BRENTWOOD, UK - Ford World Rally Team returns to action in Finland today for the fastest round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finnish fixture is one of the shortest in the series’ history and the drivers know its increased intensity will push the emphasis even further towards pure speed.
Rally Finland is affectionately known as ‘The Finnish Grand Prix’ as drivers do battle through the Scandinavian forests at average speeds of up to 135kph. The 2012 version will be a sprinters’ paradise with just 303.52km of competition, the least scheduled for a WRC round since accurate records began.
Such is the pace in the country regarded as rallying’s spiritual home, that after 500 WRC rounds since the series started in 1973, eight of the 10 fastest rallies have been in Finland.
Ford’s Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila know exactly what is required to succeed. The Finns won on home ground in 2010 and finished on the podium in each of the last three seasons. Team-mates Petter Solberg and Chris Patterson are eager to gatecrash the Finns’ dominance of their home rally. The Norwegian driver finished second in 2003 and third the previous year.
“This is a sprint in the truest sense,” said 27-year-old Latvala. “The pace is such that time differences are small and if you make a mistake there’s no opportunity to regain the seconds lost. Every error is magnified. Pre-event testing is more important here than elsewhere because you must start the rally 100 per cent happy with the car set-up and feelin.”
Latvala and Solberg’s Fiesta RS World Rally Cars will carry a special one-off livery highlighting Ford’s EcoBoost engine technology as part of a worldwide initiative in August across Ford’s motorsport programmes.
The 1.6-litre turbocharged engine that powers the rally cars draws on the knowledge of Ford’s advanced EcoBoost technology, which provides increased fuel efficiency and decreased emissions on its latest production vehicles. The livery will also feature on cars in other disciplines, including the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series and the Chinese Touring Car Championship.
Rally Finland is one of the jewels in the WRC crown. It comprises a mix of hard, wide and fast roads combined with narrower, technical sections and huge crowds will pack the forests to view the action.
The characteristics of the smooth gravel speed tests make this one of the most difficult events in the calendar. The blisteringly fast roads are littered with roller-coaster, stomach-churning jumps, which frequently hide bends over the crests.
They demand extreme bravery from the driving seat and pinpoint accuracy in the delivery of pace notes from the co-driver. It is essential to select the correct line before ‘take-off’ to ensure maximum pace through the following curves. Finns who nurtured their careers on roads of this nature have an advantage over ‘outsiders’ who require many years’ experience to fully adapt to the driving style.
“When you approach a big jump at 180kph it’s essential to kill the speed before take-off,” said Latvala. “If the speed is too high, the aerodynamics will force the back of the car down and the front, which is lighter, will rise. The tactic is to brake, perhaps drop a gear, and accelerate full throttle over the jump. Braking over the jump itself means the suspension isn’t free and the landing could be bad.”
The final leg brings the return of the classic Ouninpohja test, run to its full 33.01km distance for the first time since 2007. Regarded by many as the best special stage in the sport, the first 23km are held over wide, fast roads with many huge jumps, before a spectacular hairpin bend sends competitors back into the forest on narrow, more technical sections.
Solberg set the stage record in 2005 and the 37-year-old Norwegian is happy to see it back on the schedule. “The rally will be decided over those roads. It’s incredibly demanding and difficult. It’s not so technical in the traditional sense, especially on the wide roads. But the speed is so high that if your line isn’t correct over the jumps, it’s easy to make a mistake which can end your rally,” he said.
“It’s an amazing feeling to complete that stage knowing you have driven as well as you could. Relief, happiness, confidence – they’re all feelings you experience when you have mastered Ouninpohja. Without doubt, it’s the best stage in the entire championship,” added Solberg.