While Jari-Matti Latvala starts Neste Rally Finland (27 - 30 July) as many people’s favourite to score a fourth win at his home event, a new generation of Finnish chargers is snapping at his heels.
Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen have just four World Rally Car starts between them, but both are being talked about as the next big names from a country which dominates the WRC’s roll of honour.
Both have already made their mark. Lappi finished a remarkable fourth in only his second drive in Italy last month, while Suninen was sixth in Poland four weeks ago on his debut. They could deliver even bigger shocks at their home fixture.
Finns retain a big advantage on the blisteringly fast, roller-coaster gravel roads. In the first 50 years of the event, local drivers won on 44 occasions.
Lappi won last year’s WRC 2 title, the championship’s principal support category, earning a works drive with Toyota Gazoo Racing this season in its Yaris World Rally Car.
“I think there’s a chance that if we have a perfect rally we could be on the podium, but everything would have to go without a hitch because the gaps in Finland are normally so small,” he said.
“Our car should be very well suited to the roads. I think the aerodynamics and engine are really our strong points.”
Lappi acknowledged that taming Finland’s roads in the more powerful and aggressive 2017 cars would also be a big job for co-driver Janne Ferm. “He’ll be calling out the pace notes at speeds that are much faster than we have ever experienced in Finland before,” he said.
Suninen was runner-up to Lappi in WRC 2 and Finland marks his second event in a limited Ford Fiesta programme with M-Sport World Rally Team. It took just six special stages to claim his first fastest time in Poland.
“We were brought up on these roads, which are incredibly fast, but many people forget I actually don’t have a lot of experience at Rally Finland,” said Suninen, who makes his fourth start.
“In Poland we aimed to be in the top six and finished sixth. Losing a position on the final stage felt like a small disappointment, but that doesn’t change my approach for Finland.
“We’ll need to be on the top of our game from the start if we want to achieve our goals, and that’s certainly the aim,” he said.
Six Finns have won the world title 13 times in the WRC’s 38-year history. Could Lappi and Suninen add to that total in the future?
Finland countdown: Rally route
In-depth analysis of where Rally Finland will be won and lost
Solans wary of Finland challenge
Championship leader has his eyes on the title
Ogier apologises after test crash
High-speed crash left Suninen and Evans without test car