M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tänak will be out to impress as the World Rally Championship (WRC) returns to what is known to many as rallying’s spiritual home, and the eighth round of the season, at the 2012 Neste Oil Rally Finland this week.
Characterised by blisteringly quick, tree-lined straights littered with hidden crests and ‘yumps’, Rally Finland favours the brave and M-Sport’s young guns will need to muster all of their ‘sisu’ – a Finnish phrase which loosely translates to ‘having guts’ – if they are to prosper on the ‘Gravel Grand Prix.’
Formally known as the ‘Rally of the Thousand Lakes’, Rally Finland has been a regular and popular fixture on the WRC calendar since its debut in 1973 and this year’s event will see many classic stages return to the fore such as Mokkipera, Palsankyla and the legendary Ouninpohja stage which will form a fearsome penultimate test and Power Stage.
Rally Finland entered the record books in 2005 when Marcus Grönholm completed the fastest ever rally – averaging speeds of 122.86 km/h. Maintaining such high speeds and concentration on the demanding stages requires word-perfect pacenotes and a good knowledge of the route; requirements in which both M-Sport drivers will have an advantage.
Having contested Rally Finland on two previous occasions – claiming his place in Finnish folklore with a flat-out jump in 2009 – Novikov will be hoping to continue this season’s impressive form to claim his first championship points from the Finnish event. With no pre-event testing, the 21-year-old will have to rise to the challenges ahead, but with Frenchman Denis Giraudet in the navigator’s seat, the Russian will be in good hands as the pairing look to secure another strong result behind the wheel of their Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
Over the summer break, Novikov passed the time as only a world class driver can – taking in the scenery at the Moscow Rally Show and testing super cars for local media. The Russian took to the wheel of a Maserati Granturismo MC and Ferrari’s limited edition California 30 giving his opinion of the super cars for Russian TV channel ‘Russia 2’.
Returning to the ‘Gravel Grand Prix’ for the fourth time, Ott Tänak will be looking for a strong result, this time at the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. The Estonian has a good record on the Finnish stages, finishing 18th overall in 2010 in a GpN car as part of the Pirelli Star Driver Scheme and securing a S-WRC podium behind the wheel of a Ford Fiesta S2000 last year. What is more, with co-driver Kuldar Sikk contesting the event for the tenth time this week, Tänak will benefit from having one of the most experienced co-drivers in the field.
The summer break has been a busy one for the 24-year-old who has spent time working on preparing his car at M-Sport and partaking in a number of drive days at the team’s headquarters in Cumbria, Northern England. Tänak also attended a local school in Cumbria with an FIA Action for Road Safety liveried Fiesta RS WRC to highlight the importance of road safety before returning to Estonia to continue his fitness training and make the final preparations for the eighth round of the season.
Evgeny Novikov said:
“I am really looking forward to starting the rally in Finland – it is a very special place. We’ve had no testing, so we will have to see where our pace is when we get there. The stages are very demanding but I really enjoy the flat-out nature of the stages.
“I attended the Moscow Rally Show, just as a spectator, this month. It was a lot of fun with lots of great cars. I also test drove a couple of super cars for a local magazine in Russia [TV channel, ‘Russia 2’], giving them my feeling of the cars, which was also a lot of fun.
“As I say, we will have to judge our pace when we get there [to Finland], but as always we will try our best and hope for another good result.”
Ott Tänak said:
“The feeling is really good ahead of this rally. It is one of the events that I have contested quite a few times before, so it should be ok for us. We’ve had no pre-event testing, but I’ve been doing all the usual things to prepare – checking through the pacenotes and watching some onboard footage [to get a feel of the gravel].
“Rally Finland is one of my favourite events with some of the best stages in the world and I am really looking forward to returning [this time in a World Rally Car]. We will have to see what are times are like from the stages, but for sure we will be looking for a good finish.”
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