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JUNIOR WRC PREVIEW, RALLY FINLAND

Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for takeoff as the FIA Junior World Rally Championship crews embark on one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the year – Neste Rally Finland.

The Pirelli-shod one-litre EcoBoost Ford Fiesta R2s are ready for action, and the penultimate round of the season is set to be a fast and furious affair.

Famed for their incredible speeds, Finland’s gravel roads have hosted 11 of the 12 fastest rallies in history. The blisteringly quick stages are characterised by huge jumps that favour the brave, and the Junior crews will have to muster all of their ‘sisu’ – a Finnish phrase which means having courage – if they are to master next week’s rollercoaster.

To best prepare for the Finnish fixture, a number of crews tackled AutoGlym Ralli – a well-known local event that has become something of a testing ground. Jean-Baptiste Franceschi finished an impressive second in class – just 8.6 seconds adrift of local driver Lauri Joona – and championship leader Dennis Rådström brought his Fiesta home fourth in class.

Enrico Oldrati was also contesting the event but suffered a heavy roll behind the wheel of his Fiesta. The young Italian was unhurt, and learnt much that he can take forward to next week’s encounter.

Also sampling some high-speed stages in preparation, Ken Torn took his Fiesta to two class victories back home in Estonia. The second came at Rally Estonia – an event three of the four manufacturer teams also chose as part of their preparation for next week.

Emil Bergkvist, Terry Folb, Julius Tannert, Tom Williams and Umberto Accornero will be calling on their past experiences of Rally Finland, whilst David Holder will be looking to channel his knowledge of similar roads found back home in New Zealand.

Like Holder, Luca Bottarelli, Emilio Fernández and Callum Devine have all been competing at home – Devine behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta R5 at the Donegal International Rally – and Bugra Banaz has been testing at home in Turkey.

The Junior WRC will also welcome a new recruit to the ranks next week – Finland’s Henri Hokkala who has been chosen as this year’s AKK Future Rally Star of Finland.

Hokkala is the latest winner of a fully-funded drive awarded annually by AKK Sports – the promotional arm of Finland’s motorsport federation – and follows in the footsteps of Teemu Suninen, Jari Huttunen, Juuso Nordgren and Emil Lindholm.

Assessed in reconnaissance and pacenote-making skills, mental strength, physical fitness and media savvy, Hokkala was judged as Finland’s next big thing and awarded his place behind the wheel of one of M-Sport Poland’s Ford Fiesta R2s.

A Swede won in Sweden, a Frenchman in Corsica… can a Finn win in Finland?

FIA Junior World Rally Championship Manager, Maciej Woda, said:

“Rally Finland is an event that every driver wants to win, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s the highlight of the year for so many people and the high speeds and big jumps make it one of the most enjoyable rallies on the calendar. But don’t be fooled; as it’s not all fun and games. The stages are extremely technical with so many blind corners over crests. Precision is paramount and even the smallest of mistakes aren’t easily forgiven. It’s a big challenge that favours the brave – and I’m looking forward to seeing who can muster their inner ‘sisu’ next week.”

 

DRIVER QUOTES

Dennis Rådström said:

“I’m expecting a lot of fun and a lot of excitement at Rally Finland. The high-speed stages are incredible and the fans make the atmosphere really spectacular. Between each event preparation is really important. We’re always working on how we can improve and looking for areas where we can push harder. We made sure that we scheduled some testing before Rally Finland to further improve, and took part in the AutoGlym Ralli which was really useful.”

Emil Bergkvist said:

“I’ve done this rally before and it’s one that I really enjoy. This is one of the events we are aiming to win. Portugal didn’t go our way, and we want to turn it around here. The competition is so unpredictable at the moment, but one thing is for sure – there will always be some really strong rivalry.”

Jean-Baptiste Franceschi said:

“My goal next week is to fight with those who already have experience of this legendary event. This will be my first time at Rally Finland so fighting for the podium will take a lot of hard work – but hopefully we can succeed in that.

“Emil, Dennis, Terry and Ken are going to be my main competition. They are all really fast on events like this, but I’m also feeling well prepared. We had a good test and also came second in class at AutoGlym Ralli – I really hope all this preparation and hard work pays off next week!”

Luca Bottarelli said:

“This is a new rally for us and I hope to achieve a good result with the experience we have. We will try to adapt as quickly as possible, and I’m really looking forward to experiencing the famous jumps of the Finnish forests!”

Julius Tannert said:

“Every rally driver dreams of competing on the Finnish stages. This year we want to be competitive and fight for a podium finish. Pushing the bad luck from Corsica and Portugal aside, we are looking forward to fighting back and climbing up the leader board.”

Enrico Oldrati said:

“There is always room for improvement and each rally helps me improve my pace. This will be my first time at Rally Finland and I am looking forward to experiencing another new event.”

Callum Devine said:

“Like every aspiring young driver, I have wanted to compete at Rally Finland for as long as I can remember. All of the stages look intense and I can’t wait to experience them for myself!

“I’ll have to use the Shakedown to get my head back into gear as my only preparation was the Donegal International Rally where I was behind the wheel of a Fiesta R5!

“It was an amazing experience, but I need to get my head back into R2 mode and focus on converting some good stage times into solid points.”

David Holder said:

“The stages in Finland are probably the ones most similar to those in New Zealand – only with a lot more jumps! It will be tough to challenge for the top results as this will be our first time there, but I will try and use my knowledge of the New Zealand stages to my advantage and will be happy with a top-five result.

“All of the stages look spectacular and I have been fortunate enough to have done some fast events back home in the lead up. We’ve also been working to further develop our pacenote system and it will be interesting to see how that holds up on the fast Finnish roads!”

Banaz said:

“Our motivation is strong and our preparation for Rally Finland went well with some testing in Turkey. I am really excited to compete on this magical event and can’t wait to get started!"

Ken Torn said:

"Out of all the Junior WRC events, Finland is the fastest and also one of the trickiest. I’m really looking forward to the fight and have done some preparation in Estonian – on events with similar conditions to what we are expecting in Finland."

Emilio Fernández said:

“I cannot wait to arrive in Finland and experience these crazy stages for the first time! In preparation we have contested some rallies back home in Chile, and my hope in Finland is to achieve a more positive result that the one last time out in Portugal.”

Tom Williams said:

“Rally Finland is one of my favorite – and one of the most famous – events on the calendar. It’s renowned for its jumps and high speeds and I can’t wait to get out there!

“It will be nice to be able to push on the smoother gravel and we will have to focus very hard on our pacenotes. We’ve worked really hard on our pacenote system since the last event – using a range of terminology to improve our lines – and want to deliver a clean event whilst pushing for points.

“The stage I’m mostly looking forward to is the power stage – Ruuhimäki. This stage is really flowing with big jumps and masses of spectators.”

Umberto Accornero said:

“Pace and progress will be our focus on this event – and we want to try and reduce the gap to the leaders. All of the Rally Finland stages make me curious and I’m enthusiastic to see what they are like – but Kakaristo is the one that stands out and I can’t wait to experience it!”

Henri Hokkala said:

“This will be my first FIA World Rally Championship event, and the longest rally that I have ever done. This will also be my first time driving the Ford Fiesta R2 in competition, so I hope to set some competitive times. To be titled the Future Rally Star is a massive accomplishment for me, with some big opportunities. I will certainly be giving my best next week and I am optimistic to see what the future brings.”

 

RALLY FINLAND ENTRIES:

61 Dennis Rådström / Johan Johansson
62 Emil Bergkvist / Joakim Sjöberg
63 Jean-Baptiste Franceschi / Romain Courbon
64 Terry Folb / Kevin Bronner
65 Luca Bottarelli / Manuel Fenoli
66 Julius Tannert / Jürgen Heigl
67 Enrico Oldrati / Danilo Fappani
68 Callum Devine / Brian Hoy
69 David Holder / Jason Farmer
70 Bugra Banaz / Burak Erdener
71 Ken Torn / Kuldar Sikk
72 Emilio Fernández / Joaquin Riquelme
73 Tom Williams / Phil Hall
74 Umberto Accornero / Barone Maurizio
75 Henri Hokkala / kimmo Pahkala

 

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS:

1. Dennis Rådström - 74
2. Emil Bergkvist - 58
3. Jean-Baptiste Franceschi - 47
4. Terry Folb - 30
5. Luca Bottarelli - 20
6. Julius Tannert - 19
7. Enrico Oldrati - 18
8. Callum Devine - 18
9. David Holder - 17
10. Bugra Banaz - 16
11. Ken Torn - 15
12. Emilio Fernández - 8
13. Tom Williams - 7
14. Umberto Accornero - 4