Juho Hanninen tops the standings in his Red Bull Skoda following victories in Greece and Finland. However, an error on the previous round in Germany has allowed his main rival Ott Tanak to trim his advantage to 18 points after he triumphed on the asphalt event last month.
With only two opportunities left to score points, it’s vital that Tanak outscores Hanninen in order to keep his hopes of the SWRC title alive. But Czech Martin Prokop can also sneak in to claim the championship laurels in his Fiesta - providing he hits top form in France and on the season finale in Spain - so a tight battle is expected this week.
Finn Hanninen prepared for the event with a test in Czech Republic last week. He said: “We approach the rally with maximum focus and we certainly want to win as many points as possible, because every point counts at this stage of the season.”
Despite the fact he remains in contention for the title, Tanak says his main priority is to build his knowledge at the wheel of his Ford Fiesta S2000, run by Markko Martin’s MM Motorsport operation.
“As always I want to gain as much experience as I can this year but I will be looking to finish on the podium in France,” said the young Estonian. “It would be a dream to take a win in France and of course I hope that this can happen but at first I need to start the rally, find a good pace and take things from there.”
Czech Martin Prokop is third in the drivers’ table in his Fiesta and has the pace to run at the front. “It’s still possible to take the championship so I am trying to keep focused. We need to try to push in France in order to win, but it’s probably going to be similar to last year and will go down to the final event for the title to be decided.”
Other drives in action in France include Hungarian Frigyes Turan, a regular on the podium this season in his Fiesta and Portugal’s Bernardo Sousa, who has the ability to challenge for a top three finish in his Fiesta.
Norway’s Eyvind Brynildsen is back on SWRC duty after failing to start in Germany due to the severity of the damage inflicted to his PS Engineering Skoda Fabia when he crashed at high speed in Finland.
Albert Llovera, from Andorra, is the lone Abarth Grande Punto driver in the field, while local hero Julien Maurin, in a Ford France-backed Fiesta, is eligible for SWRC points as a wildcard entrant.
Hermann Gassner Jr partners Hanninen in the Austrian Red Bull Skoda team and will be looking to impress, as will Nasser Al-Attiyah, who starts the event on a high following his run to second place on the Rally of Lebanon, a round of the Middle East championship recently.