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Preview: A flying drive to WRC's Rally of Finland

 

After a nine-week rally drought over the summer, the FIA World Rally Championship marks its return with two events in two weeks. Straight after Rally Deutschland, the action moves to the gravel roads of central Finland for the tenth of the 16 round WRC series.


After a nine-week rally drought over the summer, the FIA World Rally Championship marks its return with two events in two weeks. 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.

Ford's Marcus Grönholm, who lies second in the drivers' standings, is the acknowledged master of Rally Finland. This will be his 18th start and he has won five times in the last six seasons. The 38-year-old's target is clear - to take his winning tally to six in seven years.

"I don't really need to tell anyone that Finland is one of my favourite rallies, I think everyone knows that," he said. "Rallying is so huge in my country and Rally Finland is such a massive event that nothing can take away the enjoyment of winning here. I will never get fed up with that. I want to experience that again and after a good test last month I think the Ford Focus can win.

"I know the stages well but that doesn't mean I'm able to lower my concentration. The speeds are so high that just a small mistake can be extremely costly. If you take the wrong line over a crest or into a bend and have to brake where normally you wouldn't, then it takes so much longer to regain the momentum than on slower rallies. It's crucial to drive cleanly," he added.

Rally Route

The schedule is virtually identical to 2005 with just a few minor changes to several stages and the re-introduction of the Jukojärvi stage on Sunday, which was last used in 2004. The action begins on Thursday evening at the short super special stage at Killeri, on the edge of the host town of Jyväskylä. The opening leg continues on Friday with eight more tests close to the town, including a repeat of Killeri. The second leg is regarded as the classic day of the world championship season. Based on wide, flowing roads close to Jamsä, it includes some of rallying's greatest stages. The highlight is two passes over the awesome Ouninpohja tests, a roller-coaster stretch of road full of blind crests and huge jumps and viewed as rallying's ultimate test of skill. Sunday's short final leg comprises two loops of two stages west of Jyväskylä. Drivers face 21 stages comprising 351.61km in a route of 1524.34km.


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