A record 21 new-generation World Rally Cars will do battle in Finland with seven home-grown talents among that number.
Leading the charge will be factory Ford drivers Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala, the winners in Finland in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
While the Blue Oval’s season started brightly with Hirvonen’s victory in Sweden, since then it has struggled to get the better of the rival works Citroens of Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier, who have done the winning since Rally Guanajuato Mexico in early March in their Citroen DS3 WRCs.
Seven-time champion Loeb won in Finland in 2008 but has hinted that he won’t be willing to take the same risks he took back then in order to emulate that triumph this year. With a healthy championship lead, neither does the French ace have to. Ogier, meanwhile, might be short on event experience but his pace means he will be able to challenge at the head of the field.
Citroen privateer Petter Solberg has never won in Finland before and would require a dramatic reversal of fortune in order to mount the top step of the podium following a luckless start to this campaign. Ex-Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen is the only other Citroen driver in action on his home rally, which he will tackle for the third time in 2011.
The MINI WRC Team is back on world championship duty for the first time since its debut on Rally Italia Sardegna in early May. But the Anglo-German squad hasn’t been sitting idly by during that time with Kris Meeke and Dani Sordo both covering significant distances during testing.
Meeke had been set to contest the non-championship Rally Estonia, which uses similar roads to Finland, but a testing smash forced a rethink. Nevertheless, the Northern Irish driver is adamant that missing out on a trial run in Estonia won’t affect his and his team’s chances of success.
M-Sport Stobart’s Mads Ostberg prepared for Finland’s high-speed stages by winning the recent non-championship Rally Estonia in a Ford Fiesta RS WRC, which has handed the young Norwegian prospect a major boost ahead of what could be one his last events of the season due to his limited funds, a problem that has affected his team-mates Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson.
Solberg looks set to have a programme in place for the remainder of 2011 but the consistent Wilson’s schedule is far from clear. Russian flyer Evgeny Novikov will also run under the M-Sport Stobart banner on his return to Finland following a one-year absence. His last appearance on the rally in 2009 culminated in a spectacular landing on his Citroen C4’s rear bumper.
Khalid Al Qassimi’s appearance in Finland will mark the four-year anniversary of Abu Dhabi’s investment in the world championship, both as a partner of the Ford World Rally Team and as a valued sponsor of the WRC. The Emirati has been absent from competition for a couple of months and will be raring to get behind the wheel.
Like Ostberg, FERM Power Tools World Rally Team’s father-and-son duo Dennis and Rene Kuipers competed in Estonia, albeit not on board the Fiesta RS WRCs they will use in Finland. Other drivers relying on Fiesta technology in Finland are the rapid Jari Ketomaa and his fellow ex-Super 2000 world championship rival Janne Tuohino.
The MINI challenge has expanded in number in Finland. In addition to works-supported drivers Armindo Araujo and Daniel Oliveira, Finns Matti Rantanen and Mattias Therman will also be driving the Prodrive-developed MINI John Cooper Works WRC.
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