara (27). Nikara is no stranger to Finnish roads, as the 2006 Finnish Junior Champion he has also contested the WRC round once before in 2007 where he was lying first in class N3 and sixth in GpN after 15 stages until retirement, but still finished the event a creditable 38th outright.  

Another youngster stepping up to the challenge is Atte Alanen from Finland and co-driver Tommi Alkula (30). Despite his inexperience, Alanen has shown great potential over the past year and a half since his first attempt at a rally in 2007. The 20-year-old has already contested nine events in Finland this year and has won the junior class on six occasions.  

  The third new face to the series is Teemu Horkama (28) from Finland and his co-driver Vesa Hakola. Horkama launched his rally career in 2005 competing in the Finnish Youth Championship and selected national rallies. The 28-year-old has stepped up to the Fiesta ST GpN this year and is competing in the Ford Flexifuel Cup (FST Sweden) in preparation for his 2008 FSTi challenge.  

This vintage rally is known for its fast paced roads and impressive jumps that will launch the 2-litre Duratec-engine Fiesta STs to some incredible heights in front of the hundreds of thousands who flock to this popular event. Rally Finland will once again be based out of Jyväskylä and will offer crews 24 stages covering 340 kilometres of competitive stage distance. Conditions are forecast to be dry and hot with temperatures expected to reach 30 degrees centigrade. The eight FSTi registered crews will run numbers 94 through 101 for the event.    

Burcu Çetinkaya (27) from Turkey said:
“It is fantastic to be leading the Fiesta SportingTrophy championship by eight points after two rounds this year. I am still learning a lot each rally and our plan is to go a little bit quicker on each event but keep the car in the middle of the road which is what we plan for Finland. I know I am not yet as fast as some of the top Fiesta drivers, as I said in Turkey I am going to push a bit harder in Finland and then some more in Germany and by the end of the year establish at good speed which continues to challenge for rally wins. There are some local guys joining the championship in Finland who I have heard are quite fast so I think this rally is going to see a good battle between the Fiestas. I hope to finish on the podium again here and continue the good results for my Castrol Ford Team Türkiye.”

Pérez Companc farewells WRC in Finland

Posted: July 27, 2008 2:53 PM

The ninth round of the FIA World Rally Championship will mark the end of an era for Argentine driver Luis Pérez Companc and co-driver José María Volta as they contest their final WRC event together on next week’s Neste Oil Rally Finland.

  Team-mates Federico Villagra/Jorge Pérez Companc will be present for the pair’s final rally as the second nominated point scoring crew for the Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team. Villagra currently occupies 10th in the Drivers’ Championship while the Munchi’s outfit lie fifth in the manufacturers’ ahead of Suzuki’s factory line-up.  

Pérez Companc has been a pioneer in exposing rally to the Argentine public through his Munchi’s Ford WRT which was the first, and thus far only, WRC manufacturer team to hail from South America. Rally Finland will also mark his 30th WRC start.  

Co-driver Volta is also set to retire from competition and play more of an organisational role within the Munchi’s outfit but will still leave himself available as a reserve co-driver for the team should they require one. Volta is also a legend in Argentine rallying, contesting 40 WRC career events – his first back in 1988 on Rally Argentina.   

To keep sharp while the WRC has been on its six week summer break Pérez Companc and  Villagra both took park in a test at the beginning of the month in Finland in preparation for the event.  

Villagra also contested the fifth round of the Argentine National Rally Championship finishing second on the Rally de Catamarca. This sees him regain the top position in the championship standings.  

Fast, flowing and flight are three words which sum up nicely the characteristics of this extreme event which has been a feature on the WRC circuit since its inception in 1973. Roads are typically smooth gravel with jumps that have known to launch World Rally cars some 50 metres of airborne distance before they’re released back onto the Scandinavian surface.  

Conditions in Finland are set to be warm and very humid with average humidity levels currently floating above the 90% gauge. The event itself attracts the most physical spectator numbers with hundreds of thousands congregating to Jyväskylä for the typically party-like event.  

Rally Finland will cover a total of 340 competitive stage kilometres over 24 special stages. Over 100 entries have been confirmed for this unique event which is the only one this year to run as a round of the WRC, JWRC and PWRC.  

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team Driver Luis Pérez Companc said:
“I am very anxious about Finland because it is almost my first event of this season. I retired in the first leg of Rally Argentina and when I was in Jordan I had to return back home so I am looking forward to jumping into the rally car! Despite some changes to the stages I am going to Finland with much more confidence than last year. This is a rally that I like because it is fast and has all those jumps that make it very interesting. This year for me it is going to be of great help with the regulation that does not change the order on the road from one leg to another; that way I can follow the lines and breaking points of the cars in front of me. All I want is to have fun and enjoy the event and to retire from WRC competition in the most important event with the best drivers of the world.  

“It was very positive to have chosen Federico this year and he has proved that we made the right choice. Since the team came into the WRC there has been a big progress in finishing events and scoring points for the driver and manufacturer championships. I think that the Munchi’s will have a place in the history books as having been the first Argentine team to compete in the WRC. We have achieved more than what we thought we could and this was also because of all the support we received from Malcolm Wilson and Ford during these years. For sure, when the WRC arrives to Argentina, the people want to see the Munchi’s in action with its drivers that represent the team and country. I will always be very thankful to José, he has been with me in the good and bad times. He also helped me in all my progress as a driver and I think that I could not have any other co-driver than him. He is an incredible person and we just have to look at each other and we know what the other is thinking. José has been very important in my development in the sport.”  

Munchi’s Ford World Rally Team Driver Federico Villagra said:
“I know Finland is going to be a hard rally but we will try and continue to get more points for the Munchi’s Ford team and for myself in the Drivers’ Championship. I think racing for the second time will help a lot on the notes here and hopefully this will help us to a good performance. If I can be in the top-eight by the end of the event this will be a good result for me. Luis and Jorge gave me a chance to drive a World Rally car which was something I never thought possible to achieve. Luis helped me a lot when I first started driving the car and teaching me the correct style and approach compared to the GpN. We are leading the national championship in Argentina and we have missed two rounds so things are still going good for us there.”

SWRT set for flying start as WRC battle recommences

Posted: July 27, 2008 2:06 PM

After a six week break, Rally Finland heralds the return of the 2008 World Rally Championship with a bang. One of the most renowned events in the calendar, the Jyvaskyla-based rally is a heady mix of flat-out straights, huge jumps that send cars airborne, and maximum commitment corners.

Demanding an acute knowledge of the route, putting even greater emphasis on pace notes, the prolific local entries are often the stars of the show. When Finland is your home rally, it is no surprise that Scandinavia has produced some of the greatest talents in world rallying.

Subaru World Rally Team star and Norwegian Petter Solberg is indeed one of these talents. He and co-driver Phil Mills set the stage record along the most famous of Finnish tests, Ouninpohja. Recording an average speed of over 130kph, this stage has however been excluded from this year’s event on the grounds of speed and safety. Indeed, along with the Swedish Rally, Finland is one of the fastest of the year. A real gutsy challenge where the brave will top the timesheets.

Based from the town of Jyvaskyla, one of Finland’s cultural hubs, the rally route winds through spruce forests archetypal of the region and skirts some of Finland’s 60,000 mirror-smooth glacial lakes. Serene as it sounds, the landscape is unforgiving and wayward cars stand little chance of dodging rocks and trees to rejoin the rally.

Finland is only the third event for the WRC’s youngest machine, the Subaru Impreza WRC2008, and the first time the championship will use the soft compound Pirelli gravel tyre. Having successfully completed its first two events, which were two of the toughest of the season, the SWRT engineers learned much that has been feverishly put to good effect during the championship break.

In contrast to the rough, rocky and inconsistent nature of both the Acropolis and Turkish rallies, the smooth, fast and flowing characteristics of the first non-European event since Rally Jordan in April make it a maximum commitment and confidence rally. Rather than an overriding onus on endurance and reliability in recent rallies, Finland marks a return to flat-out no-compromise competition right from the start.

The 2008 Rally Finland comprises 24 stages, of which five are new, totalling 340.42 competitive kilometres. The event starts with the traditional spectator stage at the Killeri trotting track on Thursday night. Run at the end of their summer, the temperature is expected to be around 20 degrees Celsius, milder than many would expect for northern Scandinavia.

The Subaru World Rally Team has entered two Impreza WRC2008s for Rally Finland. Petter Solberg and Phil Mills will drive Impreza number five, and team-mates Chris Atkinson and Stéphane Prévot will climb aboard number six. Solberg and Mills have competed in Finland seven times in Subaru WRC machinery, and having finished fourth, third and second over the years, they are hungry for a win. Atkinson has only tackled Finland four times before, his first being aboard a Group N Impreza STi. His best result of fourth position came last year on his first attempt at the event with Prévot as his co-driver.

Team quotes
David Richards, Subaru World Rally Team Principal: “Finland is one of the true classic events and has always been a favourite of mine. From the days of Markku Alen, Hannu Mikkola and Ari Vatanen the local drivers have excelled here and I expect this year to be no different, but I’m sure that Petter and Chris will be fast in the new WRC2008 as it is well suited to fast and flowing roads. Our work since Turkey has been fruitful and I’m confident that we go to Finland in our strongest position yet in recent years.” Paul Howarth, Subaru World Rally Team operations director: “Finland is a very fast event with generally hard base roads that can change massively if it rains. It’s one of the highest speed events of the year so it’s all about absolute precision and having 100 per cent confidence in the car. There can be tenths of a second per kilometre just in driver confidence – it’s paramount here as it’s a high risk event with no room for error. It’s the first time we’ll use the soft compound Pirellis, but testing has all been positive – it’s not a hard rally on cars or tyres. We’ve done a lot with the car since Turkey but Finland will clearly tell us where we are in terms of performance.”

Driver quotes
Petter Solberg: “I’m looking forward to getting back out again after the break, you know. Finland is a good event, and one that we’ve gone well on in the past. It’s not an easy event, as we have also seen in previous years, but for me it’s a proper rally. Fast, flowing, blind jumps, and so many crazy fans! I hope we’ll have good pace there and can get another strong finish in the new car. The team have been working hard since Turkey and doing lots of testing, and we all feel that good steps forward have been taken.”

Chris Atkinson: “I definitely want to get back into competition, so I’m looking forward to Finland. We’ve done a lot of testing since Turkey and the guys have learned a lot, so I hope we can make some good steps in fine-tuning the car. Finland is a rally of big risks and you have to push hard right from the start to get a good result. We’ve seen some good and close battles here in the past, and I hope we can be up there this year. It’s a great event. The terrain gives the rally a great character, and with the huge support of the fans, it’s one of my favourites. It’s definitely the rally everyone wants to win most.”

Between the rallies
In the six week break since Rally Turkey, the team have been busy. Test driver Markko Märtin gave the Impreza WRC2008 its first tarmac test at the end of May, in preparation for the three asphalt events in the latter half of the season.

Chris Atkinson travelled to his native Australia immediately after Rally Turkey for two weeks of PR activities with Subaru Australia. Petter Solberg meanwhile took the opportunity to rest and spend time with his family before heading to the pre-Finland test, where he and Atkinson had two days each in the car.

The Goodwood Festival of Speed followed, where Solberg, Atkinson and Märtin each drove for one day. Solberg gave the ride of a lifetime to British TV star Alan Davies, whilst Atkinson enjoyed the company of the fastest man on earth, Andy Green OBE.

Ahead of what will be a very busy month of August, Solberg and Atkinson will also conduct a Rally Germany tarmac test, the first time they will have driven the car on asphalt, to cap off a busy six weeks.

Home pride adds extra spark to Finland duel for Ford's Finns

Posted: July 27, 2008 1:44 PM

Two Finnish pairings, one of which leads the drivers' standings in the FIA World Rally Championship, eager to claim a maiden victory on their home rally and one of the sport's classic fixtures, competing for a team that leads the manufacturers' title race – the scene is set for an epic contest as Rally Finland (31 July - 1 August) fires the second half of the 2008 campaign into life after a seven-week break.

Their rivals will ensure this ninth round of the series is not merely a straight contest between BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen and team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila, but the internal rivalry will be fierce. However, both pairings are also firmly aware that this event offers the opportunity to stretch Ford's nine point lead in the manufacturers' series with the record-breaking Focus RS World Rally Car.

Victory in Finland, the sport's spiritual home, is one of rallying's most sought after achievements and home drivers have a distinct advantage on one of the most specialised events of the season. Only six non-Finns have won the rally in 57 years, and huge crowds flock into the countryside amid the lakes and forests near the host town of Jyväskylä to cheer on their fellow countrymen.

It is based on blisteringly fast roller-coaster gravel speed tests and drivers who grew up on this type of road have a clear advantage over 'outsiders' who require several years' experience before they can hope to challenge for a win. Rally Finland boasts five of the six fastest rallies in history, the 2005 round topping the all-time list at a remarkable average speed of 122.86kph.

The wide, hard roads are as smooth as a billiard table but technically it is an incredibly difficult rally. Precision driving and bravery are more important here than anywhere else. The awesome stomach-churning jumps frequently hide bends over the crest, so accuracy and delivery of pace notes must be exact and picking the right line before 'take-off' ensures maximum pace through the following curves.

This will be the seventh appearance here for Hirvonen, who lives in Jyväskylä and will celebrate his 28th birthday on the day of the start next Thursday. Last year's second place is his best result. "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," he added.

Latvala is just as eager for the action to start. "It would be special to win on home ground in Finland. Victory here is more highly regarded than in some other world rallies. It requires solid experience of the rally and I need to be able to drive flat out from start to finish without making mistakes. Anyone hoping to win needs to have completed the full rally – from start to finish – at least twice. I've done that and have started on three other occasions," said the 23-year-old.

"I know parts of Saturday's new stages, some of which are narrower than the traditional wide roads used during the second leg. I feel very confident after finishing second in Turkey last month. I made mistakes in Argentina and Italy and had problems in Greece before that so the result in Turkey was a big relief. It gave me a real boost to fight with Mikko and Sébastien Loeb and take that confidence into the summer break. Our pre-event test has been moved closer to the rally, which is good because it will give me the right feeling to take into the rally after the summer," he added.

Khalid Al Qassimi and Michael Orr will drive a third Focus RS on the first anniversary of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority's partnership with Ford. "My first year in the WRC has been a process of learning the various driving techniques and styles required to negotiate the new terrain I’ve encountered. I've finished every event, but in Finland my pace notes and stage experience should benefit my times. It will be the first rally where I can look at my previous year's performance and assess my progress. I’m intrigued to know how I am developing one year into my WRC career," said 36-year-old Al Qassimi.

Team News * As part of the sport's new regulations, BP Ford Abu Dhabi will have just one tyre pattern from Pirelli. The Scorpion gravel tyre will be available in hard compound only. Because anti-deflation mousse is also outlawed this year, the Scorpion includes reinforced sidewalls to offer increased protection against punctures. Teams are not allowed to hand-carve additional cuts into the rubber and each car can carry two spares.

* Nine other Focus RS cars are entered. Gigi Galli / Giovanni Bernacchini and Henning Solberg / Cato Menkerud are nominated for points by the Stobart VK M-Sport Ford team while Matthew Wilson / Scott Martin will drive a third car. Munchi's Ford World Rally Team has nominated Federico Villagra / Jorge Pérez Companc and Luis Perez Companc / Jose Maria Volta to score. Four other privately-entered Focus RS cars are also entered. Fourteen Fiesta ST cars will also start what is the third round of the Fiesta SportingTrophy International, nine of which are registered for the series.

List of Entries Received to date:

Posted: January 28, 2008 10:42 PM

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