Northern Irish driver Alastair Fisher heads the category for identical M-Sport Ford Fiesta R2s using Pirelli control tyres. But with Elfyn Evans, from Wales, eight points behind, the battle for honours is wide open following the opening two events of 2012.
Fisher led in Finland last year before a rare error put him out with victory in his grasp. While he would relish the opportunity to make amends this week, he has prioritised netting a strong haul of points ahead of a second win in the category this season.
“Winning in Finland would be very special for my career and something I’d never forget because it’s such a prestigious rally but we can’t lose sight of the fact it’s all about the championship, that’s the priority,” said Fisher, who can chose a partial programme of WRC events next season in an Super 2000 Fiesta or a full campaign in an R2 Fiesta should he become the WRC Academy’s second champion.
While Fisher prepared for the event with a test in his homeland last month and a try-out in Finland on Sunday, Evans tackled a Finnish championship round and impressed by finishing second in class making him a strong contender for a second consecutive WRC Academy triumph this season.
Australian Brendan Reeves, currently third in the title chase, has also been in action in Finland, carrying out a test on Sunday after he was able to raise the necessary additional funds by auctioning memorabilia online and selling name spaces on the bonnet of the Fiesta he shares with co-driving sister Rhianon Smyth.
“The test was really beneficial,” said Reeves. “We used a two-kilometre piece of road in both directions and we found a lot of improvement in the driving for the fast stages. We were very happy with what we learned on the day.”
Meanwhile, Spain’s Jose Suarez will be hoping to build on the fifth place he scored on the Acropolis Rally - plus his maiden loose-surface stage best - on his second start in Finland. Timo van der Marel will also be looking to capitalise on his previous event experience as he bids to emulate the podium he scored on the Jyvaskyla-based round last term.
Pontus Tidemand, from Sweden, and Briton John MacCrone will be competing in Finland for the first time but both are expected to shine.
Fredrik Ahlin will be looking to build on the knowledge gained from contesting the SM OK Auto-ralli in Finland last month in his efforts to make up for his frustrating start to the season.
American Chris Duplessis has recruited countryman Alex Kihurani to replace former navigator Karl Atkinson for his Rally Finland debut. Portugal’s Joao Silva is another Finland newcomer, as is South African Ashley Haigh-Smith, who starts the event fresh from his class victory on the Volkswagen Rally in his homeland recently.
WRC Academy crews will cover all but one stage tackled by the main competitors, skipping out the repeat of the legendary Ouninpohja stage on Saturday afternoon.