New winner guaranteed in WRC 2
The WRC 2 battle at Neste Rally Finland is set to be the most open of the season so far, with 13 drivers registered and a new winner guaranteed.
This year's eight WRC 2 rally wins have been shared between championship leader Pontus Tidemand, Andreas Mikkelsen, Ole Christian Veiby and Jan Kopecky, none of whom are on the WRC 2 entry list at this week's 'Gravel Grand Prix' [27 - 30 July].
WRC 2 competitors count their six best scores from seven rallies across the season, and with the top seven drivers in the standings choosing to miss Finland from their campaigns, the focus switches instead to drivers further down the order.
Leading the pack is 2016 Junior WRC champion, Simone Tempestini. This will be the Citroen DS 3 R5 driver's fifth start in Finland and he will be keen to build on the second place he scored last year in the Junior category.
Currently eighth in the WRC 2 standings on 29 points, the Romanian's highlight of his four appearances this year has been third place in Portugal.
Three points behind him in the title race and also tipped to do well in Finland, is 2015 Junior champion Quentin Gilbert [main picture]. The Frenchman also has four Finland starts to his name, but has the benefit of a four-wheel drive outing in 2016. The Skoda Fabia R5 driver heads to the rally from a pre-event test in Finland and some specialist coaching alongside rally instructor Riku Tahko.
“We found the right setup on a base that’s representative of the rally. There were big jumps and everything you needed to give you confidence on this type of terrain," Gilbert said. "Once again [my co-driver] Renaud and I are aiming for a podium finish in WRC 2. We reckon that we can achieve this objective, and we’re going to work very hard to start the event in tip-top form."
Ford Fiesta R5 drivers Gus Greensmith, Pierre-Louis Loubet and Osian Pryce are also likely to be in the mix, as well as Japanese rising stars Takamoto Katuta and Hiroki Arai who are part of Toyota's young driver development scheme and British Championship ace Tom Cave in a Hyundai i20.
Local hopes ride with two up-and-coming talents in Finnish rallying, Juuso Nordgren and Jari Huttunen. Both have scooped the 'Future Rally Star of Finland' award (Huttunen in 2015, Nordegren last year) and both will drive Skoda Fabia R5 cars.
Huttunen recently made his four-wheel drive debut on the local AutoGlym Rally. Nordgren claimed second-place finishes on his first two starts in the Finnish championship and will start this week's event in a new Skoda after crashing out of the AutoGlym Rally.
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