The world’s most watched rally, the world’s most revered rally stages, the world’s most congested spectator points: welcome to the World Rally Championship’s Neste Oil Rally Finland…
Every rally driver worth his salt dreams of competing on these stages. Every rally fan looks eagerly ahead to the event months’ in advance. And, this year’s edition of the “Rally of the 1,000 Lakes” promises to be a hotly contested one for the overall victory, with no less than four crews all with a hand on that winner’s trophy already. Sebastien Ogier and Jari-Matti Latvala (both from Volkswagen Motorsport), Mikko Hirvonen (Citroën Total World Rally Team) and Mads Ostberg (Qatar World Rally Team) hungrily desire the victory at the “F1 in the Forest” this weekend.
The story of the WRC Neste Oil Rally Finland began the day the previous round of the WRC concluded: the WRC Rally Italy – Sardinia saw Ogier and his Championship rivals immediately begin work in earnest on this week’s event, and the factory teams have been camped in Jyvaskyla since middle of July to conduct extensive testing on this unique and iconic gravel rally.
M-Sport has drafted Juho Hanninen into its squad for this event, and the Finn is no stranger to this neck of the woods. Kris Meeke will do duty in a Citroën DS3 WRC for Abu Dhabi Citroën World Rally Team. M-Sport has had Ostberg put in hundreds of test kilometres, as has Citroën with Dani Sordo, Meeke and Hirvonen. However, this pales into significance with the near 1,000km of testing Ogier has reportedly put his Volkswagen Polo R WRC through in the past week… The Volkswagen’s light nose has even been revised so that the car jumps and lands better, with the ECU re-mapped that the car won’t suffer at maximum revs for unnecessary split seconds while flying over jumps. The Germans are taking this event very seriously, and it is this level of dedication that will spur Ogier and team-mate Latvala to strive for a one-two this weekend.
What awaits the crews? A slightly damp surface during recce, a grippy qualification and overnight dampness. The event comprises of 23 timed stages over three days, starting on Thursday afternoon at 12h15 for Himos 1 and concluding on Saturday evenign at 17h40 with the Power Stage. The rally will be contested over 322.44km, and it will see every kilometre a hard-fought one for the overall standings. the Power Stage, known as Painaa is translated as “Push Hard” – how very apt!
Scandinavians have famously dominated this event. However, in recent years only Sebastien Loeb was able to break that winning streak. The last two years have seen Loeb on the top step, but of course he no participating in 2013. In fact, in the last twenty years Loeb was the only non-Scandinavian to have won this event. Will Ogier add his name to the list, or will Latvala (winner in 2010) bring that prestigious honour back to Finland?
Place your bets, Ladies and Gentleman, and prepare for an all-out battle in Finland’s forests this weekend!
Photos by Volkswagen Motorsport Media, WorldRallyPics, and Citroën Racing.