– The entry list looks really good! I’m confident that we will see good battles for WRC points in the different classes, and the masses of spectators will be entertained – on the stages as much as in the Jyväskylä Paviljonki Service Park. I’m very pleased to see our top national drivers showing up in good numbers, says Kai Tarkiainen, Neste Rally Finland’s Clerk of the Course.
All the regular WRC manufacturer teams have entered three cars to Neste Rally Finland. With Kris Meeke moved to the sidelines, Citroën has given more responsibility to Norwegian Mads Ostberg. Mads will be flying Citroën colours together with Ireland’s very own Craig Breen and Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi from the United Arab Emirates.
The M-Sport Ford team will come out in force: the reigning World Champion, France’s Sebastien Ogier is leading the team and will be accompanied by Welshman Elfyn Evans and in car number 3 our 2014 Future Rally Star Teemu Suninen from Finland. In last year’s event Suninen became fourth, missing a podium finish only due to a small mistake on the Sunday stages – a huge show of strength in what was only his second event in a World Rally Car. The home crowd will be wanting more of the same – as surely will the driver himself.
Hyundai has been competing with four different drivers this season. In Neste Rally Finland it will be current Championship leader, Belgian Thierry Neuville together with Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsenand New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon in the three cars entered, whereas the tarmac specialist Dani Sordo is already looking forward to ADAC Rally Deutschland. The tight battle for WRC honours between Neuville and Ogier will definitely be one to watch in Neste Rally Finland, with other drivers giving all they got to put their name first on the list.
In addition to Suninen, the hardest opposition will for sure come from the Toyota team driving in their home event: the Finns Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi, together with Estonian Ott Tänak – currently third in WRC standings after seven rallies. To rally just a stone’s throw from the team’s homebase in Puuppola will certainly bring a few extra butterflies in their stomachs, not to mention the wildly enthusiastic home crowd’s support!
Lappi, last year’s winner in Finland, will undoubtedly be wanting a second helping of that bubbly stuff on Sunday, continuing his upwardly journey after this season’s first podium finish in the previous event in Sardinia. Then we just need Latvala and Suninen aside him and the Finnish rally crowd can dream of celebrating a Finnish 1-2-3; we did have a 1-2-3-4 for a while last year!
Future Rally Stars fly Finnish colours in support championships
Behind the fight for top honours there is a lot to see in WRC support championships WRC2, WRC3 and Junior WRC.
The pack of drivers in the WRC2 Championship for R5 cars is led by Norwegian Ole Christian Veiby with his official Skoda, followed by Briton Gus Greensmith and Japanese Takamoto Katsuta with his Finnish co-driver Marko Salminen from the Toyota driver development programme, both in Ford Fiestas. The top three will be challenged by championship regulars Jari Huttunen in Hyundai, also remembered as the Future Rally Star 2015, and the under 18-year-old second-generation rally driver Kalle Rovanperä from Jyväskylä, in the second factory Skoda aside Veiby.
Also in Skodas for their first start in WRC2 are Finnish Championship leader Eerik Pietarinen and Emil Lindholm, Future Rally Star 2017. They are joined by fellow countrymen in Ford's, Jarkko Nikara with his Japanese co-driver Sayaka Adachi from the Toyota development programme and Jouni Virtanen, entered by M-Sport.
To make the lives of the WRC2 regulars that little bit more insecure, Finnish Championship top dogs Teemu Asunmaa and Marko Mänty will be starting the event in their respective Skoda Fabia R5s in the same class.
WRC3 Championship also includes all the Junior WRC drivers, among whom we find Future Rally Star 2018 Henri Hokkala from Tikkakoski. The Future Rally Star prize enabling Hokkala to participate in JWRC has been dealt since 2014 to a successful young driver from the Finnish Rally Championship who must pass a rigorous test programme. Neste Rally Finland organiser AKK Sports Ltd selects the winner and gives him the opportunity to participate with full-spec Fiesta R2 and support from the M-Sport team.
Hokkala will be challenging his much more experienced opponents in his home event. JWRC is currently led by the Swedish duo of Dennis Rådström and Emil Bergkvist, which gives us Finns a delicious “nations’ cup” setting for Hokkala’s first event on world level.
Our Finnish challenger in WRC3 is Taisko Lario with his Peugeot 208 R2.
In total, there will be 23 private crews behind the WRC entries and the support championships, challenging themselves and their rivals in this Grand Prix on Gravel. Neste Rally Finland starts on Thursday 26 July at 7 p.m. from the legendary Harju city stage in Jyväskylä and finishes on Sunday afternoon on 29 July with the Ruuhimäki Power Stage, where drivers have a chance for some extra points.
Photo: Toni Ollikainen/AKK